The Ghanan native acts opposite Idris Elba in Netflix's first theatrical release
Credit: Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage

Abraham Attah was playing hooky from school when he was approached by a member of the production staff of the Netflix movie Beasts of No Nation. He was brought in for an audition and won the lead role of Agu, an African boy forced into a team of mercenary fighters. The Accra, Ghana, native had never acted before, but this past weekend, Attah won Marcello Mastroianni’s Best Young Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival.

In April at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film’s direct, Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) said Attah’s transformation over the course of the movie’s production was tremendous.

“[He] was essentially a street vendor before we shot the film,” Fukunaga was quoted as saying in Business Insider. [He had] zero film experience, little education but he became a somewhat professional actor, which was astounding to watch.

Earlier in September, Attah, 14, spoke alongside Fukunaga at a press conference at the Venice Film Festival. He recalled his unusual route to movie stardom.

“We were playing football on our school field when a white man came and said, “We need some boys for a movie,” Attah said. “We went to a TV station in Ghana for an audition, and I was cast.”

“I feel sad because I see it to be real,” Attah said of watching the rough cut of the film.

The film also stars Idris Elba as the warlord who impresses Attah’s character into the mercenary group, and Attah said he was intimidated by Elba when shooting his first scenes with him.

“I was scared because it was my first time shooting a movie,” he said. “I was afraid of [Elba] at first because I see him to be someone big, and I’m like an ant in front of him,” Attah said, before describing Elba’s hands as being twice the size of his.

The film hits theaters on Oct. 16, the same day that it begins streaming on Netflix.