Emmanuel Kabongo was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo and with his family, subsequently relocated to South Africa during the Congolese civil war. They later moved to Toronto, in 1998. After his second year at a community college in Toronto, Emmanuel turned down a basketball scholarship to pursue an acting career. Emmanuel is an alumni of the Actors Conservatory Program at the Canadian Film Centre. Emmanuel produced and starred in the critically acclaimed web series 'Teenagers' which earned him a Canadian Screen Award nomination. Emmanuel is one of the leads in the series '21 Thunder' on Netflix.



What drives you?

Right now, I'm driven by three things. First is personal growth, because there's so much I still don't yet know about myself and the world. Second is family, because of the journey we experienced in order to move to North America from Africa. And third is wanting to make a positive impact in this world because I believe this is part of my purpose.

How do you stay motivated in this industry?

I remain committed no matter what happens in life. As long as I have the opportunity to shine, I will keep going. When things don't always go my way, I remind myself with one word told to me by a mentor - "Next". This word keeps me fired up! So I make sure to always stay ready by being patiently active. Doing things like having a life outside of the industry, reading, taking workshops, asking questions, building and maintaining positive relationships, doing my best with each chance that comes my way. And most importantly, taking care of my overall health keeps me motivated.

Advice to someone just starting out?

To anyone out there pursuing a career in entertainment, know that you will receive more nos then yeses. It's just part of the game. But you should never allow closed doors to discourage you. Let it motivate you by realizing that certain things aren't for you, and what is for you will be open. It takes great effort to get to effortlessness. It's really important to remember that the reason we fall is so that we can get up. People who are successful haven't always reached success by doing it alone. Being an island can only get you so far, so seeking guidance, asking for help and staying humble goes a long way. Work hard, work smart and "smiheart". This is a word I made up meaning don't just smile with your mouth but also do it with your heart. Because energy is felt.

Who impacted your career the most?

When it comes to my current position in the industry, a few people in my life have been extremely pivotal in different ways. First and foremost is my mother. Without her, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the film and television industry. Secondly, are my siblings who support and believe in me, and will always keep it real no matter what. And thirdly, the mentors in my life. Like my acting coach Earl Nanhu and my friend Michael Levine, who consistently reminds me to always remain sharp through self education. Also, my rep team who have been able to get me in front of great opportunities. 

How did you build the team around you?

Through trial and error. Before having my team, I wasn’t always affiliated with people who believed in the same vision as me. I made some poor choices and was rejected plenty of times, but this didn’t stop me from staying zoned in on my target. I continued to improve independently, didn’t take rejections personally, and tirelessly continued to reach out to others in the industry to get a better understanding of who would be best suited for me. When an opportunity had finally been presented, being prepared with my material and mental/emotional experience, granted me the confidence to connect with someone who believed in my dream.

Was it luck or strategy that helped you find success?

It was a little bit of both. But it’s also been timing, being the right fit and taking respectful risky chances without any expectations. Finding the right people who believe in you is one of the keys, but you must first truly believe in yourself. Knowing thy self is a never-ending journey that should be practiced daily. 

Did you ever give up hope that you’d not make it?

I’ve never given up. I’ve taken a couple of steps back to assess my process, and then a few steps forward with faith and trust. This I learned from playing sports. The way you play depends on how you practice, so if you want the coach to put or keep you in the game, you need to work your butt off. Period.

What was your worst experience in this business?

I was still a novice, very green at the time when this occurred. I had met someone who promised to change my career for the better if I agreed and did “certain” things with them. Uncomfortable things. It was very alerting because I was caught off guard and it was totally unexpected, especially coming from someone like this person. Thankfully, I always trust my gut feelings and was able to safely get myself out of the situation. 

What was your best experience in this business?

Getting to travel and work overseas, in a foreign country where I didn’t know the language or its customs. This experience taught me how to just let go of expectations and disappointments, and just learn how to be aware of the present moment.

Was Reelworld instrumental in your career in anyway? How?

Yes. I’ve been a part of a few short films that have screened in the past at the Reelworld Festival, and one of them won the Impact Award for the Best Short Film. This was a project I co-produced and starred in called “A Mans Story”. The award gave the film some momentum, which led to more festival screenings. So I am truly grateful for that gift from Reelworld.

Is there a theme in the work you pick?

As long as I am part of projects that impact viewers in a positive light, I am not picky. But I am selective with my work because I want to inspire others to be the best they could ever be and to never stop reaching for the stars. I want to inspire others to always go after their dreams because that is what this industry did for me. 


Emmanuel Kabongo


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