INTERVIEW: Guiding Light's Kevin Mambo (Marcus Williams) shares memories of his soap days, teases new projects

Posted Wednesday, October 06, 2021 5:54:56 AM
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Actor and musician Kevin Mambo relives his days as Guiding Light's Marcus Williams and One Life to Live's Jordan Kingsley, plus he shares details about his current Netflix series, Hit & Run, and his heartwarming work in children's theater.

Anyone who watched Guiding Light in the 90s knows that Kevin Mambo was one of the most talented actors to call Springfield home. Not only did he woo soap opera fans with his smooth and sultry saxophone skills -- which were worked into the storyline for his character, Marcus Williams -- but he was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Younger Performer category all three years that he was on the CBS soap opera, winning the trophy twice.

There's no doubt that fans vividly remember Mambo's storylines on GL, because he was lucky enough to get some fantastic material from the writers. The son of Griffin Williams (Geoffrey Ewing), Marcus had a loyal friendship with Dinah Marler (Wendy Moniz) and was heavily involved in her dramas with Roger Thorpe (Michael Zaslow); Marcus was falsely accused of murdering Patrick Cutter (Scott Hoxby) after police found him trying to help the dying detective at his murder scene; and the character shared a steamy romance with Springfield singer Dahlia Crede (Sharon Leal), on whom he later cheated.

After leaving GL, Mambo went on to appear in series like Soul Food and Law & Order before landing the role of Dr. Jordan Kingsley on One Life to Live. Unfortunately, his 2003 to 2005 run on the ABC soap opera wasn't nearly as fruitful as his critically acclaimed run at GL, as OLTL gave him fairly lackluster storylines. The silver lining, as he tells Soap Central in the interview below, was that it gave him the opportunity to work alongside über-talented stars like Renée Elise Goldsberry (Evangeline Williamson) and Trevor St. John (Todd Manning).

Mambo hasn't returned to the world of daytime since his short-lived OLTL stint, but he has been incredibly busy with other acting projects. Some of his stage credits include playing the title character in the Tony Award-nominated play Fela!, the role of Mafala in The Book of Mormon, and the role of Barret Rude Jr. in the Public Theater's Fortress of Solitude. His screen credits include Happyish, High Maintenance, and Luke Cage.

Mambo's most recent project is starring as Detective Newkirk in the Netflix action thriller Hit & Run, which follows a happily married man (Lior Raz) whose life is turned upside down when his wife is killed in a mysterious hit and run accident in Tel Aviv. The grief-stricken and confused widower begins a search for the killers and discovers disturbing truths about his beloved wife along the way.

Hit & Run is currently streaming on Netflix, and Soap Central took the opportunity to speak with Mambo about his role in the action-packed drama. We also encouraged the actor to take a walk down memory lane and relive some of his most cherished soap opera memories, from the warm welcome he received from GL's Vince Williams (Hampton Speakes), to learning from greats like Justin Deas (Buzz Cooper) and Kim Zimmer (Reva Shayne), to building a romance between Marcus and Dahlia while on location at Universal Studios in Florida.

Soap Central: The last year and a half has been so crazy, particularly for someone like you, who is so involved in theater -- an industry that really got hit. That must have been really tough for you.

Kevin Mambo: We took a real hit, particularly in terms of shows that are live -- the theater industry, the music business... but there was a pivot to do smaller things, like readings and shows with two or three people, that we got to do online. Some of that was great. I did a couple of shows that were filmed live around the world, with Molière in the Park and the Cuban Festival in London.

Soap Central: I heard that actors have to have professional lighting and all kinds of stuff in their homes now!

Mambo: It's true, but I'm such a geek that I actually don't mind it! I've got lights now, I've got a couple of small screens. I actually co-wrote a show that we perform for kids in schools with a company called The Greatest Stories Never Told. The goal was to present different American stories that the kids aren't likely to hear. For example, the first one was Flying Hobos, which was the name of the plane of the two first African-American men to fly across the country in 1932. They built their own plane and landed in all these fun places, and it's such an amazing story that actually never ends up in school. We were touring most of the States with that and had gotten grants from NASA and some other organizations, but of course, we got shut down because of COVID. But as a result, we managed to figure out how to shift digitally. So, having taken it and supersized it into a whole new thing, we can actually reach more kids than we thought. So, there was kind of a growth element to it.

