In the new Showmax Original animation ‘Twende’, Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, Junior Nyong’o, provides the voice for the main character. Twende is a pangolin that rides a boda-boda and embraces the philosophy that ‘life is about the journey, not the destination.’

In a leisurely manner, Twende transports residents of the vibrant, imaginary East African city of Milima from one location to another, collaborating with his best friend and navigator, Nuru (voiced by June Gachui).

Junior delved into his character, discussed the significance of working on his first animation project, and shared insights into seeking voiceover tips from his sister Lupita to master the role.

Twende is your first animation role. How does that feel?

Animation and voice-over work are areas that I’ve always admired and wanted to work in as an actor. 

As well as classic morning cartoons on Saturdays, I grew up with many different types of animated content; from video games to Japanese anime like Bleach and Death Note

I would say that many times I have been moved to tears by a film/show, sobbing in the darkness of a movie theatre or on my couch, they have been animated. 

On the surface, animation feels like it is distant from the human experience, but, in that distance, it is able to tackle the very essence of humanity and its complexity in very creative and nuanced ways. 

So to step into that line of storytelling honestly just feels like a privilege. I’m really doing this for my nieces and nephews, who I hope can fall in love with animation the way I did. 

What was it about Twende that first drew you to this project, and how did that opportunity come about?

During the pandemic in 2020, my cousin Kwame told me that an animation about a pangolin was looking for its lead voice actor. 

Without thinking too much about it, I expressed an interest in auditioning for it. I had never even heard of a pangolin before! I started to check out YouTube videos about the animal to get an idea of how it moved about the world, what kinds of sounds it made. 

Although that didn’t necessarily inform my performance of the character in a tangible way, it really piqued my interest – this really sweet-looking endangered animal! 

I called my sister for some advice and tips on voiceover work. We geeked out about what a cool opportunity it would be, and so I went into the audition feeling very excited and ready to play and be receptive to all the director’s thoughts.

Did you get a chance to see how your character would look before you stepped into the studio to record him?

Yes, the team had prepared a very thorough sketchbook of all the various characters in Twende’s town Milima and so I felt a real connection with the style and feel of the environment and animation.

What made you laugh the hardest when you first read the scripts?

In the pilot episode, Twende basically falls in love with a smoothie machine and it just tickled me so much. I was smiling the whole way through that first read of the script. 

My favourite character was definitely Boss (played by Elsaphan Njora); his energy and anxieties about his boda boda business falling apart were so sincere and endearing. I mean, a hyena that runs a boda boda agency? It was just brilliant!

Twende is best friends with Nuru, who’s played by June Gachui. Did you get a chance to record with her or did you do it separately?

Fortunately, we did get to record the pilot episode together in the booth, and it was awesome to be able to play off of each other’s energy. I’ve grown up admiring June’s work as an actor and performer, and to get the chance to be best buds for this really sweet show was such a gift.