Vincent Jerome

Vincent Jerome undertakes one of the most creatively fulfilling projects of his career thus far in the recently revamped Waterloo Road.

When I speak with Vincent Jerome for our interview, we end up talking for over two hours about his acting career, representation in the arts, films that inspired him growing up, and performances we’ve both loved from actors like Heath Ledger and Gary Oldman. Portions of our conversation have been removed for clarity and privacy, but the overarching theme that remains is Jerome’s dedication to his craft. With the recent release of BBC’s Waterloo Road, where Jerome plays Lindon King, comes a bevy of emotions for the actor. As someone who fell in love with performing arts at a young age, having the opportunity to play Lindon on a set where inclusivity and representation are at the forefront is a dream born to life in many ways.

One of the things we kept coming back to in our conversation is Jerome’s desire to play characters who feel authentic, both in how they’re portrayed and how they’re received, which can often be two very different things. His interest in acting lies in the ability to paint a complete picture of who someone is, why they behave the way they do, and what exists on the flip side of the face they’re presenting first to the world. Speaking with him about his preparation process for Waterloo Road—and what it’s like to work alongside a crew who knows when to ask for his perspective—it’s clear that Jerome is invigorated by this project. That invigoration is evident to viewers who see the actor navigating the tricky waters that ripple across the screen in each new episode of the beloved series.

In addition to Waterloo Road, Jerome has starred in several impressive projects over the years, and has undertaken writing, producing, and directing as well for his own short films. He has a level of interest in film that makes you equally interested, even if you don’t have experience in the craft. Jerome’s vibrancy and passion shine through everything he does, and this latest role is further evidence of that.

1883 Magazine’s Sam Cohen spoke with Vincent Jerome at length about his time filming Waterloo Road and how he crafted the character of Lindon King, as well as some of the actors who have inspired him most over the years, his work as an advocate for the Anna Fiorentini Performing Arts School for young people in East London, plus much, much more.



You’re starring in Waterloo Road, which is a reboot/continuation of the original series that aired in the early 2000s. Stepping into this new adaptation of the show, did you feel like there was pressure to live up to the original version? Or were you all treating it as its own separate thing?

As a team, as a collective, we knew it was a continuation, but creatively, the executive producer, Cameron Roach, wanted to honor what came before but really step up a bit. Because, for simple terms, viewing habits have changed since the show was last on air. There was no binging anything. There wasn’t this kind of golden age of TV that there was with the Sopranos, and the Wire and Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and all that. But with Netflix creating content all the time and ultimately having anywhere from six to—in some instances 13 hour mini-movies—Cameron knew we had to do something that could compete with that kind of stuff. So, the show has always been edgy, but we’ve also tried to make it current and add a level of sophistication that would match the tastes of today’s audiences.


That seems like a difficult thing to undertake—having to balance all of that at once and bear all of that in mind as you’re trying to figure out how you want to tell the story.

This is why I said specifically it’s Cameron that I don’t want or envy his job. [Both laugh]. The producers really work hard on this, and I’ve seen them run from meeting to meeting, and being like, “Hey Vincent, can I speak to you? I have literally five minutes to speak to you, so we’ve got to do it now.” They juggle so much because the cast is quite significant, and they have loads of storylines. It’s set in a school and there’s lots of different personalities, and they need to stay on top of that. But then they also need to stay on top of thematically what the show needs to be and how to sell it as well.


I definitely don’t envy that! You have to juggle so many things at the same time. I’d constantly be updating the Notes app on my phone. [Both laugh].

Somehow, when you do speak to them, I want to shout out Cameron Roach and Lindsay Williams specifically, not to throw shade on Adam [laughs], but those are the people I’ve had more in-depth conversations with, and they always seem to have time. They always lock in when you’re having conversations with them.


That’s really impressive. Even in everyday personal conversations, people don’t do that. You miss that actual connection sometimes because we’re all distracted by the world around us, especially in a setting like that where you’re balancing so many different things. That’s an actual skill to still make eye contact and discuss something and hear someone out.

