Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Moving on from Skins - to Psychoville!

Skins writer and actor Daniel Kaluuya is a talent on the rise. He talks to Samiat Pedro about new roles, awards nominations and appearing alongside The League of Gentlemen guys on the set of their brand-new comedy series, Psychoville.

Most recognised for his role in the first two series of Skins as the wannabe gangsta, Posh Kenneth, Daniel has been on the writing team for the BAFTA-winning drama since it first hit our screens.

Only eighteen when he wrote his very first full episode, Daniel is the show’s youngest writer.
“My sister’s telling everyone that I’m the world record holder for the youngest writer of a prime-time television drama,” shares the 19-year-old from Camden. “I don’t actually know if I am! It’s a bit weird, init?” he says. “It’s a bit of an ego trip finding out for yourself if you’re a Guinness Book world record holder.”

Now that’s a phrase you definitely don’t hear everyday. So, how was it this time around, writing for the new series – with a whole new line-up of characters?

“I think it was harder this year because there was an expectation,” he shares. “Last year no-one expected diddly squat but it’s all come out alright. I learnt a lot.

“When we went off to write the new characters, it was us making a new show,” he explains. “You know it will be commissioned and it’s going to get made and then actors come in and you think, ‘I made that thing, I gave you that name’. It’s weird, but I just feel very blessed well and truly, it’s very nice to feel like you really, really are a part of it.

“A lot of people like it and some don’t, I think it’s got a lot of new viewers - they were watching cartoons when the first series was on and now they’re watching teen drama,” he jokes.

“The thing is with Skins every week it is a different show. I find it very exciting in that respect. It’s a fresh show.”

At the same time as writing for the show’s third series, Daniel was well into a four-week run at the Royal Court Theatre in Levi David Addai’s acclaimed play, Oxford Street. Following its success, it then transferred to an actual disused shop in Elephant and Castle shopping centre, South London. So, just a bit different from Sloane Square, then?

“It got the play to a different audience that wouldn’t know it had existed,” he shares.“The play related so much to them but it was weird, performing with people pushing their faces against the glass and jumping, waving, knocking to put you off, but it was a wicked experience.”

Oxford Street has now been nominated for Best Ensemble Cast at this year’s Laurence Olivier Awards, one of the most glam and prestigious awards in London theatre.

New roles

Daniel’s certainly been busy juggling both his roles as writer and actor.

We can currently see him appearing alongside The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd in ITV2’s brand new comedy sitcom FM, in which Daniel plays, Ade, a runner at the radio station. “He has to be one of the funniest actors I’ve ever worked with,” he says of O’Dowd. “It would go like this: “Action!”, and as soon I am walking on, he’d say “You look gay”, or “Action”, then he slaps my bum! I’ve never really worked on a show like that where improvisation was allowed, we’d stop rolling and it would still carry on. It was amazing just being told I could do my own thing, do what I want.”
Daniel’s knack for comedy has also been spotted by other TV comedians including David Mitchell and Robert Webb (Daniel was a guest star in the second series of That Mitchell and Webb Look, in the You Tube favourite, "Dancing Speedo" sketch) and most recently The League Of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, casting him in their brand-new comedy mystery for BBC, Psychoville.
“I’d never really seen The League of Gentlemen,” says Daniel.

“What!?” I squawk in surprise, thinking back to the many evenings my brother and I sat glued to the TV, watching the show - truly absurd humour but laugh-out-loud funny.

“I haven’t watched a lot of things,” he admits. “It was probably good I hadn’t watched it. I wasn’t nervous at the audition. It was one of the best I’d ever done, then they called me, with the director, and I got the part.”

“It was not until after that I saw a list of the top underrated TV shows ever, shows like Arrested Development, and then I saw The League of Gentleman and thought “Whoa, this must be a big deal.”

And who does he play in the series?

“Michael Fry. Am I actually called Michael Fry?” he asks aloud. “Sounds like that guy from Futurama doesn’t it? I watched it this morning. This is the first time I realised.

