Keenan Munn-Francis joined Series 3 of Disney’s Penny on M.A.R.S., which premiered in the UK earlier this year, and saw him film for four months in Milan, and had previously worked on shows such as Casualty and Doctors. As a stage actor, Keenan was cast as Emmanuel in Our Lady of Kibeho at Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton last year, and amongst his other roles, he has performed as Alternate Little Moe in Five Guys Named Moe at the Marble Arch Theatre, was part of the world premiere of Filthy Business, played Eugene Williams in The Scottsboro Boys and had his first major West End casting as Young Simba in The Lion King, where he stayed for nearly three years. We recently chatted to Keenan about playing Rob Walker in Penny on M.A.R.S., joining last year’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho and being in the cast of Five Guys Named Moe at Marble Arch Theatre.
Can you tell us what Rob Walker is like to play in Series 3 of Penny on M.A.R.S.?
I had so much fun playing the character of Rob because he has such a dynamic personality it made it easy to enjoy every second in front of the camera.
What was the show like to film and how long were you on location?
I loved filming Penny on M.A.R.S. and I had the privilege of working with an amazing director and talented actors. I was on location in Milan, Italy for four months. Milan is a beautiful city so I’m glad I got to work there.
How would you describe your character Rob?
I’d describe Rob as joyful, charming and caring.
What did you know about the show before booking the role?
I didn’t know much about the show, I had definitely heard of it, but once I had my first email about Penny on M.A.R.S. I did some research on the show and was pleased to see how passionate people were about it across the world.
You’ve previously filmed for both Doctors and Casualty, can you say how you were involved with the storylines and what they were like to film?
In Casualty I played a character called Gary Odabe. He was a young boy who got caught up in dangerous situations and was surrounded by the wrong type of people due to his circumstances. In the two episodes I was in, everything that he is involved with gets blown out of proportion and leads to Gary getting seriously injured. I was in Casualty across two episodes Series 30, Episodes 1 and 2.
I was in the episode of Doctors, Series 17, Episode 85. My character Jordan Seagrove was a young seventeen-year-old boy going through a lot of family issues, one being his mum having a drinking problem, and also her hiding a serious illness from him which was the main reason why Jordan’s dad left him and his mum because he wasn’t willing to take care of her.
Your first regular TV role was in the 2007/2008 Oliver Twist mini-series, what do you remember most from your time filming?
I filmed Oliver Twist back when I was nine. It was such a great experience, I had the pleasure of meeting Timothy Spall, Tom Hardy and Sophie Okonedo. I didn’t realise how big they were in the acting industry till I got older, but either way, I feel like for all of us young kids involved it was such a great experience and it really sparked my passion for acting.
Last year, you were cast in Our Lady of Kibeho at Royal & Derngate in Northampton, what was it like being part of the UK premiere?
Our Lady of Kibeho was such a fantastic play to be a part of. The story is so sad, informative and gripping. Shows like this will always hold a place in my heart because of how much they teach me. Doing this show taught me a lot about the history of Rwanda which can not be forgotten.
Can you tell us more about the production, and what drew you to the script?
What drew me to the script was the fact that the three girls and my character, Emmanuel, had such a spiritual connection to higher powers above, they were able to have apparitions and visions of the future destruction to come to Rwanda. It’s a hard-hitting story with comedic aspects written by Katori Hall.
You were Alternate Little Moe in Five Guys Named Moe at the Marble Arch Theatre, how was this?
My experience at Five Guys Named Moe was brilliant, we were a family. Most of us that were in the show had worked with each other before on other shows, so it was really nice to see them all again. Five Guys Named Moe is such a classic musical theatre show and it was an honour to work with Clarke Peters who was the director on the show.
With the world premiere of Filthy Business playing at Hampstead Theatre in 2017, you joined the cast as Titus, what was this role like to play?
Filthy Business was a fun show to be involved in, it’s based around a family-owned rubber shop in East London, 1968. The play follows all the ups and downs of the Solomon family who have to overcome many obstacles in a fast-changing society and area. My character, Titus, is one of those obstacles because Leo Solomon, the son of Yetta Solomon, has an affair with Rosa, a young woman who visited the store numerous times. Rosa gives birth to Titus secretly and they both walk into the shop years later and Yetta spots the resemblance between Leo and Titus almost immediately.
Can you talk about some of your earlier roles which have seen you perform in shows such as The Scottsboro Boys and The Lion King?
In regards to my early career, I was very lucky to do some amazing shows, ones that I’ll never forget, memories and friendships that I’ll cherish. I was in The Lion King for almost three years playing Young Simba. It was my first major West End show and solidified my passion in becoming a performer. I loved every second.
The West End production of The Scottsboro Boys is my favourite show I have done in my career. I played Eugene Williams, a thirteen-year-old boy, one of nine boys in this story. The story is so profound and resonates to me till this day, it’s hard to wrap your head around how injustices like it truly happen. The things those nine young boys went through were terrible and stories like theirs continue to surface to this day.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it as a career?
My love for acting, I would say, stems from watching movies and music videos with my older sisters. When I was young, we would recreate the scenes for films and showcase them to our family. Just having fun doing that at a young age made me love performance.
How was it playing Young Tokio in Tokio Myers and Akala’s music video?
It was great playing Young Tokio Myers in Tokio and Akala’s music video, Enter The Jungle. I had the pleasure of working alongside an incredible director, Chirolles Khalil and cameraman, Sam Friend, both young and up and coming in their fields. It was roughly three days of filming in London in some really cool locations. Also, meeting both Akala and Tokio was surreal, but that is the perks of working in this industry, you get to meet extremely talented and intellectual people.
When you’re not acting, what do you enjoy doing?
When I’m not acting, the things I enjoy doing most is making music, staying active, so going to the gym, playing basketball or football with friends. However, sadly, a lot of that has had to stop at the moment, but once everything is safe and we’re out of the woods, I’ll be getting straight back to it.
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