Absolutely it is. Our lead director on the show Jesse Quinones, he would describe it as some Tom Cruise shit. [Both laugh]. Because whenever you see Tom Cruise on the red carpet, he always locks in and gives that person the time, and it makes that person feel seen and valued and heard. It’s definitely something I should work on. I should call Tom… [Both laugh].


It sounds like it’s been a really positive experience filming the show, which is great. I was listening to one of your recent interviews, and it seemed like you were brought on board for Waterloo Road within a few days of when you originally submitted your tape for it. Was it difficult to jump into the character so quickly?

Technically, it was about two weeks total. Basically, I was asked for the tape and then I did the tape. And one of the things that I do when I send off a tape, I try not to obsess about it. I try to forget about it. So, I sent it and I was like, “It is what it is!” And then I got told the next week—I think I sent it on a Wednesday and on the Monday I was told I had a recall for the coming Wednesday. So, a week after I had sent the initial tape. And then that Friday in the evening, that was the longest Friday in the world. [Both laugh]. I was told I had the job, and then the following Tuesday I was in Manchester.


That’s such a quick turnaround time! Were you nervous about being able to get into character because you had such a short window to prepare for it?

I come from theater, ultimately. I’ve done film, I’ve done indies, and a few things a bit bigger than that.


I was going to say! Don’t downplay that. [Both laugh].

And I’m a film guy, I love film, so one thing about those processes is that they’re kind of finite. You may get rewrites if you’re doing new writing in a play, you get rewrites as you would on a film. But I think with this, it was such a fluid process. It is such a fluid process. There’s things that come into your sphere that can easily go, and some things stick around. And to answer your question, it wasn’t really that much time. But at the same time, the initial week we had read through workshops, we rehearsed certain scenes. So, it wasn’t like I was on camera immediately, and I’m someone who always goes off the script anyway. I’ve got the character breakdown, obviously I’ve done my version of the character on the tapes and in the recall. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to play Lindon [King]. And then everything else to flesh him out just needed to come from the scripts and the situations he finds himself in. Once the scripts came, things got easier. But then what I started to realize more is that there’s still room for the character to have new flourishes that maybe weren’t there in Episode 1 that I could put into Episode 5 that I could then do something completely different within Episode 7. There’s always opportunities to flesh out the character.



And it seems like it’s a good, collaborative experience and atmosphere as well. You’re all figuring it out at the same time and going through everything at the same time.

I haven’t done a lot of TV, particularly in such a pivotal role, so I was naive about the fact that not everything had to be locked into place. When you do a play, everything is there. Even when you do a film, you might be filming it out of sequence, but it has a beginning, a middle, and end. I think if I could go back, I would have told myself to chill out a bit.


That’s good advice for anything in life. But it’s always with hindsight that you can look at that and realize you needed to relax in the moment.

Yes, of course. Because when you’re in it, you are in it. I like to lock in. Because if I don’t, the work’s not very good.


I think your resume definitely speaks to you being locked in.

That’s it! I’m trying to lock in. I remember a story that the cast of The Dark Knight would tell about Heath Ledger. Because obviously, by the time they did press for the film, Heath Ledger had died, and now it’s an Academy Award winning performance. But they would talk about him in such a way…I think it was Christian Bale who spoke about Heath, because there was always this thing about, “Oh, it’s the role that killed him,” and all this rubbish, but ultimately, he had a long history of insomnia and all these other things. But, one of the things that Christian Bale was doing was debunking that, and he was saying between action and cut, Heath was the Joker. He was in it, and he gave 100%. But after that, Heath would go back into being himself, joking around and hanging out. And I found that so interesting and magnetic. It’s like being a sprinter, it’s a different discipline from being a marathon runner.