“I am on community service for doing certain things in Yorkshire and I have to read to this blind guy [played by The League of Gentlemen writer and actor Steve Pemberton]. The show it so crazy, but that’s what they do best,” he shares.
“He (Steve) has this room and he collects beanie babies and there’s only one that he’s missing, I have to help him find that one. We go on travels trying to find it, but there’s all different stories happening with other characters [played by the likes of Dawn French and Dame Eileen Atkinson].
“I didn’t know who she was,” he admits “not being bad or nothing, I knew she was a Dame so she had to be someone, it was one of those weird moments she was talking about Judi Dench and I was thinking, ‘her and Judi Dench are tight? – that’s crazy’. Dawn (French) was wicked, there is a wicked cast.”
Others characters include a dwarf who is in love with Snow White and a one-handed clown who makes balloon animals with his hook. Brilliant. Scheduled to appear on our screens late April, there’s little doubt that the show will do well, following the success of The League of Gentlemen, and Daniel agrees.
“I went to the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) and stayed back even after my bits were finished just to see more of the show and I got that feeling, there really is nothing like it on TV. You either love it or hate it and that kind of thing is really missing on television, there’s all this mediocre stuff.

“Watching Steve was amazing,” says Daniel. “His character is a sixty, seventy-year-old blind guy. You can’t see him, for me that’s the best type of acting.”

Starting out

As well as attending Sylvia Young Theatre School on the weekends (“I was more into football at the time”), Daniel went on to train at Anna Scher’s community theatre at the age of 13 and at 16 got his first acting job. What made him finally choose acting over his sporting endeavours?

“Why, why?” he says in a dramatic voice, then just as quickly returns to normal, continuing, “I wasn’t a bad child, just mischievous. “I talked a lot, I still do, but because of that someone said to my mum that I should think about acting.

“At Anna Scher, I was just in awe at how talented all these young actors were. I never had an experience like that before, those classes were amazing. It’s a shame how it all went in the end.”

Despite a public campaign led by her and her supporters, Scher was never reinstated as head of the theatre after temporarily stepping down, due to health-related issues. The theatre school she founded continues on, now known as the Young Actors Theatre Islington.

“My mum’s a normal African mum; when I told her I seriously wanted to pursue acting she was like (he puts on an accent): ‘Oh My God! No way. Do you not want to be a lawyer or something else?’”

Taking the creative route seems to have worked out for Daniel. As well as FM and Psychoville, Daniel has a new role, in BBC’s Doctor Who, currently filming upcoming episodes in Dubai! Not bad at all.

I bombard him with questions: Doctor Who!? Do they do that regularly, film on location, abroad? How come they’re going all the way to Dubai?

“I can’t say that! I am actually not allowed to say.”

Speaking of enjoying success, his mate Dev Patel (former Skins actor and lead in the multi- award winning film Slumdog Millionaire) hasn’t done to badly either.

“Dev’s like the biggest kid in the world, he is, he is though!” says Daniel. “He hasn’t changed for nothing. Everyone’s so proud of Dev, the film’s brilliant. It’s just so mad how quick it’s happened. It was like three months ago me and Dev were walking around Leicester Square bussing joke, obviously you get the Skins thing but it’s just a different level now.”

And what’s next for Daniel?

“I’m looking forward to not working.”

Daniel pauses.

“That has to be the most arrogant sentence I’ve ever said!” he laughs. “And that’s probably gonna be the headline now, ‘Daniel is looking forward to not working’, and that would be me, no more [jobs].

“It will be good to have time for the writing, get down to the library and work on my own stuff,” he continues. “I’m just happy to be working in this credit crunching time! I used to pay to do it!! I’m talking to David Tenant in the scene thinking ‘Ha! I am getting paid!’.

“I don’t think you really understand this I really and truly am lucky I am only 19 and I’ve done a lot. I am very lucky,” says Daniel.

And a lot more, I’m sure, is yet to come.

“I push myself,” he says, “if I do something that’s not very good, I think ‘Why did I do that!?’. And then I push myself to go deeper, act better, just do your best. If you’ve done that and you don’t get it – then at least you can say you’ve done your very best - that’s all I can do.”

Daniel is about to start shooting Chatroom, first reported on by Screenterrier here.

He is represented by Troika.

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