Idriss Kargbo Cast as ‘Boq’ in Wicked Talks Career, Destiny & The Other Idris!

Idriss Kargbo

Idriss Kargbo

Speaking to Idriss Kargbo was an enjoyable moment of inspiration. Only 20 years old, Mr Kargbo has already had quite an extensive career in musical theatre. Starting out at 10 years old he has been cast in favourite West Hits hits including as Young Simba in The Lion King, Donkey in Shrek and Young Michael Jackson in Thriller the Musical. Now he’s shifting perspective by taking on the role of Boq in Wicked which is celebrating it’s 10th Anniversary on West End. 

We caught up with him to talk all things career and musical theatre… 

When did you start acting?

I started when I was 10; my first job was Young Simba in the Lion King

How did you know at such a young age acting was your thing?

When I was young I was obsessed with the Spice Girls. I think I was about five – my mum bought me a cassette karaoke machine with Spice girls songs on it and I used to sing over them and put on shows for my family. I started to know about musical theatre one day watching BBC and Cats the musical was on… I knew I didn’t want to just be a singer or actor, or a dancer; I wanted to be a performer, I wanted to be an entertainer, and I remember watching Cats and thinking oh my God they’re singing, dancing and acting. Ever since then I’ve been so intrigued.

So did you turn to your parents and say, sign me up, I’m ready to go to performing arts school?

By this point I’d already signed up to a dance club after school, where my dance teacher would really encourage me. My mum passed away when I was 9 and because I was really young and the incident was so brutal, the police who were looking after the case, took me, my cousins and my dance teacher at the time to see the Lion King; it was the first West End musical I’d ever seen. I’d always wanted to see the Lion King it was my favourite Disney movie. We went, we saw it. We had a backstage tour after it and it just so happened that night a casting director was there, she came up to me and said that I’d look like a perfect Young Simba. She gave her details to my dance teacher, we got back in contact with her, I went for two auditions didn’t get them. On the third I finally got the part. Since then it’s just gone from strength to strength.

That’s a lot to have happen along with dealing with losing a parent so young…

I think that God deffo had his eye on me, my mum too. My mum was always my no.1 supporter. Coming from an African family, my dad is very traditional. So being the only person in my family intrigued with acting, it took a lot to prove that this was what I wanted to do and that I could make money from it. After the third Lion King audition my dad was convinced I should just focus on school. He said the third audition was the last he’d allow me to go to. For me, it was do or die. So when I got it, it was amazing and dad and everyone has been so supporting. It’s been hard but everything was worth it.

What were the next steps you took to get more trained up?

I went to a normal primary and secondary school and then Sylvia Young Theatre school. When I heard about Sylvia Young, I couldn’t believe that this sort of place existed where you could train and get academic learning as well. My family said it was  too expensive. But I was determined to go to this school. After Lion King I was in the original cast of Oliver at the Theatre Royal, Drury lane and from there I got to know about The Stage [newspaper] scholarship. So I told my family about it, we filled out the form, sent it off and I got an audition for Sylvia Young. I got half a scholarship and attended from years 9 – 11. They teach you everything to do with becoming an entertainer. Singing technique, all sorts of dance – ballet, jazz, tap, modern, street commercial, acting – all the acting techniques. It’s a lot but it’s amazing. Sylvia Young has had a hand in a lot of people’s careers. I think the school just speaks for itself of how fantastic the training is.

How did you land a role in Wicked?

I honestly didn’t ever think I would be in Wicked because I remember seeing it when I was 13. I grew up with the soundtrack as well, it was always a dream show but I didn’t think there would be a part in it for me. So when I joined my adult agency after moving from Sylvia’s I always said to them that I don’t want to have a normal career I want to be the person who does things that have never been done before. Wicked was one of them.

What was it about Wicked that you thought wasn’t for you. Wasn’t the first Elphaba [The Wicked Witch] a black woman?

She was an alternate, and cover. But the first actual Elphaba played by a black woman was Alexia Kadine. I did the Lion King with Alexia, she was ‘older Nala‘. We went as a group trip with Lion King to see her in Wicked as it was such a big thing; she’d made history because the part had always been played by a white person. After my time as Donkey in Shrek, I got a phone call from my agency that Wicked wanted to se me. I though it was weird because it’s such a big show. But I went for the audition, and it wasn’t until the final audition and I was in the room with about 11 other boys; I thought that maybe there would be other brothers there, but I’m sitting by myself with all these other white guys who looked exactly like what the character Boq should. Even then I was like, Idriss go in there. Do you. Whatever happens happens. Then two weeks later I got the call and even till this day, going on stage, playing the part, it’s just so overwhelming.

How did you interpret the character?

idriss Kargbo as 'Boq' Photo Credit - Matt Crockett

idriss Kargbo as ‘Boq’
Photo Credit – Matt Crockett

With Boq it’s his innocence. It’s his determination. He’s very determined, even though he’s a munchkin and as they say Munchkins are very small minded, he knows what he wants, which is Glinda [The Good Witch]. Even though it’s so obvious she doesn’t like him in that way he still goes for it regardless what anybody says about him, he wants to follow his heart. Everything is so colourful to him. It’s not black and white as Elphaba sees it. Then towards the end when he has no heart and he’s ruthless… It’s so great to see his journey through the show.

So with the myth that black people don’t go to the theatre, what would you say to those who may feel the story of Wicked won’t appeal to them?

I think it’s the magic. It’s the story. It’s one of those musicals that actually makes you think. Not just about what happens in the show, but what happens to Elphaba. She’s the underdog and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about Wicked it’s having an image and an idea about someone we know so well – the Wicked Witch, but do we know so well? We’ve never looked at the Wicked Witch and asked why’s she called the Wicked Witch? I think as a society, especially with what’s going on at the moment, we’re talking about a green witch, but it’s so relatable to black people. The media paints a picture of some people and as a society we’re so quick to judge. Wicked has so many layers, it’s about a person who’s been painted as evil just because of the way she looks…

You were in the UK production of Scottsboro Boys, the musical, am I right? (The Scottsboro Boys were nine black teenagers falsely accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The musical ‘Scottsboro Boys’ with a book by David Thompson, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb is based on the Scottsboro Boys trial)

Yes I was the youngest character, Eugene Williams. That was a powerful play! Even to this day it still has such a place in my heart because everything about the show was so clever, so touching so moving. The story again is exactly what we’re talking about; how the media paints people in negative light. These were 9 innocent boys who were going about their business and because of the colour of their skin they were accused of something and everybody turned on them without even questioning what happened… Obviously at that time, it was inevitable that would happen, but still, for the newspaper doing something so bad as this and no one even questioned if they actually did it…

Obviously you’re called Idriss albeit with an extra ‘s’ have you met Idris Elba, are you a fan?

My dad actually knew his dad. His dad was from the same tribe as my dad; we’re both from Sierra Leone and one time, my dad bumped into Idris’ dad in one of the African shops in Green Street market and he said to my dad, ‘don’t ever give up on your boy’s dreams, because I nearly did and look where my boy is today’… My dad came home and he told me. At the time I didn’t know Idris that well, but he was like ‘I saw Idris’ dad today and he told me this… and it was really good for me. Because I know you’ve got the talent and the passion, but I know you’re gonna make it some how some way’. For my dad it touched him. So I’ve never met Idris, but I feel in some way we are connected and one our paths will cross. Until then, he’s a massive inspiration to me.

Catch Idriss in Wicked now. Find out times and ticket information here: www.wickedthemusical.co.uk

Click Here to read TBB’s review of Scottsboro Boys