Soap Central: You've been busy because you're also currently on-screen in the Netflix series Hit & Run, which I read was shot during the pandemic. I know you have other television credits, but did you decide to do that job because theater roles were really limited at the time? Or was your participation in the series independent of the pandemic?

Mambo: With Hit & Run, all of my scenes were filmed in New York, and we finished the New York portion of the show before COVID. But there was an Israeli portion of the show that had to be shot [during the pandemic]. That comes first, but they shot it last, and COVID happened in between.

Soap Central: You play a detective with a wry sense of humor who has seen it all, which is a fun character description. What was it like for you to play him and get into character?

Mambo: I found particularly the style that we were in was very much like a film noir style, from the lighting, to the mood, even to the clothing and that kind of stuff. So, film noir is very cerebral but moves very slowly, which I think is awesome. Most of the thriller stuff, which I also enjoy, is so much faster paced. But we managed to keep tension without moving too quickly, and I think that really invites the audience to discover layer by layer what's happening. The funnest part about playing Newkirk was that I knew that, through his eyes, we would start to piece things together and understand what was happening and when and to whom, you know? I love the fact that he is just so single-minded; there really is nothing else happening in his life but [this hit-and-run case], and he's not going to stop until he figures out what's happening.

Soap Central: Did you find that the straight-to-the-point, dog-with-a-bone type of character was easier to play than the more typically enigmatic TV characters who are written to be more mysterious as a way to keep audiences intrigued?

Mambo: It really helps to be focused on one thing. A lot of times, I think viewers forget that unlike a lot of other episodic shows or the soaps, you shoot two episodes at a time, so you always kind of exist within a frame of time. Our show was shot over ten episodes, and within those ten episodes, things were all over the place. So, you're in a ten-episode movie now, and you have to look at the construct of a movie -- where am I right now in time and what already happened and what's going to happen next? Audiences sometimes forget that things are not shot in sequence, so, you really have to pay attention to where you are and what's happening and where you came from and where you're going. Some people are amazing at it, but it is a complicated job! So, to be able to relax into a singular [focus] was actually really great.

Soap Central: The whole aspect of just trying to get yourself oriented timewise in a scene is probably something that most viewers don't even think about.

Mambo: I've done projects where I'm getting into either a hand-to-hand fight or a gun battle with somebody, and that is the first scene that we shoot together -- the end of the relationship! [Laughs] Even in Hit & Run, I was in scenes with people who were dead, and then, later on in the week, we're shooting all this stuff where they're alive. So, yeah, it can be disorienting!

Soap Central: A gun battle seems easy in comparison to having a love scene right off the bat! I've heard stories where it's like, "Hi, nice to meet you... And, action!" And they're in bed together!

Mambo: And, action! [Laughs] It's also very weird because there is really nothing at all intimate about shooting stuff like that. The audience doesn't understand that from the actors' point of view, there are 40 or 50 people standing there. There's nothing intimate about it at all, and the person who is closest to you is somebody holding a boom mic over you -- there's no candles, there's no sandalwood. [Laughs]

Soap Central: I've heard it's super technical, down to the tiniest thing, like, "At this moment, you caress her cheek, and at this moment, you put your hand on her shoulder."

Mambo: You also have three cameras that are trying to vie for attention and they're constantly changing and coming in and out and in and out, and of course, the air conditioning is cooling all the cameras! So, it's really terrible. Really terrible. I remember my first day on set [at GL]: the human eye is attracted to movement, so, you're on stage, and the cameras move -- they're sliding around, backward and forward, trying to catch different angles -- but as soon as a light goes red on top of a camera, that's how you know which camera is on, and I would always be like, "RED!" and just look! [Laughs] I was always looking right into the camera and ruining the shot.

Soap Central: What other memories come to mind when you think about your time on Guiding Light?

Mambo: Vince Williams was such a good friend and mentor, and when he passed, it was so terrible, but I remember when I first came to town from California, I had this message on my answering machine from him. He had to leave town to go to a funeral, but in the meantime, he was like, "I know you're coming, and this is so exciting -- we're going to have a ton of fun. But here are a bunch of guys who will take you out and take you to some music spots." And before the night was over, I was at three, four, five jazz spots, and I was like, "How did this happen?!" I was just immersed in a world and in this culture, and Vince got back, and we ended up getting to record some of our own written music for Towers, and that was a really great introduction to New York City in your early 20s. It was a really, really great time.

