As many readers already know, Benjamin A. Onyango was outstanding as Reverend Jude in both God’s Not Dead movies, and I am sure that anyone who has seen the movies would agree in saying that Onyango was a perfect fit with film series alongside David A.R. White, Kevin Sorbo and Josh Wheaton in the first film (2014) and Melissa Joan Hart, Sadie Robertson and Ernie Hudson, among others in the star-studded cast, in Gods Not Dead 2 (2016).
Some of you may not be quite as familiar with his work outside of the Gods Not Dead film series as you may like to be and I am hoping to shed a little light on Benjamin A. Onyango, the man who we have grown to love as one of our favorite film characters who brought the lines “God is Good all the time, and all the time, God is Good” alive in the God’s Not Dead film series but also onto Benjamin A. Onyango, the man behind those great characters who is not only an actor but also a man who teaches special education classes and takes time to work on projects that have special meaning to his own life.
Angela: What was it like growing up in Kenya with your family?
Benjamin A. Onyango: We grew up poor. A family of nine consisting of Mom, Dad and seven brothers. Our daily food was Corn meal (ugali) with Sukuma Wiki (collard greens). Then mom would change it up on Saturdays when she’d make Chapati (Tortilla like flour bread) and Dengu (Lentil beans).
My parents didn’t really go to church so my brothers, except for the older one, started to attend a nearby church walking distance from our apartment. The church helped shape us and steered us away from the gangster life that surrounded us in the ghetto neighborhood we lived in. I took up gang life at 12 years of age but my dad quickly derailed it by moving me from the City to the village for a year. Besides the poverty, we were a very happy family. We never went hungry just ate the same thing every day.
Angela: I see you are a happily married man. Did you meet your wife in Kenya or here in the United States? What does she think about your work in acting?
Benjamin A. Onyango: I met my wife in Kenya at the age of 25. I married her three months later. After our honeymoon, I left for the United States and she followed me a year later. She doesn’t mind the acting. She was a very successful theater actor herself in Kenya years ago.
Angela: When did you get your start in acting and what made you decide that you wanted to work in the film industry?
Benjamin A. Onyango: After graduating from California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock, California I went straight to Hollywood to join a band or act in the movies. After a couple of auditions I was accepted as a bass player for Christian Funk-Rock group THE PASSING. While playing the club scene on the weekends, I also worked as a movie extra in the TV and Film Industry where I worked in over 60 jobs before I landed my first speaking role on the set of the 1999 season Finale of the TV series The X-Files. From there I did Tears of the Sun and it got better from there.
Angela: Most people are familiar with your role as Reverend Jude in the Gods Not Dead films. What was the most memorable thing to you about being part of those great Christian movies?
Benjamin A. Onyango: Shooting God’s Not Dead movies was a lot of fun. My character Rev. Jude’s comradery with American Pastor played by a cool guy and friend David A. R. White is hilarious. The line “God is good. All the time and all the time God is good” became the catch phrase for many. Every place I went and was recognized by people who watched God’s Not Dead 1 they would say the line and I would finish it. Some other memorable moments were the movie’s aftermath. I received a number of invitations to speak in churches and that was fun.
Benjamin A. Onyango and David A.R. White in a scene from God’s Not Dead/YouTube
Angela: I see you have a couple new movies coming out this year. Beautifully Broken and Heavenly Deposit. Can you tell us a little about what to expect from these films?
Benjamin A. Onyango: The God’s Not Dead franchise opened doors for me and the next four movies that I got I didn’t audition for. They asked for me on the strength of the God’s Not Dead movies. I remember sitting with George Vincent and Rick Irvin at a Starbucks café discussing their upcoming movie Heavenly Deposit. Before that I was offered a lead part in the movie Father Africa after the producers saw God’s Not Dead. Father Africa was shot in Tanzania. Then later I got a call from my Agent that the producers of Beautifully Broken, shot in South Africa were interested in me in playing a lead part in their movie. Heavenly Deposit is a touching story about how God showed favor to the movie’s main character played by writer/director George Vincent when he was down on his luck and deathly discouraged.
In Beautifully Broken I play the character of William Mwizerwa, a true-life survivor of the Rwanda genocide in the late 1990s.
Angela: You worked on a series called Dysfunctionally Organized. What was so important about this series that you chose to be part of it? Are you still working on this project?
Benjamin A. Onyango: Dysfunctionally Organized is a half hour TV web series written to show that individuals with autism can also run successful businesses and succeed in life just like everybody else. I taught children with Special Needs for many years and did not like how children with disabilities were sometimes out cast and misunderstood. This is what prompted me to write the series.