Absolutely. You have to get through the burst of energy and then immediately come out of it. I’m such a huge fan of Heath Ledger, and I appreciate you saying that and framing it in that way because I feel like it does always have a negative connotation where people are like, “Oh, he was totally a method actor, and it drove him crazy.”

And it’s not what happened at all. It was such a tabloid heavy story, and then they kept adding more things to it. People will always respond to what they want to respond to though, I guess. In the words of Charlamagne tha God [both laugh], “No one cares about the truth if the lie is more interesting.”


Oh, that’s a great quote.

I mean, he is a New York Times bestseller.


Speaking of characters and getting into character, you said in a previous interview that you liked your character in Waterloo Road, Lindon King, because he was no-nonsense. Was that characteristic the one that made him most appealing to play? Or was there another element of the character, or maybe a scene in the scripts, that made you say, “Yeah, I want to get this part.”

That’s actually about three questions in one! [Both laugh]. Is his no-nense approach the most appealing thing to play? No, but it gave me a hook in as someone who grew up not being very disciplined…and still not being very disciplined. That’s something I work on every single day as an adult. It’s tough, being an adult. [Laughs].


Some of us do it better than others. [Laughs].

I’ve always been drawn to characters who are driven and disciplined. We mentioned the Dark Knight, and that’s one of the reasons why people love Batman, because he is that driven. But when people like that, you know, I see it on Instagram, a lot of the time the videos of people like David Goggins saying all of these really amped up things, they take that level of commitment and discipline seriously. So, that was a good anchor to understand the guy [Lindon]. But I think my thing is, and maybe it’s me being a Gemini, but if he’s being presented as this, what’s the other side of that look like?

If he’s all business, all disciplined, what’s the other side of that? One of the actors I love, and it’s a real shame he wasn’t comfortable doing more interviews, was James Gandolfini. If I had a Mount Rushmore of actors, he’d be on it. I love James, I think he was a genius. I think he was like 6’4”, he was a big man. But one of the things about Gandolfini that I really love is that he is this massive man, and he could be so menacing and so terrifying, but he had a level of sensitivity in every single one of his performances. I am a Black man, I am close enough to being six feet tall. I have broad shoulders, and I look a particular kind of way. I know what it’s like to walk down the street and people to see me as a threat, but the thing that I found appealing about Gandolfini in his performances is how he could totally flip your perception of characters with the way he navigated them.

There’s a film called Killing Them Softly, with Brad Pitt, and Gandolfini has two scenes with him, and he steals them both. On the surface, he’s this disgusting, unlikable, abrasive character, but as the scenes go on, you realize it’s because he’s broken up with his wife.


And that explains his behavior, even if it doesn’t excuse it.

There’s one moment where he’s listening to Brad Pitt and then the camera’s on him and you just see the pain in this man and it’s heartbreaking. And so for me, that is what’s interesting to me as an actor.


So, you’ve taken that concept and applied it to Lindon?

Lindon is a disciplinarian, if there’s a problem, he’s the guy you want in your corner. If you have something that you need some tough love, he’s going to give it to you. He won’t mince words, but he’ll do what’s in the best interest of the school and the kids, even if they don’t like it. And even if his colleagues don’t like it. But, who is he when he’s not that? One of the things about Lindon that made me think, “Oh, this is a fascinating character,” is that we’ve weaved this in to where Lindon King is whoever he needs to be at that moment. He’s a Black man from a working class background who’s got a degree, he was going to be a research scientist, he’s gone into teaching, now he’s worked his way up to be the deputy head of the school. But because he’s from a certain background, he would have to code switch throughout his entire life to get to where he is now. And so in my head I was like, “This is Lindon the father, this is Lindon the teacher, this is Lindon the husband. This is Lindon the deputy head, this is Lindon, the basketball coach.” It all still has to be him, but he has to be different things to different people.

