The minute Kofi Siriboe appeared on screen as “Ralph Angel” in the upcoming Ava DuVernay created and co-produced series, Queen Sugar, there was something intriguing about him.
The presence of his character, though verbally silent, was loud and strong. As he sat on a bench at a playground observing who we learn is his son in the OWN series, there was an intense vulnerability in ‘Ralph Angel’s” eyes and a hunger exuding his essence that suggests he was striving for more and for better.
“I feel like the stillness of Ralph Angel – him being formerly incarcerated, being a Black man, being misunderstood in this world, I felt like that brought him to a place where he thought he had to be an observer – externally and internally,” Kofi tells EBONY.com. “So, I guess that presence or allure you get from him is really a mechanism of defense.”
Kofi, 22 and of Ghananian-descent, is not a new face on the Hollywood scene. His career spans across theatre, television and film. Most recently, the actor and model appeared in MTV’s Awkward and in the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, among other projects. But, it is in Queen Sugar, a series set in Louisiana that unites the estranged Bordelon siblings in the wake of their father’s passing to run an ailing sugarcane farm, that the extent of his talent soars.
This is the role, that will make the unfamiliar, familiar with Kofi Siriboe.
In an upbeat conversation with EBONY.com, the Los Angeles-native, who also co-stars in Kicks (in theaters Sept. 9) as the villain, “Flaco”, gives insight on character creation, artistic responsibility and of course, what it’s like to work with creative duo, Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.
EBONY: What attracts you to a role?
Kofi Siriboe: I try to be as intentional as possible. When the dialogue is on point and I feel like the overall story and message is really serving something that’s socially progressive, it really makes me want to be a part of it. Ralph Angel was such a great character. The single-father image has been portrayed in so many ways so having the ability to be a part of that narrative excites me! Same thing with “Flaco” in Kicks. For him to be a villain, to be able to give my take on that and add a little something different, I feel like that’s a blessing. I really just think it’s about the overall message, the way it’s conveyed and the people involved in the project. Find people you want to create with because it’s infinite, unlimited expression, you know.
EBONY: For sure! I saw the first three episodes of Queen Sugar and wow! Ralph Angel immediately draws you in. What steps did you take when crafting your character and preparing for this role?
Kofi Siriboe: Ralph Angel, for me, was about getting in touch with the similarities between the characters. I felt like he was a human being that I knew and [somebody] that I’ve been and am currently still exploring. It was really about figuring out the humanity aspect of the character and not really paying attention to certain things like him being incarcerated or him being a father and showing that type of love and putting something before you, despite me not having kids in real life. He’s vulnerable, ambitious and alive. As much as he’s been through, he’s so alive and open to change. That’s what I wanted to channel and I feel that’s the root of who he is. So I was still and listening to God. All of that came together to really birth this human being known as Ralph Angel.
EBONY: So, man, you’re working with Ava DuVernay and Oprah, that’s amazing! What’s it like being on set and taking direction from this creative tag team?
Kofi Siriboe: Haha yes! Working with Ava and Oprah, they’re just so intimate. I feel like we’re really family at this point. Even though we’re creating this work on such a professional level, at the same time, it’s so personal. It’s art but it’s transcending art and it’s transcending entertainment.I think that’s something that Oprah and Ava do seamlessly. They know how to connect to people and they know how to share our stories. To be a part of that is a blessing.
EBONY: A significant aspect of the story is that it centers on the Black farmers market and land ownership in the Deep South. How much research went into that area and what did you observe from the Louisiana culture?
Kofi Siriboe: That was all very new to me. I read books and watched documentaries, just trying to immerse myself. Even though it was the family business, it’s still new to [Ralph Angel]. He’s exploring not only what it means to work on the farm but he actually wants to be in charge. That’s what I really focused on as oppose to trying to become an expert. Louisiana taught me another level of humility. Everyone is so content, not socially content but spiritually. Everyone is happy with who they are and loves their city regardless of what has happened here with Katrina and all the different stories. They have a sense of pride and it really rubbed off on me.
EBONY: Tapping into a bit of who you are, you’ve been in the industry for a while. What was your first introduction into the arts?
Kofi Siriboe: I started in this industry as a kid doing commercials. Ever since I was introduced to it, I loved it. As a kid, there were things I wasn’t aware of – insecurities while transition from teen to adult. When I was around 17 and 18, I started seeing the benefits of this world. I really got attracted to the idea of touching so many people and that idea of art transcending entertainment and art and activism being synonymous. I really wanted to be a part of that movement or better yet create that movement. I think that’s really the allure of acting for me. I really want to connect with people.
EBONY: Ah! The Black Arts Movement, Harlem Renaissance, were adamant about activism and social messaging. As an actor coming into this space, do you feel a responsibility to address societal issues?
Kofi Siriboe: As a young, Black man, I absolutely feel responsible. If I choose this platform and God validates this platform, I feel like we have to use the hyper-reality to get people closer to [actual] reality. Right now is so special because it’s the information age and people just want to be aware and there’s no better way of doing that than through art. People respect us, they love us and they’re entertained by us, so it’s like when you trust somebody on that level, it’s a lot easier to speak some real knowledge into their minds. I feel responsible to know what I’m talking about and to actually express myself the way I choose. We have to put those messages on a global platform period. That, to me, is inspiring. Everyone has a platform, so if we could just use that and combine what we have and know -we talk about it in private – we might as well talk about it [publicly] together.
EBONY: How would you describe this time in your life?
Kofi Siriboe: Two words: Ultimate expression. I’ve worked so hard to just be my full self and God has just validated me in so many ways. Now, I just owe it to myself, to God and to everybody who supports me and people who don’t even know me yet, to just be fully intentional and authentically real with everything I do, say and create.
Catch the two-night premiere of Queen Sugar September 6 and 7, 10pm ET on OWN.
LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor/ Entertainment and Culture for EBONY, EBONY.com and JETMag.com. You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her iPhone 6 via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.