From city student to screen star
PUBLISHED: 11:47 18 October 2010
A year ago Roger Nsengiyumva was much like any other new student at City College Norwich, but now he is coming to grips with being a star of the silver screen. This month sees the release of the film Africa United, which is being touted as the "next Slumdog Millionaire", and which stars the 16-year-old who lives in Norwich city centre.
It tells the story of Rwandan football prodigy Fabrice, played by Roger, and his best friend and ‘manager’ Dudu, and Dudu’s little sister Beatrice as they attempt to get to the World Cup in South Africa. While four of the film’s five young lead roles were easily cast, producers and director were struggling to find a young actor for the key role of Fabrice after the favourite for the role dropped out with just weeks to go before filming starting.
This happened just before Christmas last year, and producer Mark Blaney came to Norfolk to visit his wife’s parents. They showed him a cutting about Roger, which told how he was born in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, his father had been killed, his mother had fled to the UK, and they had been living in Norwich ever since.
The fact that Roger had also tried out for Nowich City Football Club caught the producer’s eye and the rest is history. When the Evening News caught up with Roger on Friday, he was about to endure a day of media interviews at a press junket for the film, and was eagerly anticipating seeing the final edit of the film at the London premiere tomorrow.
He was accompanied by his mother Illuminee, who is perhaps more experienced at media interviews, having spoken to the press many times before about the book Miracle in Kigali, which tells the harrowing story of her and Roger’s escape from the Rwandan genocide and how they came to make their home in Norwich.
Roger, a former City of Norwich School pupil, says: “When we first got the phone call I didn’t think much of it because my mum took it and she gets calls all the time about this and that. Then Debs, the director, came to Norwich to do an audition with me which meant I took it a bit more seriously.
“It got really serious after the second audition and they told me they wanted me to go to South Africa. I only really woke up to it all by the second audition. I have been keen on acting for a while but never really thought it would kick off. I was quite adamant I wanted to be a footballer for most of my earlier years.”
Roger was first spotted playing football by an Ipswich Town scout and ended up being passed on to a Norwich City scout. He had trials with his home city club, but was dropped. “I still love Norwich,” he adds quickly. However, his first team will always be Liverpool, as they were the first team he can remember seeing on television and he was pleased to learn that his character in the film would be wearing a Liverpool FC shirt.
“I just thought then that I was going to have a good four months.”
He laughs at the suggestion that the film would have been better if he had been wearing a yellow and green shirt rather than a red one, but admits his first team have been a bit of a “shambles” so far this season. “We need a good owner. We need Delia,” he says.
But Norwich is very much his second team and he cites Dion Dublin as being his favourite player in recent years.
As a football fan, the chance to film at and see South Africa’s soccer stadium was an obvious highlight for Roger, but he says he loved every day of filming.
“There was quite a bit of a learning curve. I had to learn to work with different types of people but I had a brilliant time with the other four actors. It was a brilliant experience, although it was quite scary having 200 people there watching you on set.”
Roger has already taken his next step in acting and has filmed a two-part television drama for the BBC called Homenid, which tells the story of the ascent of man through a boy’s eyes.
With two high profile acting roles already under his belt, the public service student could be forgiven for jacking in his two-year diploma course at City College. But he “definitely” wants to complete his studies, despite already experiencing a taste of the world of fame.
He laughingly tells of all the celebrity spotting he’s been doing at the plush Mayfair Hotel in London, where the Africa United junket is taking place.
“The first time we got here I saw Peter Andre and Mel B. We’ve seen Michael someone from Chelsea, Vidic from Man U and Jedward were having breakfast two seats from us this morning.
“We were like: ‘This is strange isn’t it? Don’t really fit in here’.”
He is clearly more at home in Norwich. “I love it,” he says of the city. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else. At the moment it’s where my friends are.”
While there has been a bit of banter from his friends about his new-found stardom, Roger tried to keep his involvement in the film quiet at college.
“Actually it was quite funny at City College. I didn’t tell anyone when I got back what I had been doing because I only joined last year and didn’t want to walk around saying I had been in this film.
“Then the PR guy for City College came and told everyone and they all just looked at me and bombarded me with questions after that.
“They were all quite excited and my old friends from CNS are quite excited to see the film.”
Despite not yet having had the chance to see Africa United, Illuminee is incredibly proud of her son, especially when she reflects how far they have both come since the time she fled the Rwandan genocide with her newborn son strapped to her back.
“I think it’s amazing. I didn’t have a life that was the best for my son and things have gradually become much better. Then this coming along has been amazing.
“When I think where Roger is now, he’s bringing so much joy into my life at the moment.
“I see a man who will not let me down. I’m really, really proud of him.”
Africa United, which has a 12A certificate, will be showing at cinemas from October 22.
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