Her star is very bright and so is her smile!
Glowing Broadway veteran Saycon Sengbloh, the daughter of a Liberian father and an American mother, calls herself a world citizen, and that global perspective is evident in her eclectic resumé which includes roles in plays Fela!, The Color Purple – Musical, Rent! and Hair as well as film and television appearances in American Gangsta and Law & Order, respectively.
Now, she’s lighting up Broadway in the well-received Eclipsed, a powerful story of five women set during the Second Liberian Civil War. And she’s recently wrapped up film Double Play, which takes place on the Caribbean island of Curacao and elicits themes of colonial unrest during the country’s disruptive shift from Dutch rule to independent governance.
Fufu & Soup Magazine caught up with the busy starlet to discuss her Liberian heritage, current work and much more. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How was the opening night of Eclipsed on Broadway?
Opening night was beautiful; we did a really great show. We did the show before on off-Broadway, at the Public Theater and since we’ve moved to Broadway, we’ve grown so much and I think the show is tighter. I felt very excited, there was a lot of energy and we took a lot of pictures that night.
Do you like press and media?
I do love press and media. Whenever you are opening a show, there is a lot of press and media and sometimes there can be scheduling conflicts. But as an actress, I want to reach as many people as I can because I feel like a world citizen really. My dad was a Bassa man from Rivercess. My mom is American. I was born in Atlanta. So I’m representing Liberia and I’m also representing Atlanta. It’s that beautiful combination.
You play the role of Helena in Eclipsed. How do you think your Liberian heritage helps you in that role?
Oh, man it helps me a lot. I think of the Liberian women I know and that I’ve been in contact with in my life, my family, friends, and associates of mine… there are little bits of them in me. There is a way of speaking and a way of being that I am able to put into the show because I’m familiar with Liberian culture.
The play was written with Liberian English in mind and our audience is primarily American who do not understand Liberian English; so we’re doing an inspired version of Liberian English. But one of the cool things about the show is that it is a representation of African culture because there aren’t many productions that represent Africans, let alone Liberia. There have been few shows on Broadway that represent Africa: there was the South African-centered show Sarifina!, and also Fela!, a show which I starred in about Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. So now to be in Eclipsed, a show representing a portion of Liberian history, is just amazing to me.
And the cast is filled with so many amazing women representing the African diaspora with Pascale Armand who’s Haitian-American, Akousa Busia from Ghana, Lupita Nyong’o from Kenya and Zainab Jah who grew up in Sierra Leone and London. Sometimes I just pinch myself because I can’t believe I’m doing a show like this. There are a lot of people who don’t know what was happening in Liberia during that time, so the show is very important.
That’s very true. Many Liberians, particularly young Liberians, aren’t aware of what was happening in Liberia during that time; so Eclipsed is also beneficial to them as well.
Absolutely, war has a lot of effects on people. You have people who want to forget. There are people who purposely don’t want to talk about it. So it is a good idea for people to be introduced to the topic of war. There are people from many parts of West Africa who were affected by the war and can find healing in learning about why it happened. The war was so complicated. I am very much interested. I am not an expert; so I find it important to learn about what happened.
In the upcoming movie Double Play, you play the character Nora Fiel. What attracted you to the role?
The role of Nora Fiel is a beautiful role. She’s a beautiful, voluptuous woman, who is very spicy and loves her children. I recently played the role of Rita Marley, the wife of Jamaican musician Bob Marley, in the play Marley. Them being from Jamaica, I learned a lot about Caribbean culture for the role and the movie Double Play takes place on the Caribbean island of Curacao, so I felt like I could bring what I learned from that play to the role of Nora Fiel.
When I first read the script, I said ‘I know I can play this, I feel like I can do this.‘ I spoke with my acting coach and we put a tape together. Usually, I just send tapes to my agency and wait but after I sent it to the agency I couldn’t get the character out my mind. I did research and found the people who worked on the movie and I wrote them letters. They need to find a certain person to fit the role. They need to solve a problem and I felt like, ‘Hey, if you cast me, all your problems will be solved.’ I got the role and we wrapped up filming in December.
The island is absolutely beautiful. The country has a strong African influence. We had a lot of fun on the movie set just laughing and talking. Lala Anthony has a role in the movie as well. It’s interesting because she’s also a producer on Eclipsed; so I met Lala before she became a producer on Eclipsed.
I’ve had supporting roles in previous movies; in this film it’s great that I get to play a lead character. And there are so many handsome men in that movie (laughs). It’s a great movie, a lot of drama, too.
What advice do you have for people who want to pursue acting?
You have to be serious about your business if you’re going to work in entertainment. When you have an audition in the morning, you can’t party the night before. If you do party, you have to find that balance and make sure you do your work as well. I encourage people to go to school, take acting classes, study and be responsible. Read material other than pop-culture. Read material that will help you gain diverse knowledge, because having culture and being educated can help you capture characters from different time-periods.
Eclipsed on Broadway runs until June 19th.
Double Play release date: Currently unknown, we’ll update upon notice
Photo credit: Eve Brothers Photography | Makeup: Day Hill