Charmaine Bingwa: Following Bliss
Words + Interview By: Krystal Luster
Life is not guaranteed. You can do all the “right things” and still be faced with the hardships of life. Luckily for us, we have the opportunity to choose how we deal with these hardships and it is these choices that ultimately contribute to our peace and chaos. Deal with the chaos, focus on the peace. Find your own bliss and follow it.
You grew up in Australia, but your parents are from Zimbabwe. Tell us about your childhood.
I grew up on an Island-turned-mining town off the coast of Western Australia and am the youngest of three. The island was pretty chill. I used to skateboard, BMX, build cubbies and would lock myself away and read tons of books. Growing up with two different cultures, I learned to see value in most things and just accept people the way they are. It’s cool. You end up with less of a fixed mindset.
Are there any similarities between these two cultures?
Not really! They are like chalk and cheese, ha-ha! They were interesting to navigate growing up. I’d go to school, copy all the things the Aussie kids said, replicate it at home and get in serious trouble! Australians are a LOT more liberal.
Was there a particular actor/actress or film that inspired you to pursue your own acting career?
Viola Davis…she is all about the craft and is a force both on and off screen. As another woman of color, she has shown me the possibility there is for a woman of color to have an acting career that is successful beyond measure.
Tell us about the film “Nekromancer” and the role you play as the “Possessed Finnigan”.
This was my most fun on set experience to date! Kiah Turner-Roache (director) made it a multi-million dollar set feel, like a bunch of mates hanging out and being creative. I got to play a larger than life character and even got to do my own fight scenes! I live for that stuff!
What are your thoughts/beliefs on magic and demonic beings? Do you believe any of it to be real?
I only truly believe in what you can’t actually see. People simplify things so much but ultimately we are all made of energy so I definitely believe in magic. I think Hell on Earth is not believing in magic and possibility.
Whose story/last statement did you portray on the short “Last Words”? What is it about?
Last Words really examines capital punishment by telling the story of eight convicts on death row and their last words. For me the quote at the beginning, “You know my name, not my story. You’ve heard what I’ve done, not what I’ve been through.” really reflects the film’s bigger question. Is capital punishment actually a solution?
I enacted Richard Brimage, Jr., 42 who raped and strangled a homecoming queen. Being a drug addict since thirteen, he then appealed to the next generation to look after their children so they could avoid a fate similar to him.
If you were on death row, what would be your last words?
They’d be, “It’s been beautiful” because it’s my hope that I enjoyed it all. I believe we are here to have an experience, be joyful, love and create anything we desire.
You are the winner of several theatrical awards. How did it feel being awarded the 2018 Equity Award?
That was so amazing. I don’t live for accolades but I’m a pretty hard worker so the acknowledgement felt so great. I also had such a good time on the Skype interview because I got to talk at length with people who are just as passionate about acting as I am. I almost didn’t want to hang up! I’m so grateful for the MEAA and Foxtel for the opportunity that is really setting me up for success.
In addition to being a film and stage actress, you have also written, produced, directed and starred in the 7 episode series “Little Sista”.
Little Sista is a comedy about Charmaine, a thirty-something black lesbian played by myself, who is terrified of commitment and gives no f*cks. So, when a Judge with a sense of irony orders her to mentor an at-risk young girl, she identifies with the kid’s difficult childhood and attempts to teach Lucy the life lessons her own parents failed to.
I was a mentor in the Big Brother, Big Sister program myself and had always wanted to write something so with this mentor relationship at the heart, the adventures the characters could go on seemed limitless. I’m super proud that it normalizes ethnic diversity, LGBTQ+ relationships, substitute families and more. It’s a boundary pushing roller coaster ride about dysfunctional people who have depth.
Is “Little Sista” your first major success as writer, producer, director, and star?
It is. It was a lot of work to write, produce, direct and star so I’m not sure I want to do all four tasks again in a hurry. The experience of being that immersed into something was so great. It’s good to know that I can do it too.
Are you currently working on more projects that involve your writing, producing, directing, and acting abilities?
I am. I am writing a few projects, but I am currently working on a film called “Cairos” that I am producing and starring in. It’s an amazing Sci-Fi script by Zach Paul Brown about two women who reunite during a rare celestial event.
Was your role as “Mrs. Muller” in the stage-play “Doubt: A Parable”, your first major performance in theater?
I had performed theater before but it was probably my first major performance. It was such a gift to perform alongside some of the most decorated actors in Australia and the beautiful direction of Dino Dimitriadis. It was a surreal moment when I later got to meet and work with the playwright John Patrick Shanley earlier this year in Los Angeles.
Is the movie adaptation significantly different in comparison to the play?
I think so. The narrative thread is the same but John Patrick Shanley really opened the world out in the film. He is truly a genius.
It’s been said that this play was career changing for you. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I do agree. It really exposed me to Australian audiences in a unique way because production was highly praised. I received award nominations for it (2017 Sydney Theatre and BroadwayWorld Awards). But, it also changed things for me internally as it really cemented the craft of acting due to the discipline required to turn out such an extreme emotional performance night after night.
When did you first notice your musical abilities?
I had bought a guitar and a little workbook you could teach yourself from and within a week or two I had completed it and was ready for the intermediate one. You could not separate me from my guitar. Also, I think I inherited rhythm from my parents. They love to dance and sing around the house, even if not very well ha-ha. So, I have been playing since I was twelve years old. I started singing a few years later. I can play most instruments to a degree including bass, drums, piano and I can DJ as well.
Did you ever consider solely focusing on a musical career instead of acting?
That was actually always the plan for me. I imagined being a musician for the rest of my life but when I was at music school and needed to pick a few electives in order to finish, one of them was acting and I fell in love with it. It completely changed the course of my life.
Tell us about your performances on the tours of Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony and Rachel Platten.
It was so fun! Australia is such a long distance away so international stars don’t always stop through. It’s exciting to say I was able to have the opportunity I had because so few individuals get to perform with them.
With a Bachelor in Music and Commerce, why is it that you continue to study improv at UCB?
I went to UCB on a recommendation. I didn’t really have any desire per se but a few classes in, I loved it! That’s one of my rules in life..to follow my bliss. Improvising is such a great skill to have and I think it helps you, not just with comedy but with drama too.
Any Last Words?
Never let anyone stop you from doing anything in this life.
Follow Charmaine Bingwa on Twitter and Instagram @charmainebingwa.
Photo By: Paul Smith