That’s what keeps me interested in Lindon, the fact that he has had to code switch, and the fact that he does need to be different people in order to do his job properly. Very early on, I had to break those people up, the husband, the father, the teacher, the man, but he’s always that little Black boy from Halston, do you know what I mean? Who has beat the odds.


That was really poetically and beautifully said. It’s such an accurate portrayal of how people really are. I think if you observe anyone, we all compartmentalize like that, where you’re different with your friends versus at work versus when you’re with your mom, or someone like that. I like seeing characters who reflect that.

That’s funny, that was my intention. I may have missed that completely though. [Both laugh]. People may read this and then watch the show and be like, “This guy is really one note. Where was all that stuff he was talking about?”


They’re going to use it as a reference to be like, “But, I thought you said…?”

[Both laugh]. And then I have to be like, “Well, if you go to Episode 2, at 16 minutes and 52 seconds in…”


You have the red yarn in the background connecting all the scenes together.

To this point, though, if you don’t see it, then I haven’t done my job properly.


I’m sure you did your job well! Does it feel like you’re playing different characters because you’re approaching it in that sense where things are sort of broken up a bit? Or do you just know it’s all cohesively Lindon, even if he’s putting forth a different part of himself based on who he’s talking to?

He’s still Lindon King, he’s just different versions of Lindon. And again, I’m a Gemini, so I’ve had to defend Geminis all my life [both laugh], because everyone’s like, “Geminis are two-faced.” And I have to be like, we’re complicated like any human being. As you said, no one is just one thing. So, it’s still Lindon, but the best way I could put it is if you wanted to communicate something to someone, I personally believe that it’s your responsibility to deliver the information in a way that is understandable to the person you’re talking to.


Absolutely. I totally agree with that. I think miscommunication often stems from the fact that most people don’t realize you have to adjust how you speak or present things depending on how people receive information.

I’ve had conversations with friends where I’ve been like, “Well, it’s not my fault, blah blah blah.” And I had to look at it and be like, well maybe it’s not my fault, but if you’re trying to communicate this thing to this person in a certain way, they may not be able to receive the information that way. Someone said to me once, and it’s a great quote but I can’t remember where they got it from, but they said, “You can’t do surgery with a sword.”


I love that. I love what you said about being a Gemini earlier as well because I do feel like it’s more of a duality. People do look at it as a two-faced thing sometimes, but it was exactly like what you were saying about Lindon. You look at it on the surface of, “Okay, he’s no-nonsense, but what is the duality of that? What is the flip side of that?” I think that’s interesting.

It’s interesting, but that’s also why I became an actor, because it’s those actors who do things you don’t expect. Just to reel off some more names to add to the Happy Zoom Party, [both laugh], I really fell in love with acting when I was in university because that’s when I decided to take it seriously. And during that time, Gary Oldman was a massive, massive influence on why I wanted to do it. Jeffrey Wright and Laurence Fishburne were as well. And there’s a myriad of other actors as well that I’m not mentioning. But it is always the people who make interesting choices, and they allow you to see it, but they still surprise you with what they do. You don’t expect, in essence, Gary Oldman, who’s not the biggest guy in the world, to have that level of fire.


Yeah, absolutely. Like in Léon: The Professional.

Oh my God, I love that performance! He was great in that. It’s the same thing with Jeffrey Wright.


I think Jeffrey Wright is so incredible.

Another quote that I love is, “I got money longer than train smoke, but I’ve never been on a plane.” That just tells you everything you need to know about Peoples Hernandez.


Another fantastic quote! I did want to ask you about your time at university as well, so this is a good segue. You received a degree in performing arts—if you could narrow it down to the most important skill or lesson you learned during your time at university that you’ve carried over into your professional career, what would you choose and why?