Soap Central: I feel like you got extremely lucky in that you found this soap opera role that also incorporated your lifelong talents as a musician. That doesn't happen very often!

Mambo: It really doesn't happen. We had a change-up of producers at the very, very top of all the shows at one point, and I had been signed, and the new producers were not quite sure what to do [with me]. So, I said, "Well, I speak a few languages, I could be from Europe? And I've been playing jazz since I was ten years old, so I could be a jazz musician from Europe?" They said, "We'll pass it around. Sounds like a great idea." So, I got to kind of be in my own lane.

Soap Central: In addition to being able to play the saxophone and music on the show, you had a lot of really big, crazy stories that GL fans will always remember: your friendship with Dinah, being accused of murdering Detective Cutter, the romance with Dahlia. Do any storylines stand out as your favorites?

Mambo: It was such a strange time. I remember coming on to the show and getting arrested [by] Frank Dicopolous [ex-Frank Cooper] -- who, by the way, is not a small man by any stretch of the imagination! I spent the first month of work in an orange jumpsuit behind bars, and I never got to meet anybody else on the show, because I had been in jail. So, it was just me and Wendy in a room with some bars and a jumpsuit for the first month. I was like, "This is the weirdest [job]!" [Laughs] And we went to do Sweeps down in Orlando, and Sharon Leal and I were going to kiss in the pool for Marcus and Dahlia's big moment, but it took forever to shoot, and there is nothing worse than being in a swimming pool at night for six hours! It ceased to be fun after 45 minutes -- that was terrible! [Laughs] And then you come back to New York, and you get on the A train, and I'm just going to get food, and I'm going to get my dreads done, and these Jamaican women come up to you, and they're like [speaking in Jamaican accent], "Don't treat Dahlia like that! You know she love you, Marcus! You know she love you!" And you realize how present you are in some people's homes. Like, really present. [Laughs]

Soap Central: You were so lucky to shoot on location, as it was during a time when soap budgets were big and the audience was huge. Being in a cold pool for six hours sounds like hell, but outside of that, was it fun?!

Mambo: It was so much fun. You can't be shooting all the time, and it's not as if the storyline that I was in was the main one, so, once my work was done, I got to romp around. We were at Universal Studios, and we got to have our own person who toured us around, and we got to the front of every line. I mean, I got to be eleven years old again for four or five days while the other people were working. There are tradeoffs, though -- I never got to do the big tours and appearances and stuff, but there were a handful of times where I was like, "I get to be eleven again!" And that was fantastic.

Soap Central: You got to work with some really amazing people while you were on GL. You mentioned Frank Dicopoulos, who is one of the nicest men in the entire world, but his character was awful to Marcus!

Mambo: [Laughs] You are right -- he was so nice. Genuinely, a sweet guy. Every time he would lean into me, after they'd say cut, he was like, "Are you okay? Are you all right?" And I was like, "Frank, stop! You're making it hard for me to not like you! You're ruining it." [Laughs] We all did get along very, very well, though -- we avoided a lot of the stuff that goes on on some of the other shows, which was great.

Soap Central: What was it like working with Wendy Moniz?

Mambo: We had a really good, immediate friendship and chemistry. We never had to force it and we never had to fake it -- we just enjoyed each other and the push and pull. It was just always fun. The heavy stuff was fun, the light stuff was fun. I loved working with her.

Soap Central: You also worked quite closely with Sharon Leal. Do you remember meeting her?

Mambo: Yes, I met her at her audition, at the callback of her audition. I heard her sing, and I was like, "Yep, that's it! That's her!" She was fantastic. She was so comfortable and just so good.

Soap Central: How about Geoffrey Ewing, who played Marcus' father? They had a lot of tense moments.

Mambo: That was a really great relationship, and the material for that relationship was what led to one of my Emmys. We got to really dive deep -- unfortunately without having much time -- but we got to dive deep... and I thought the twist of him having himself shot was fantastic. That [storyline turn] was actually held from me for a long time, which I thought was great.

Soap Central: I'm glad you mentioned winning a Daytime Emmy. You actually won twice and were nominated three times for your work on Guiding Light. How did it feel to be recognized in that way?

