Student now a silver screen star

A year ago Roger Nsengiyumva was much like any other new student at City College Norwich, but now he is coming to grips with being a star of the silver screen.

This month sees the release of the film Africa United, which is being touted as 'the next Slumdog Millionaire' and which stars the 16-year-old who lives in Norwich city centre.

It tells the story of Rwandan football prodigy Fabrice, played by Roger, his best friend and 'manager' Dudu, and Dudu's little sister Beatrice as they attempt to get to the World Cup in South Africa.

While four of the film's five young lead roles were cast, producers and director were struggling to find a young actor for the key role of Fabrice after the favourite for the role dropped out with just weeks to go before filming started.

This happened just before Christmas last year, and producer Mark Blaney came to Norfolk to visit his wife's parents. They showed him a cutting about Roger, which told how he was born in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, his father had been killed, his mother had fled to the UK, and they had been living in Norwich.

The fact that Roger had also tried out for Norwich City Football Club caught the producer's eye and the rest is history.

When the Eastern Daily Press caught up with Roger yesterday, he was about to endure a full day of media interviews at a press junket for the film, and was eagerly anticipating seeing the final edit of the film at the London premiere tomorrow.

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He is accompanied by his mother Illuminee, who is perhaps more experienced at media interviews, having spoken to the press many times before about the book Miracle in Kigali, which tells the harrowing story of her and Roger's escape from the Rwandan genocide and how they came to make their home in Norwich.

For Roger, a former City of Norwich School pupil, the experience has been a steep learning curve.

'I had to learn to work with different types of people but I had a brilliant time with the other four actors. It was a brilliant experience, although it was quite scary having 200 people there watching you on set.'

It also meant four months away from home, and not all 16-year-old boys would speak openly about their affection for their mother, but Roger and Illuminee's closeness is undeniable.

'It was my first time in Rwanda without my mum,' he says. 'I was quite adamant I wanted to do the whole thing without my mum, because I'm a bit of a mummy's boy.'

Illuminee found the four months Roger was away filming difficult, as it was the longest they had ever been apart.

'That was really hard. I started going in his room and getting a bit tearful,' she says.

Roger has already taken his next step in acting and has filmed a two-part television drama for the BBC called Hominid, which tells the story of the ascent of man through a boy's eyes.

With two high profile acting roles already under his belt, the public service student could be forgiven for jacking in his two-year diploma course at City College.

But he 'definitely' wants to complete his studies.

'Especially for my mum's sake,' says Roger. 'I definitely want to carry on. It's nice to have something to fall back on. I was never really good at school, so it's a struggle anyway. I had a tutor on set who was amazing and really helped me.'

Already he has experienced a taste of the strange world of fame, but you get the impression his feet are staying firmly on the ground.

'It was definitely strange yesterday. Yesterday was very weird. We went to a Cineworld where a group of teenagers were watching our film and then a guy walked in and said: 'We have actually got the people from the film in today'.

'We walked in and they started yelling and screaming. We did a question and answer session, then afterwards we got mobbed. Lots of people took pictures and I just thought it was crazy.'

While there has been a bit of banter from his friends, Roger tried to keep his involvement in the film quiet at college.

'Actually it was quite funny at City College. I didn't tell anyone when I got back what I had been doing, because I only joined last year and didn't want to walk around saying I had been in this film.

'Then the PR guy for City College came and told everyone and they all just looked at me and bombarded me with questions after that.

'They were all quite excited and my old friends from CNS are quite excited to see the film.'

Despite not yet having had the chance to see Africa United, Illuminee is incredibly proud of her son, especially when she reflects how far they have come since the time she fled the Rwandan genocide with her newborn son strapped to her back.

'I think it's amazing. I didn't have a life that was the best for my son and things have gradually become much better. Then this coming along has been amazing. When I think where Roger is now, he's bringing so much joy into my life at the moment.

'I see a man who will not let me down. I'm really, really proud of him.'

Africa United, which has a 12A certificate, will be showing at cinemas from October 22.

Video courtesy of Karen Milam, City College Norwich.

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