God, there’s so many! The main thing is, don’t be quick to dismiss other styles or forms of performance. Even if they don’t seem necessarily relevant to what you want to do, you can pick things up from anywhere, you can really use it. It’s all part of your tool toolbox. And if you are curious enough, it can change everything. The reason why I say that is because at university, they introduced us to a lot of disciplines. Everything was about live performance. And you could either choose the drama route or the dance route. But in the first year, everyone had to do everything. So, I did drama for the first year, and contemporary dance. And I hated it at first. I was like, “oh my God, what am I doing?” And then by the end of the first year, I was like, “This is useful.” And I ended up doing two years of contemporary dance. To be honest with you, if I could do one thing, I’d love to take it back up again as a hobby. It’s just contact improvisation and that kind of stuff is amazing.


That’s incredible. You never know what you’re going to pick up. You can learn something you’d never learn otherwise if you didn’t have that access or experience.

100%. I’d like to give an honorable mention to the fact that I learned that you get out what you put into it. They literally gave us a smorgasbord of things, and we would choose what we were interested in and the routes we would take as professionals. And I think for some people, that wasn’t what they signed up for. They wanted more structure. We still did Shakespeare and everything, but you just get out what you put in.


I say that all the time to everyone about everything. Whatever you put forth into the universe is going to come back to you. So, if you put forth good things and positive things, and you’re open and you’re learning, you will receive that as well.

Absolutely. Geez, I’m having flashbacks! [Both laugh].


It seems like those lessons served you really well because, as you’ve touched on a little bit, you’ve done theater and films and television. Is that multifaceted approach to acting something you want to continue to pursue? I mean, you’ve also done writing, producing, you’ve done your own short films…

I love what I do, because ultimately, I wouldn’t do it otherwise. It’s too hard and it’s too much of a cruel mistress if I wasn’t completely in love with it. The idea of doing certain things and being able to flip…My grandfather always used to say, “Variety is the spice of life.” And then it was only in the last couple of years that I realized he stole that from a famous writer. [Both laugh].


Always funny when you find that out later in life!

Yeah, he had lots of catchphrases though! He had lots of catchphrases which he probably stole. [Both laugh]. I do love films. I love filmmaking, and I think if I’m being honest, that would always be my first love. And as an actor, you’re not supposed to say that. You’re supposed to say theater because it’s an actor as a medium, it’s just you and the audience. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a nice spot in my heart for the theater, and I probably will go back to it. It’s just that there was a point in my career when I hit a wall creatively and I had to have a really, really hard talk with myself. And the little voice inside my head was like, “Why did you want to do this in the first place?” And it was because I wanted to make films and TV. But at the same time, before acting was a concept in my mind, I used to collect comics when I was a kid. I still buy the odd comic from time to time. But even before that, I was a film fan. I’d wake up at five o’clock in the morning, go downstairs in my underwear, and watch films I shouldn’t be watching.


You’re talking about watching, like, The Exorcist when you’re 10 years old.

I was probably about eight when I first watched the first Terminator.


Oh my God, I was really young too. And I was like, “What am I looking at right now?”

My dad used to buy these cassette tapes where there were two films on one cassette. And I remember we had Terminator and The Running Man, and then Blood Sport and Cyborg. I never watched Cyborg for some strange reason. [Laughs]. I just always watched Blood Sport. It’s so strange.


[Both laugh]. Really pivotal films that shaped your love of movies and acting.

Maybe not my love of acting. [Laughs]. I had far more of a high-brow taste in films when it came to the love of acting. I used to watch kid’s films as well. It’s always fascinating when you ask people what their favorite Disney film is, because I think it says a lot about the person, and some people don’t like Disney. And I’d be like, “You’re telling me you’ve never watched a Disney film? If you had a gun to the head to choose a Disney film, what would you choose?” I was in that situation where someone asked me what’s my favorite Disney film, And I was just like, “I don’t check for it.” And then when push came to shove, I was like, “Oh, Pinocchio.” I used to love that film. But every single time he turned into the donkey, I was terrified. [Both laugh].


It’s amazing what sticks with you when you watch it when you’re younger versus when you’re an adult.

