It’s near impossible to be in the orbit of Gideon Mzembe and not notice his leanings to Stoicism. The Zimbabwe-born Malawian actor credits his late father David for this.
We nabbed some time with Gideon while he was at QPAC, performing in shake & stir theatre co’s sold-out return season of Animal Farm.
“Knowing what my father went through... rather than just talking about how disadvantaged he was, or how unfair the world is, he put his head down and got the job done,” Gideon says.
David was a Malawian freedom fighter who was exiled for taking a stand against the political regime of dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda. David fled to Kenya, where he was put in jail, and upon release made his way to Australia. He was reunited a short time later with his family.
Arriving in Australia when he was eight-years-old, Gideon recalls speaking very minimal English and he and his younger brother Pacharo being the only black kids at school.
Picking up a football to fit in, Gideon fast found his step, which landed him a high school sporting scholarship, followed by a promising rugby league career with the Brisbane Broncos and Manly Sea Eagles.
The high achieving multihyphenate (actor/personal trainer/lifestyle coach to name a few) credits his brother for getting him into acting.
“I first saw Pach in a play called Antigone, and I said to him ‘I want to do what you’re doing. That’s magic.’ And he said ‘you can, you need to train’.”
Gideon Mzembe in shake & stir theatre co’s Animal Farm. Photo by David Fell.
Even if there is a hint of sibling rivalry, this is a fruitful one; and when Gideon speaks of Pach, the love and respect for his brother simply radiates.
Gideon met a fork in the road, and when Pach embarked on a gruelling 3,700km run across the country to raise awareness about inequality in education, he decided to give up football.
“I was at the peak of my rugby career and I knew if I went into acting I’d have to start from the bottom. It was a difficult choice to make, but I fell in love with the arts more than football – enough to walk away.”
He went on to study at New York Film Academy, and now has stage and screen credits to his name, including La Boite Theatre Company’s acclaimed world premiere work Prize Fighter.
Gideon and Pacharo Mzembe in La Boite Theatre Company’s Prize Fighter. Photo by Dylan Evans.
The actor says he feels very fortunate to have worked with some of this country’s great theatre directors and performers.
“The arts has validated me and contributed to my sense of belonging here.”
When asked about his father’s legacy, Gideon says:
“There’s no time to tell the story of how unlucky you are when you have two legs and a heartbeat. Dad’s biggest lesson for me was: you just have to keep going.”
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