Now working with some big names in Hollywood, Lankan-born actorKenneth De Abrew is thankful for his early exposure to Shakespeare drama at Trinity College Kandy “When I was about 10 years old,my mother encouraged me to try out for a school play. She believed that this exposure would give me confidence. And it was love [...]


All the world’s a stage


Keneth De Abrew and Zachary Infante in rehearsal for Petrol Station, written and directed by Sulayman Al Bassam later performed at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater Washington, DC USA. Photo by Jack Llewellyn-­Karski

Now working with some big names in Hollywood, Sri Lankan actor Kenneth De Abrew is thankful for his early exposure to Shakespeare drama at Trinity College Kandy

“When I was about 10 years old,my mother encouraged me to try out for a school play. She believed that this exposure would give me confidence. And it was love at first sight. I immediately realised the joy of immersing oneself in complex characters,” says Kenneth De Abrew, an actor in Hollywood now.

Kenneth grew up in Kandy and attended Trinity College. He cut his teeth on plays such as Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Taming of the Shrew at the All Island Shakespeare Drama Competition. “The discipline and exposure I got at Trinity gave me the belief that this passion can be taken further.”

Eventually, he moved to the United States to attend Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in Delaware, Ohio where he majored in Zoology and Theatre. He went on to do a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Acting from the Louisiana State University (LSU). “LSU is associated with Swine Palace, a premier professional theatre in the state of Louisiana where I was able to work on professional productions.” Upon completing his MFA Kenneth worked at several professional theatres in California, Tennessee, and North Carolina with a focus on Shakespeare productions.

Kenneth also taught Acting at North Carolina Wesleyan College before moving to New York City to pursue acting in earnest. “I am a character actor by trade. But due to a lack of theatre productions duringthe pandemic, I’m focused on film and TV work.” His recent credits include Girls5Eva, New Amsterdam and a highly anticipated Apple TV show. He has also worked on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, Detour, and Orange is the New Black.

“I prefer comedy,” he says, having worked on classical comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Much Ado about Nothing. Kenneth also performed comedic roles in more serious productions such as Petrol Station, Guards at the Taj and Indian Ink performed at the Kennedy Center Washington DC, Woolly Mammoth, Washington DC and Actors Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco.

“A good actor should be able to portray any character. I will pretty much play any role that is presented to me.” He worked on serious characters in TV shows such as Gotham and Jessica Jones. “I played the titular character of Macbeth, which is my all-time favourite role, followed by Caliban in The Tempest.”

It’s no surprise then that Kenneth’s favourite actor is Sir Anthony Hopkins. “He is a timeless actor that demands gravity in every character he plays. I also admire Brian Cranston who found fame and fortune later in his career.”Among the well-known actors Kenneth has worked with so far,“Stanley Tucci, Jon Bernthal and Renée Elise Goldsberry stand out not only for their talent, but also for their grace and humbleness.”

“Stanley Tucci joked and spent time with me when we worked on the movie Submission. He ended the shoot by saying “you are certainly memorable” and I asked him not to mess up my scene which made everyone laugh,” he recalls.

“I got to hang out with Jon Bernthal when we worked on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He was such a friendly guy. He was working on Kimmy Schmidt during the day and Punisher by night. He showed me scars from doing his own stunts on Punisher, and asked me about my training.”

“When Renée Elise Goldsberry complimented my work after our scene and wanted to take a selfie with me, that was a very kind moment. Girls5Eva was shot under heavy Covid-19 protocols so we both have masks on.”

Kenneth recalls some of the many memorable moments in his career: “I got to play a Buddhist Nun in the world premiere of Cocktail when I started the play by saying “Namo Tassabhagavato Samma Sambuddhassa”. That was a great feeling. Then I got to imitate a popular political figure in the world premiere of Petrol Station at the Kennedy Center. I also rapped and did beatbox on this amazing show written and directed by the renowned artist from Kuwait, Sulayman Al Bassam.”

He is thankful to his teachers including the late Mr Subramaniam who introduced him to Shakespeare as a child, late John Dennis from LSU who taught him specific acting lessons and Dr L B Rabby – his professor at Ohio Wesleyan and lifelong mentor.

Kenneth has some advice for aspiring thespians:

Never stop doing what you want to do!

Have a plan. Don’t go all in at once. Make your career last.

Be smart. If your dream is not paying the bills, get a job that gives you flexibility to follow your dream.

Listen to your parents and your elders. If they are discouraging you it is out of love. Give them what they want and find a way to follow your dream too in your free time. I completed an undergraduate degree in Zoology for my parents. It was not a problem or that hard. I also found a way to do my Theatre degrees too. You need the blessings of your loved ones so win them over with your work not with arguments.

If you are struggling remember that folks around you are struggling too so be kind.

If you like being treated well by seniors in the trade remember that feeling and pass it on to the younger folks

Find inspiration from others’ success.

Treat every audition as a performance and give it all you got. Then forget about it till casting calls you back (if that happens)

Always do at least one thing for your career every single day. Consistency is key

Kenneth would like to connect and collaborate with artistes from Sri Lanka and the South Asian region. “I have had some opportunities and success in the US. However, I am embarrassed to say I have not done a play, a TV show or a film in Sinhala which is my native language. It’s probably time to change that.

Any artistes or anyone who would like to connect or follow his work please see: – Instagram handle @kennethdeabrew – Website – LinkedIn


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