This is another reason why I love film, and why I love performance, and certain performance techniques. It’s because that moment is theater of the mind. You hear what’s going on and you see the shadow of the little boy turning into the donkey. So, you see it but you don’t see it. You actually see it in American Werewolf in London. Do you know what I mean?


Yeah, where you see the actual transformation. And I think sometimes your imagination fills in the blanks worse than what the actual depiction would be.

The best! And it feels like every single short film, including the ones that I’ve made, start like this. And I remember it so vividly, and I’ve seen this film once, but I remember watching Fahrenheit 9/11 in the cinema. There’s one point where the screen goes black and you hear the planes going into the Twin Towers. And it’s an unmistakable sound, especially at the time the film came out. All you heard was that sound and it was so impactful. And I was like, “This is worth the price of admission by itself.”


I love when you can pinpoint those moments in movies where you’re like, “That was done so creatively and artistically minded.” It’s incredible what sticks with you after the fact. I wanted to discuss your short films as well, which you wrote, produced, and starred in. That seems like quite the undertaking! What inspired you, or prompted you, to approach those projects?

So, the first one, I always credit Fool’s Errand as the first thing I wrote. My co-writer on that project, who was also the director, Tomasz Aleksander, had a feature idea in his head that he had for years, where he basically wanted to bridge the gap between the work he’s been making, which was kind of dark comedies and stuff, to this very dramatic stylized feature.I was just kind of mooching around and listening to him… think I was cleaning the kitchen [laughs], because at that point, me and Tommy used to live together. And I was listening to D’Angelo and The Vanguard Black Messiah album. And there’s a set of tracks called Back to the Future (Part I) and Back to the Future (Part II). And the chorus is, “I just want to go back to the way things were.” And I was thinking about that and how that played into the idea of Tom’s film, and I came up with this idea for this short and I basically pitched Tom that evening.

I’m not a writer in a way that I’m disciplined, and I don’t really give to the craft as much as I should. It’s just when you have an idea that needs to be exercised, and the only way to exercise that is to put it down on paper. Because of my background, I wanted to get it made, I didn’t want to wait for people to give me funding or things like that, which is often the most infuriating thing about the writing process. I don’t write things to write them. I don’t write things to sell. If I have an idea, I’m writing it to make it. Me playing Michael in Fool’s Errand came very late. Maybe a month later Tom was like, “You should play Michael.” I knew I could do it because I’d written it, and I knew the emotional beats, but I had played soldiers and policemen and these authoritarian characters and these people who punch people in the face. So, I didn’t know if an audience would buy me as a romantic lead. And to Tom’s credit, he had no doubt in his head.


It’s always nice to have supportive friends like that.

Because of my size and how I look, I would never get to play those characters. I’d never get to play a messy character who was, pardon my French, even though I swore earlier, [both laugh], an absolute fuck up. I always play authoritarian characters, but I wanted to play ‘90s Samuel L. Jackson characters. There’s a cat in the Daredevil show, Turk Barrett.


Yes! I love that show.

He’s phenomenal. And it was a character like Turk, someone who’s a little bit of a hustler, he’s a little bit of a street urchin. And I was like, “These roles aren’t coming to me. And I just want to have a fun time and make an action thriller where I get to be the comic relief and I get to be a mess of a human.” So, that’s why that happened. And then Outward happened because it was the pandemic, and I had spent three months on this script for this other short, and it drove me crazy. I couldn’t crack it. And I remember speaking to a friend of mine, who’s a filmmaker, writer, and director, and he was like, “Maybe you should just make something else.” [Both laugh]. Just to get your creative juices going, kind of thing. And then he went into this big speech, a really encouraging speech about my ability as a storyteller, and that I could do it and all these great things. And then maybe halfway through that speech, I zoned out and had the idea for Outward. [Both laugh]. I literally zoned out and I saw the whole film in my head! And then I got on the phone to another writer and director who I know, and she’s way more technical than I am. I think I said to her, “What’s the least amount of equipment we can do?” And she was pulling out all these things and I was like, “No, no, no, no, you’re not listening to me. What’s the least amount we need?” And I think she said something like a camera, mic, lights, and something else. I think it was maybe a week and a half later, we were filming it.