Mambo: I didn't expect it at all. Even after being nominated, I certainly thought that I was happy just to be invited to the party... I hadn't done a lot of television, and I was just coming out of undergrad, so, I took the time before I came on to watch the show and get an idea of who was who and what was happening. I watched for a while, and I also found that working with some of the folks who had won Emmys in the past -- Justin Deas, Kim Zimmer, Michael Zaslow, Jerry ver Dorn [ex-Ross Marler] -- I started to see some of the similarities in how they were working, and those were the things that I tried to incorporate while I was working.

Soap Central: What kind of things?

Mambo: Like, how were they approaching their dialogue? What is the tempo of how they're approaching things? What do the moments look like? What size are the performances? Just all the different things, trying to figure out what was making those people stand out to others. Because I was walking into a situation where it wasn't a show that I had watched in the past, I didn't know the people, that sort of thing. So, I kind of looked at it like it was school.

Soap Central: Did you take that same approach when you started at One Life to Live?

Mambo: Yeah, but that was a much more abbreviated thing. I came in not really knowing where things were going to go or how long they wanted to do it. It just sort of happened, and then I kind of waited to see where we were going to go, and it wasn't happening! [Laughs] A much different kind of experience, when you are kind of coming in on the side. But all you can really do is just be present. I've done plenty of projects where you show up on set and you meet the people for the first time and you shoot, and you manage to get great, connected, intimate work with someone you just met five minutes ago. Being prepared and being available is all you can really do.

Soap Central: You shared some early scenes on One Life to Live with Trevor St. John (Todd Manning), who I've always thought is one of the best actors in daytime. Do you have any memories of working with him?

Mambo: What happens on the set stays on the set! [Laughs] No, but really, he was really cool. Very gracious. And Renée [Elise Goldsberry], as well. We just never got a chance to really put our feet on the ground. That was a frustrating thing, not having a chance to put our feet on the ground and pick a direction, where all of us would link arms and go -- me, Renee, St. John, all of us, and figure out what the arc is going to be. That never happened, so even though it was a cool experience, it was a really nebulous affair.

Soap Central: Would you be open to appearing on another soap opera? Frank Valentini was the executive producer of OLTL when you were on, and now he's in charge at General Hospital, so maybe we could see you in Port Charles?

Mambo: Well, I haven't been in L.A. for a long time -- I've been over here on the East Coast -- but a short arc would be a lot of fun. I could come and get some sunshine and see everybody. I have always tried to just keep moving, whether I'm writing a show or directing other actors or working with kids.

Soap Central: Are you still doing the children's theater that you mentioned? It sounds like a fantastic idea.

Mambo: We are doing it now. In fact, we're trying to set up shows for the beginning of the year. The next show that we're writing is about Bessie [Coleman], the first African-American and Native-American woman to get her pilots' license [in 1921], and Katy Payne, who is the veterinarian who discovered that elephants speak in subsonic frequency. I'm creating a canon of shows about these really interesting characters. I co-write, I also write the music, and we try to add a science element, or at least an interactive element for the kids who are involved, so that they're part of the show and help us figure out, "What is this trajectory? How much does it cost to get gas to go from here to there? Etc." A lot of these kids are underserved, and... finding ways to reach them, particularly digitally, is really special.

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Soap Central: It's such an incredible idea, because the kids learn things about history and science, but they are also exposed to theater and the arts.

Mambo: That was a very big thing that was part of my childhood. There was children's theater, there were touring companies, and as I got older, some of the schools would do excursions to concerts and jazz groups, or take you to the theater, and that exposure at a young age was really, really valuable and important. And I didn't realize how much it would reverberate in my later life! But some of these schools that we go to, you can see, even walking in the cafeterias and seeing the food that they're being given, it's almost like they're not being given a chance a lot of times. So, at the very least, we thought, "Let's bring something of value from their own history that they can hold onto that is not just the textbook stuff that they're going to get day in and day out." And so far, so good! The response has been amazing, and we're still going.

Soap Central: Is there anything else that you'd like to add before I have to let you go?

Mambo: I'm working on a couple of films, but at the moment, I can't discuss what they are. But in the meantime, I do have a cameo in a film that's out right now called Payback, so, you can add that to your list of enjoyable stuff. And for those of you who haven't caught Luke Cage season two, go back to that, because it's still a lot of fun!

What do you think about our interview with Kevin Mambo? What are your favorite memories from his time as GL's Marcus and OLTL's Jordan? What are your thoughts on Mambo's work in children's theater and his new series, Hit & Run? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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