27 September 2019
What are you working on now?
I just finished shooting season 2 of In the Long Run. I play Idris Elba’s younger brother, Valentine. He’s very cheeky. I tell people in America who can’t see it yet that it’s like a cross between Coming To America and The Fresh Prince. I’m like the Fresh Prince and Idris is like Uncle Phil. I can’t say much about it but myself and Brenda Blethyn are going to be leads in a new ITV comedy later next year called Kate and Kolo. I’m also going to be working with Apple and Quibi, which is a new streaming service created by Jeffrey Katzenburg. It’s really exciting times.
Are there any dream roles that you want to play?
I’d love to do a biopic. Something that really interests me is Justin Fashanu’s story. He was a young Nigerian man, and he was fostered as well, by white foster parents. I have a bit of that experience. So that’s a story that I’ve been thinking about. I should get on with it really!
You’ve set up the TriForce Creative Network (TCN). Can you explain what that is?
TCN is something that myself, Fraser Ayres and his wife Minnie Ayres, have been developing for 15 years. It’s all about developing and giving a platform to talent from all backgrounds. It’s built on a strong ethos of inclusion. If you can’t afford drama school, or you’ve not got the right agent, or if you’re too tall, or if it’s about your ethnicity or sexuality, we want to smash those barriers and create a bridge for the industry to come to the talent. We’re tired of statements like “Where are all the female writers? Where are all the diverse creatives?” They’re here, they’re everywhere. We help develop that creative, inclusive talent, through events like MonologueSlam, supported by Equity, Spotlight and others. We are also currently working with Amazon via our WriterSlam event and we have our 7th TriForce Short Film Festival at the BFI this November.
The next Monologue Slam event is in LA – is there a different vibe between the UK and US events?
You know what, I would have thought that but no. I host it and I’m very conscious of keeping the vibe. It is a showcase and competition, but we like to have a family feel. With the DJ on stage, me hosting, plus improv in there as well, it is much more of an entertainment show.
What I did notice is that in LA they’re more used to doing duologues, so sometimes there might be a bit of a struggle to find the good monologues and understand what will fit that particular actor. It’s tricky, anyone can learn a monologue, but it’s about picking the right monologue that’s going to have the impact in the room.
Have you learned anything about auditioning from being on the Monologue Slam panel?
It’s fascinating. Entering the room is really important. In a confident way, but in an authentic way. You can really see it when someone is just acting confident. Own the space and your essence. A lot of the time casting people go “I think this is the person” in the first few seconds. Nerves are a natural thing, but own that space and execute what you’ve prepped.
I make sure there are people from different backgrounds on the panel. People have different taste and react to different things. This ties in with industry gatekeepers, the people making decisions for content and people that they put in the content. If everyone looks the same then that’s part of your problem. You’ve got to make sure there’s a range of people, personalities in those decision-making rooms. It’s really important to have that with all our TriForce Creative Network events.
Has there been improvement over the last few years?
It’s slowly happening but if I’m honest with you, there are too many conversations. Too many panels and not enough tangible action. A lot of these discussions are happening, but organisations like ours aren’t getting called to the table. So people that might be doing a lot of work in that area aren’t part of the conversation. I think conversations are good but if they aren’t paired with action it doesn’t help move things forward.
You already act and produce, have you thought about directing and writing too?
I love bringing talent together, making things happen. I love helping tweak the script, listening to people’s vision and offering advice. There’s a part of me that’s very good at bringing the pieces together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and I really enjoy that. We set up TriForce Productions as an outlet for my producing, as well as Fraser’s writing and Minnie’s producing. We’re talking to people such as Amazon, Netflix and Apple. They know me as an actor, but it’s great to have conversations as a production company now too. We have a great slate! So watch this space.
How do you feel about Equity’s presence in LA?
What I love, especially out here, is being part of a union or family. To know that you have a support network you can reach out to if you’re in trouble. The LA Garden Party brings a lot of like-minded creatives together. There’s designers, directors, actor friends I’ve not seen for years. It feels good to be part of a union that’s active and tries to constantly evolve. I don’t feel like Equity has stopped. You are really great at listening, acting and supporting.