So, definitely very different experiences, different sources!

Yeah, absolutely. I find writing really difficult. I have a good idea once every three to five years. [Both laugh]. But sometimes it’s like carrying a weight and I’m like, “I just need to get this out and I need to get this made.” But it’s quite a torturous process. I’m not saying I’ll never do it again, because I know I will. But I find it really difficult. I find it really difficult.


I think a lot of writers would agree with that. It sounds so simple in theory, but then in practice, it actually isn’t that easy to get something in your brain on a page and expressed appropriately, while fleshing out all the details and making sure it’s cohesive and makes sense.

Saying that though, I just realized that I’m actually a hip hypocrite. [Both laugh]. I don’t journal every day, but I do tend to journal, and I think there’s something about doing that first thing in the morning. Even this morning, I wasn’t journaling but I was drawing. I like to draw. I’ve always been into drawing, and there’s something about just having my hands do something first thing in the morning…Keep it clean, Sam! Keep it clean! [Both start laughing.] It’s about doing something creative first thing in the morning with your hands. I do write or journal or even scribble or doodle or sketch or just something. So, there’s some sort of energy in me that needs to get it out.


An energy to be expressive.

It is a discipline, though.


Absolutely. I also wanted to talk to you a little bit about something important, but you’re an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry, and that you’re an ambassador for the Anna Fiorentini Performing Arts School for young people in East London. How did you get involved with the school? What are your goals/what do you hope to achieve through this really important work you’re doing?

Being a lead in a BBC primetime drama changes things a little bit, and there’s really no excuse for people to not see my work. I was so grateful to get the job and I was so excited to do it, but one of my first things is always, “How do you give back?” And so, one of the first things I did was to get in touch with my college. I haven’t spoken to anyone from my college as far as an organization since I left. And I was like, “Hey, what’s going on? Just so you know, I did drama here. I’m about to be in this show that’s coming back if you ever want people to come in and talk to second year students.” Because they’re doing A Levels, second year students. I said I would happily come and do whatever they needed, and the same thing for my university. My uni is somewhere that I have gone back to and spoken to students who are leaving and trying to answer any questions they might have. So, those were my initial things. And then I remembered that one of my friends has worked with the school for years now, and I’ve gone to performances the kids have done. And she was always saying to me, “You should get involved!” And I was like, “Yeah, I’d love to!” But if I’m being honest with you, I didn’t feel like I had done anything that would keep the kids’ attention.

So, when I got Waterloo Road, it was perfect, because it’s a show set in a school. It’s about young people for the most part. But I can, as you’ve experienced, talk and give my thoughts and my feelings and opinions on things.And it’s important because this is a school in East London. It’s a very multicultural place, and I didn’t really have drama in my life as a kid. I came to it when I was doing my A Levels. I was about 17 or 18 years old.


Oh, wow. So, definitely later than some other actors.

In some circles, that’s considered late, because you’ve got kids that pop out the womb dancing. [Both laugh]. But I think it’s really important to have representation. I think it’s important to have actors and characters and situations people can latch onto. And this is the great thing about Waterloo Road. I think there is such diversity in the show that my hope is that anyone watching it will be able to align themselves with a character, regardless of how that character identifies, what ethnic makeup that character is, what social economic background that character is from. I think that there’s enough characters there, and enough personalities there, that people will be able to latch onto. There weren’t representations of people that I wanted to be at that time growing up. Don’t get me wrong, we had some shows where Black people were front and center. We had Desmond’s—the best way to describe it is a sitcom. It was set in a barber shop in Peckham where a family came over from Guyana, but I never saw myself in the youngest son.

