9 Hollywood-grade Actors You Probably Didn’t Know Were Kenyan


    Lupita may have made the history books as the first ever Kenyan to win an Oscar but she was definitely not the first actor of Kenyan origin to be successful in Hollywood.
    Here is a list of actors you’ve likely seen on your screen but didn’t know were of Kenyan origin.

    1. Kiran Shah

    Kenyan actors
    Kiran Shah. Courtesy of: IMDb
    Kenyan actors
    Kiran Shah as Elijah Wood’s scale double in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy

    Born: Nairobi in September 1956.
    Who he is: Kenyan-Indian actor and stuntman – better known for his prowess at being a stuntman.

    Shah lived in Kenya until the age of 12, when his family moved to India. His interest in films began in India but he got involved in show business when his family moved again, to London.

    Playing stunt doubles is how Shah broke into the film industry. He played the stunt doubles of all the children in “Superman” (1978), “Superman II (1980), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “Braveheart” (1995) and “Titanic” (1997) among others.

    He has also been a double in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies. For “The Lord of the Rings”, Shah doubled Bilbo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” as played by Ian Holm and in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” as played by Martin Freeman.

    As an actor, Shah has played the following roles:

    • An aboriginee in “The Sign of Four”, a Sherlock Holmes film (1987)
    • A monster who came out of a painting in “Gothic” (1987)
    • Ginarrbrik – the White Witch’s right hand dwarf in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005)
    • The Goblin Scribe in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)
    • Steven Moffat in “Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 4”
    • Teedo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

    Watch him in:
    “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005)

    2. Owiso Odera

    Kenyan actors
    Owiso Odera. Courtesy of: owisodotcom
    Kenyan actors
    Owiso Odera as Papa Tunde

    Born: Khartoum, Sudan of Kenyan parents.
    Who he is: American-Kenyan actor for both the screen and the stage.

    Odera got his M.F.A (Masters in Fine Arts) in acting from the University of California. With it, he has been seen in movies like:

    • “Acholiland” (2009)
    • “Relative Obscurity” (2007)
    • “Orenthal: The Musical” (2013)

    On TV, Odera has appeared in “Blue Bloods”, “Three Rivers”, “Dirt, “Numb3rs”, “The Unit”, “FlashForward” and “The Originals”. Nevertheless, Odera’s first love is the theater. He was cast in “The Overwhelming” – a play ranked fourth by Time Magazine as one of the top ten new plays of 2007.

    Watch him in: “The Originals” as Papa Tunde – a spin off of “The Vampire Diaries”

    3. Mary Oyaya

    Mary Oyaya as Luminara Unduli.
    Mary Oyaya as Luminara Unduli.

    Born: Mombasa, Kenya.
    Who she is: A actress and model, known for her role as a Jedi Master in two “Star Wars” movies.

    Modelling was Mary’s initial career choice, a career she began in 1996. She has been featured in fashion magazines, commercials and sports advertisements, showcasing designer labels such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci.

    Movies Mary has featured in include:

    • “Lost Souls” (2000)
    • “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002)
    • “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2015)

    Watch her in: “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” as Jedi Master Luminara Unduli

    4. Barkhad Abdirahman

    Kenyan actors
    Barkhad Abdirahman
    Kenyan actors
    Barkhad (R) as a pirate in “Captain Phillips”

    Born: Nairobi in June 1994
    Who he is: Kenyan actor of Somali descent

    If you’ve watched “Captain Phillips” then you’ve probably seen this face before. He is sometimes mistaken for Barkhad Abdi (the pirate leader) who starred alongside Tom Hanks in the same movie. He played the pirate Adan Bilal in “Captain Phillips” and not the pirate leader, Abduwali Muse, as often confused.