Angela: You have also been working on a TV series called, The Wives. The show is based in Kenya and fund are currently being raised for it. What is this series about and what makes it such an important factor in your life?
Benjamin A. Onyango: The Wives unfortunately for me is a controversial topic. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get the funds that I needed to shoot all 13 episodes. It is about a highly educated polygamous man who adds a nineteen-year-old to his harem of five wives and because of the young wife’s immaturity, problems start to show up in an otherwise stable homestead. Polygamy is still practiced in Africa and I wanted to shed some light to it. In the later episodes, I have added the character of a homeless Christian lady who stands up to the polygamous man and tells him off about polygamy. She lets him know that it’s a thing of the past and has no place in modern society. She preaches to him and warns him about hell etc.
The reason I chose this subject was to create debate and bring awareness to this ancient African practice right or wrong. If I had not seen the TV show Big Love I would never have known that polygamy existed in America as practiced by the Mormons in Utah, USA.
If you would like to find more information or donate to The Wives TV Series, you can do so at GoFundMe.
Angela: I see that you are not only an outstanding actor, but you also teach special education. How long have you been teaching? Are you teaching children, or adults and what do you consider your biggest challenges as well as your greatest accomplishments personally with teaching?
Benjamin A. Onyango: In 1995 my wife Elizabeth who was a Special Ed. teacher at The Help Group in Sherman Oaks, California asked me to accept a one day job as a substitute teacher at her school because the teacher had suddenly fallen sick and they needed somebody urgently. So, I went and the supposed one-day gig turned into five years.
It was definitely a sobering experience. My introduction to the students when I entered the classroom was a carton of milk that was aimed at my head but missed me by inches and splattered all over the chalk board behind me. Needless to say, I somehow survived the day, went home with a massive headache and by some reason unknown to me went back the next day and the next day and the next day.
I had never taught anywhere in the world and here I was thrown into a war zone. I happen to love kids and I also have a very happy and big personality which quickly won over the unruly children. Before long they were eating out of my hands listening to every word I said with genuine interest, awe and wonderment.
Angela: What would you say is your favorite movie of all time? Why that one?
Benjamin A. Onyango: I was never really been a movie buff so this question has always been a hard one for me. But I always answer, Tears of the Sun not because it was my first big role in a movie but because it was a really good movie. I met so many Africans from many African Nations during the shoot and that made it very interesting. Even better, it was shot in Oahu, Hawaii and it took as five months to finish. It was the best ever introduction to how exciting and well-paying big budget movies can be. During the shoot of this movie I made enough money to put as a down payment for our current house.
Angela: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor professionally, who would that be and why would you choose that person?
Benjamin A. Onyango: I really had fun shooting with Tears of the Sun’s stars Bruce Willis and Monica Belluci. It was amazing how a big movie star like Willis was so friendly and accommodating. I had always assumed they were snobbish, unfriendly and un-get-at-able. I was wrong and that made me have a different opinion of the super stars. I promised to be just as nice and add kindness to my repertoire if I ever made it big in the industry. Unfortunately, since those five months in Hawaii, I’ve never got the opportunity to work with him again.
Angela: How long have you been a Christian and does your personal relationship with God influence the decisions you make with roles you audition for and parts that you play?
Benjamin A. Onyango: I have been a Christian since 1975 at the age of 15 when American missionaries came to Nairobi and preached to the Nation through some gimmicky campaign called ‘I Found It’ that worked wonders for them and thousands of people in the entire Nation converted to Christianity. The GND Franchise was my first experience with Christian movies. I do not discriminate I go out for all roles Christian or not. The only line I draw is playing in a movie where there is too much cursing and F-bombs are uttered with every breath by the character or playing a gay individual especially when the character is involved in romantic situations.
Angela: On a final note before we leave, is there anything you may want to share with our readers to let them know you better?
Benjamin A. Onyango: I would like to encourage the young people trying to break into the entertainment industry to hang in there. To let them know that rejection is part of the game and that they may be rejected 50 or 60 times before they get a meaningful role. To have a thick skin and know that obstacles like no at auditions are only there to make us stronger and ready or the next role. So, when you fall, get up, dust yourself off and go again. Keep preparing yourself for the next audition may be the one.
I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future Benjamin and I want to take a moment to thank you for taking your time to share your work, and your life with my readers.
Be sure to look for Benjamin A. Onyango’s upcoming movie, Beautifully Broken, also starring Eric Roberts, Michael W. Smith and other great actors when it hits the theater this coming May 2017.
The Newsboys/YouTube/God’s Not Dead