And now I seek out these kinds of people who inspire me. And they don’t all have to be Black, and they don’t all have to be male. But at the same time, seeing certain people makes it seem real. Someone I would like to give a shout out to, I had the pleasure of meeting him as our paths have crossed a few times, is Paterson Joseph. I always thought, “There’s a guy who comes from an Afro-Caribbean background, he’s a highly regarded actor, and he’s such a nice guy. And I think it’s important because people need to know that it’s possible. And so, having diversity, it’s not just about having a physical representation of a person, it’s also about texture and context. And it’s about a lived experience and people want to see themselves reflected in that.

Lindon represents underserved professionals, people who exist in occupations where they are the outlier, and they’ve had to work hard to get to where they are. And I just think regardless of how old you are, you always need representation, it’s always important. I look at my nieces and nephews now, and they have a plethora of Black superheroes. One of my nephews is a big Flash fan, and the fact that they had a Black kid Flash in the TV show…My mind was blown by that. The fact that my youngest nephew is this big Spider-Man fan, and he can look up to Miles Morales. It’s important. The same thing with my nieces as well. My youngest niece, it’s actually the thing we bonded over, because when she was really little, she didn’t like me, but she loved Moana. [Both laugh].


Moana is incredible!

What’s not to love? Moana is great, but my eldest niece, me and her got on swimmingly. We always have and we still do. But the little one, she wasn’t checking for me. [Laughs]. I won her over by buying her a Moana dress up outfit. And my family aren’t Polynesian, we’re not Pacific Islanders, but there’s something about a little brown girl singing her heart out that my nieces just loved. But, because we are playing in a real world with Waterloo Road, it’s doubly important for representation.


Because you’re representing people as they exist every day, and not this idealized version of “Oh, I want to be The Flash,” or “I want to be a Disney princess.” You’re showing something real.

I think about my aunts and my uncles who, when they sit around, even my mum sits around watching soap operas, and they would cuss off certain characters and they’d be in it! But I know when a character comes on that may be a Black character specifically that they don’t check for, because it’s not authentic. I’ve seen that. I’ve experienced it myself. And so for me, I want to make Lindon as authentic as he can possibly be. I was going to give you an anecdote, but I can’t because it’s a spoiler for something that people don’t know about…[Laughs].


Gosh, I’d have to strike that out. I would get in trouble with your publicist! [Both laugh].

It’s so good! I’m very lucky to have the team on this show that I have. They’re always open to discussions and they’re always interested in hearing what we have to say, because it is a diverse cast. We do have people from different places culturally and who have different life experiences. And Cameron and Lindsay especially, they’re not trying to be the smartest people in the room. If they don’t know something about something and they know that we do, they’ll ask us. They’ll say, “Break it down, tell us about this thing.” And I think that’s incredibly rare to have the people in charge of a show with that level of humility. I’ve been in situations where people are reading you the riot act about something that you’ve lived and something you’ve experienced and something that’s so ingrained in you, and they’re telling you about your experience and you are just standing there like, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” So, we’re very lucky in that sense. And I’ve managed to put lots of flourishes into the character that under a different management I wouldn’t have been able to.


I’m happy it was a positive experience like that, because it is too often the other way. I think just as a society right now, we’re not good at listening. Everyone wants to be the one who tells and instructs, and sometimes you just have to shut up and say, “I didn’t live this, and you did. Tell me about it.”

As a person in power, I think it’s a very brave thing to be like, “I haven’t got all the answers, man.”


I completely agree with that. You have to admit to it and say, “I don’t know, but I’m going to learn about it. I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to speak authentically, but you do, so tell me about it.” I think that’s a level of maturity and insight unfortunately not a lot of people have.

As I’ve gotten older in this highly polarized world that we live in, I’m just trying to give people a little bit of grace, even if they don’t deserve it.


The brand new Waterloo Road is available to watch on BBC iplayer and BBC One. 


Words by Sam Cohen

Photography Chris W Cox


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