Cover Edwin de la Renta
Photographer Fin Dudman
Grooming Najat Serghini
I first got involved in acting when I left school aged 16. I always loved movies but had never put two and two together that I could be in them. From a young age, I watched films religiously with my Dad, but didn't really enjoy drama in school or at least didn’t connect to it or think it was something that I could personally do.
Which prestigious theatre school did you attend, and how did it shape your early years in the performing arts?
My first taste of acting was attending the Saturday school at Sylvia Young, London in my teens. I learnt drama and dance there. I loved both but at the time dance was something that I felt like really connected to. I enjoyed the drama classes more than I had in high school but they still took a longer while for me to connect to.
Initially, you were more interested in pursuing a career in dance. How did this interest evolve over time?
This connection to dance around this time led me to initially pursue that as a career, as I felt like this was where my expression was at the time. I was definitely very heavily influenced by the music videos of the time. I ended up becoming a professional dancer and being in loads of music videos and did a few tours while I was studying at college.
What academic path did you pursue after his early acting experiences?
At Goldsmiths University, I studied Sociology which was a great choice because it gave me a broad understanding of people within communities and how different factors affected behavior on a wider scale. Whenever I read a script from a different period the first thing I do is try to get a good understanding of the time and environment before I delve into the individual character, understand the world first, then the person.
After studying sociology at Goldsmiths University, you moved to New York. What motivated this move, and how did it impact his career?
While I was at university I started visiting New York quite a bit. I was transitioning from dance into fashion because I started doing some modeling. I have family in New York so it was a no brainer. When I graduated, I moved to New York that same summer.
Where did you study the Meisner technique, and why did you choose this particular acting method? Can you provide details about your time at The Donelli Acting school in Manhattan and the skills he gained there?
Not long after I got to NY a friend recommended a great acting coach that lived in Hoboken so I would go there twice a week for lessons. When this ended up becoming unaffordable, I enrolled at a place called Donnelli in Hell's Kitchen run by two great acting coaches Kerry and Jacqueline Donnelli. The focus there was looking at scenes from screen and working on them through Sanford Meisner’s legendary technique. It was a great experience for a kid from London as it allowed me to learn the accent and the nuances Stateside. Meisner taught me to tap into my real feelings through listening and reacting and its now very much the foundation of my acting mechanics. Kerry and Jacqui were also very direct when they saw me or any of the other students coasting through a performance and not being truthful. I always wanted to have a career that was centered in the US so it made sense for me to train there and focus on the US market.
What do you love or hate about New York? What prompted you to return to the UK after studying in New York?
What did I love about NY?
Well the summers, the food, the buzz of the city, the people, the constant social, events, meetups. A lot really! I definitely got to a time where I wanted a more reclusive chill environment but I guess I could always fly back to London if I wanted that reset.
What did I hate about NY?
Not too much lol, actually let's say the infamous rats and being away from my immediate family. The plan was to go out to LA after NY but of course I ended up meeting a girl and that made me come back and stay in London.
Who had the better food?
Who had the better food? Ooh don't do this to me! Please don’t!! Hahaha! I’m gonna have to say NY edges it as I love Dominican food and we don't have too many Dominican spots in London. But London has some great food from around the world!
How did your interest in boxing develop, and what role did it play in his life?
I boxed when I was younger, but hated the discipline aspect of it, so stopped after 2 years. When I got back to London, I was living in East with my ex and really wanted to pick up a martial art so found the nearest gym and became addicted to it. Loool!
‘Boxing has grounded me and it gives me structure and discipline. I always train hard and that's become a staple part of my life!’
Before gaining attention for your acting, you appeared in short films. Can you name any of these films, and what were his roles in them?
The first half of my career like a lot of actors was mostly shorts. Some of the ones that stick out were Alberto Goes To Rio where I played a muslim refugee called Muhammed and Flying South For Summer which was about Mark, a young black man wrestling with feeling marginalized and looking for an outlet to vent his frustration.
How did you build your resume with supporting roles in both film and television?
Early on it was shorts and community theatre, both helped me to develop a fearless outlook when approaching roles and scripts and also knowing how characters I took on fitted into larger stories. This industry is all about constant learning and evolving and these early experiences all helped get me to the next stage.
Can you highlight some notable projects or roles that contributed to your growing recognition in the entertainment industry?
Playing Smiley Phelps in The Informer in 2019 was a big turning point in my career. I went straight into a Hollywood feature starring opposite big names and bypassed the usual route of small roles in soaps or procedural Crime TV. I learnt a lot on the job, in particular dealing with imposter syndrome and working on pressured sets as well as watching some great actors do their thing, day in day out. I’ve definitely had some great, varied roles this early in my career. The Last Faust was a very interesting film to be a part of because of what the filmmakers were expressing artistically. Bharat gave me a legion of supporters from South Asia, which is really nice. More recently playing Francis in Ted Lasso has got me more mainstream recognition which is weird for me because the character is all about physical comedy and barely speaks in it but has somehow become a fan favorite. I’m one half of a double act with the hilarious Sam Richardson who just won an Emmy for Best Guest performance for it. Being attached to that has been nice. People will recognize me from Lasso and i’m like; “thank you but you should really see me doing some serious dramatic acting in “Deceit” or “The Last Faust” lol. I’m definitely very grateful to be a part of that show especially because of how well it's been received and how people have connected to it.
In what ways did studying sociology and the Meisner technique contribute to your versatility as an actor?
Studying sociology and Meisner has allowed me to be able to draw from my knowledge of how society shapes individuals due to their environments and the economic factors at play. In turn, this plays well into Meisner as the technique is all about responding truthfully to external stimuli but on a personal level. I’m very much the reactive actor and knowing and understanding the history of my character as well as their environment. What exactly it is they are feeling and going through on each page is key to me being able to bring a truthful depiction to life.
How has your diverse background and experiences shaped his approach to acting and his career in the entertainment industry?
‘Having a diverse background and having been through different experiences, including living in different parts of the world has given me a broad worldview. This industry means you get to meet so many different people from different backgrounds and you hear their stories. This gives you a better understanding of the world they are from and maybe somewhere there is something similar in something that I've come across that allows me to relate in some way. ‘
However small but some kind of connection to that particular world. Next up, I star in a film called “Breezy”which is the life story of Brenda Myers Powell a sex worker on the streets of Chicago from 1974 to 1999. She is an incredibly strong woman that went through so much in her life and now is an advocate and speaker against human trafficking and the wellbeing of sex workers on the streets. Most of the film is set in the 70’s and I play Ezra, one of the men who brutalized and trafficked her into prostitution, so there's a huge responsibility to offer an honest and accurate portrayal as this is someone's life story and not a work of fiction. Outside of work I'm very grounded and have recently begun to segue into producing. I launched my production company last year and we’re steadily building our resume through forging some strong partnerships in the industry. We’re the official sponsor of the Best Actor Category at this year's London Critics Circle Awards so we’re happy about that and looking forward to the rest of the year's opportunities.