    Barkhad has also been in:
    • “Neighbourhoods” (2014)
    • “A Stray” (2016)

    Watch him in: “Captain Phillips” (2013)

    5. Lupita Nyong’o

    Kenyan actors
    Lupita. Courtesy of Popsugar
    Kenyan actors
    Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona Mutesi’s mother in “Queen of Katwe”

    Born: Mexico city in March 1983 of Kenyan parents.
    Who she is: Kenyan-Mexican actress for the screen and stage; producer

    We cannot have a list of Hollywood-grade Kenyan actors without Lupita.

    Lupita Nyong’o was raised in Kenya and moved to the United States to attend university. Lupita has always been involved in the acting industry, even when she still lived in Kenya.
    Lupita first joined Hollywood as a production assistant in 2008. She returned to Kenya to star in the MTV series, “Shuga” in 2009. Her breakout role, as we all know it, was when she played the role of Patsey in “12 Years A Slave”, for which she won an Academy Award.

    She has also been featured in:

    • “Non-Stop” (2014)
    • “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)
    • “The Jungle Book” (2016)

    Look out for her in:

    • “Queen of Katwe” set for September 2016 release
    • “Star Wars: Episode VIII” to be released in 2017

    Watch her in: “The Jungle Book”

    6. Edi Gathegi

    Kenyan actors
    Edi Gathegi
    Kenyan actors
    Edi Gathegi as Laurent in the “Twilight” series

    Born: March 1979 in Nairobi
    Who he is: a Kenyan-American actor for film, TV and the stage

    Although Edi was born in Eastlands, he grew up in California, USA. He is well-known for playing the vampire Laurent in the “Twilight” movie series. He has also appeared as a recurring character, Dr Jeffrey Cole, in the TV drama “House”. His credits for the theater include “Two Trains Running”, “As You Like It”, “Twelfth Night”, “Othello”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

    The movies Edi has been in include:

    • “Crank” (2006)
    • “Gone Baby Gone” (2007)
    • “The Fifth Patient” (2007)
    • “Twilight” (2008)
    • “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (2009)
    • “X-Men: First Class” (2011)
    • “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” (2011)
    • “Aloha” (2015)
    • “Criminal Activities” (2015)

    Watch him in: “Aloha”

    7. Oliver Litondo

    Kenyan actors
    Oliver Litondo
    Kenyan actors
    Oliver Litondo as Kimani Maruge in “The First Grader”

    Born: Kakamega, Kenya
    Who he is: A film and theatre actor who began as a broadcast journalist in Kenya. You may not know his name but I’m sure his face is familiar.

    Some of the movies Oliver has been in are:

    • “Wilby Conspiracy” (1974)
    • “The Search for the Nile” (1971)
    • “The Bush Trackers” (1978)
    • “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle” (1984)
    • “The Lion of Africa” (1988)
    • “The Ivory Hunters”(1990)
    • “The First Grader” (2010

    Watch him in: “The First Grader”

    8. Benjamin Ochieng’


    Born: Nairobi, Kenya
    Who he is: A Kenyan film and TV actor

    Benjamin “Benji” Ochieng’ was born and raised in Nairobi. He has appeared in TV series like “General Hospital”, “The Shield” and “X-Files”.

    Benjamin’s movie credits include:

    • “Tears of the Sun” (2003)
    • “Kwame” (2008)
    • “God’s Not Dead” (2014)
    • “God’s Not Dead 2” (2016)

    Watch him in: “God’s Not Dead 2” (released April 2016)

    9. Ebby Weyime

    Kenyan actors
    Ebby Weyime
    Kenyan actors
    Ebby Weyime in “Death Race”

    Born: Nairobi, Kenya
    Who she is: Kenyan model and actress

    Ebby Weyime may be fairly new to the acting world but has already been cast in 3 Hollywood movies.
    Ebby is currently based in Cape Town, where she moved to begin her modelling career.
    Some of the actors she has worked with are Hellen Mirren, Javier Bardem, Charlize Theron, Sean Penn and Barkhard Abdi.

    • “Death Race 3” (2012)
    • “The Last Face” (2015)
    • “Eye in the Sky” (2016)
    • “Roots” (2016)

    Watch her in: “Eye in the Sky”

    To see our list of African movie stars, click here.

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