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GUYANA: Buxtonian climbing Canada’s drama industry

John Phillips performing the role of Mansa Musa in the National Geographic’s

When Guyanese journalist and actor, John Philips looks back at 2014, he certainly feels a sense of accomplishment that he is climbing the performing arts ladder relatively quickly in Canada.

Using his training, experience and exposure in his homeland, this proud Buxtonian has not only taken his craft to Guyanese and wider Caribbean audiences in Toronto  on stage but he has moved on to play key roles in film.

For the now 50-year old John, who hails from the land of El Dorado, coincidentally his biggest ‘hit’ so far is acting as the richest and most noble king in Mali, a gold producing country in North Africa, in a segment for National Geographic’s docudrama titled “The Quest for Gold: Lord of the Mines.” {youtube}https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojihVKpPQwQ{/youtube} 

While he was easily and surprisingly selected for the role of King Mansa Musa rather than an old villager for which he had been called, John’s encounter with a horse is perhaps the most memorable and “scary” aspect of filming that production.

mansa musa horse“I was doing good for about half an hour until the director said he is ready and the Assistant Director said ‘action’ and just as he said ‘action’ there we are trying to create the scene of me going to Mecca for Haj,  and then the horse started to behave bad, bucking and jumping up and my feet came out of the stirrup and I started to slide all over the saddle and I threw myself off and the horse ran away and  I had to get back on top of the horse to do this all day.  It was a bit scary. I don’t know if I want to do it again ever,” says John.

So how did he first get the ‘break’ to act on screeen?

The boy from Company Road, Buxton on the East Coast Demerara has not forgotten and certainly cherishes his drama roots that began with the fertilization of his talent at the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) that had staged several plays at the Theatre Guild.   He also acted in several plays including “Rope and The Cross”, “Beef Moh Chicken” and many Link Shows.

By the time he migrated to Canada 10 years ago, John was already a household name among Guyanese in both journalism and drama; something he used to his advantage and took up offers from Guyanese Luther Hansraj and Trinidadian Marvin Ishmael to perform at Caribbean events.  “My background from the Theatre Guild and from all the teachings from the Andre Sobryans and the Ron Robinsons, Jasper Adams – all those guys helped me when I came to Canada because it’s different the way they do things but because I had that initial training, preparation I was able to slowly penetrate and after a few years on the Caribbean scene, I decided I wanted to try something different which was going mainstream into the heart of the big theatre scene,” he said.

John recalls being afforded the opportunity to perfect his craft through more training opportunities and “lots more reading material” to better understand why he needs to do certain things during preparations. “Yes, the initial teaching down there (Guyana) was very good because it helped me to fit in,” he said, adding that he has to keep abreast with the various challenges. 
john phillips

Since playing the role of Martin Luther King about one year ago, his colleague who acted as Malcolm X, encouraged him to get an agent who collected his resume and photograph and later called him for an audition. Since then, he has been on several commercials, short films and documentaries.  He has acted as a detective in “Murder in Paradise: Stranger Danger” that featured the killing of a Canadian woman in Bermuda. Currently, he is preparing to participate in an episode of the “Untouchables” for Discovery Channel’s  “Investigation Discovery.”

Now, he does not necessarily have to be auditioned intensely for some of the roles. Instead, his agent just presents his track record and other attributes to the contracting company and he is often selected with little or no hiccup.

Though John’s ascendancy appears to be a big move, he admits that he still has a longer journey before he can quit his ‘day job’ and concentrate exclusively on the stage and film.

John has made immense strides in a field that he loves dearly, but he remains humble, proud and grateful.  “I am just excited at the way things are happening for me.  I am all excited but I still have to remain grounded and be thankful for where I came from and the things that have been happening for me.  For me, I am being successful, I see it as a collective thing for everybody who was before me and who helped me to be where I am today.” He plans to share his expertise with Guyanese actors when he returns home later this year.

Before leaving Guyana, he was a journalist at the then Vieria Communications Television (VCT)-owned and operated “Evening News”.