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Inspired with Sope Dirisu and Gabriel Akamo & Jeremiah Brown

Nothing Concrete text
3 Mar 2021
45 min listen

Barbican Young Poet alums, Jeremiah Brown and Gabriel Akamo speak to actor Sope Dìrísù about heritage, diversity in theatre audiences and training. 

Our series of inspiring conversations returns with a twist as we hand over to our Barbican Young Creatives to interview the artists that inspire them as they begin their careers in the arts in series two of ‘Inspired’ on Nothing Concrete, the Barbican podcast.

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About Sope
Sope is an award-winning actor working across theatre, television, and film. He trained extensively with the National Youth Theatre, and his credits for stage include One Night in Miami (Donmar Warehouse), the titular role in Coriolanus at the RSC, and The Brothers Size (Young Vic).  On screen, Sope’s recent work includes the horror film His House (New Regency) for which he has received a nomination for Best Actor at the 2021 British Independent Film Awards as well as a nomination for Best Actor in a Horror Movie at the inaugural Critic’s Choice Super Awards. He is due to appear in the sci-fi thriller Tides (Beghaus Wöbke Filmproduktion), drama film Mothering Day (Number 9 Films) and Silent Night with Kiera Knightely in 2021. Sope can also be seen as Elliot Finch in the television crime series Gangs of London (Pulse Films).

About Jeremiah
Jeremiah ‘SugarJ’ Brown is a Black British-Jamaican writer, performer and poet based in Croydon. He creates art that explores faith, death, mental health and integrational Black British diasporic experiences. 

About Gabriel
A Nigerian-British poet, actor, facilitator, and creative producer. As a multi-disciplinary practitioner, Gabriel’s work often leads him beyond poetry and performance, often drawing on his background in both theatre and academic Philosophy, and his writing currently explores faith, relationships, and his overlapping identities. 

Listen to Jeremiah and Gabriel’s podcast, The Sugar and Dread Podcast.


Jeremiah Brown: Hello and welcome to Nothing Concrete, the Barbican podcast. This is Inspired, a series where artists invite someone who's influenced their creative lives to share the stories behind that connection. We are Sugar and Dread. 

I am Jeremiah Sugar J Brown, a writer, performer and Barbican Young Poet alum. 

Gabriel Okamo: And I am Gabriel Okamo, I am a poet, actor, facilitator, creative producer, and also a Barbican Young Poets alum. In this episode, we are speaking to Sope Dirisu. He is an award-winning actor working across theatre, film and television. He's trained extensively with the National Youth Theatre and his credits for stage include One Night in Miami, at the Donmar Warehouse, The Brothers Sizeat the Young Vic and the titular role in Coriolanus by the RSC, which also featured on the stage of the Babacan itself.

JB: On-screen Sope’s recent work, includes, wait for it, the horror film, His House, for which he has received a nomination for Best Actor at the 2021 British Independent Film Awards as well as a nomination for Best Actor in a Horror Movie at the inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards, he is due to appear in the sci-fi thriller, Tides, drama film, Mothering Day and Silent Night with Keira Knightley in 2021. He can also be seen as Elliot Finch, badman, in the television  crime series, Gangs of London by  Pulse Films.

GO: We invited the Sope because we had both seen his work firsthand in Coriolanus at the Barbican and, just inspired by his journey. We wanted to have a longer chat with him.
JB: Hello and you are here were first name, Sugar 

GO: Second name Dread. 

JB: And,, yeah, we are, we are in the building. We are in the place. And who are we here with? Gabriel? 

GO: We are here. We are here with the amazing, the phenomenal  Sope Dirisu.

SD: Hello, its an honour to meet you. Especially with such an introduction, guys.

GO: Oh man. We haven't even started. We haven't even started yet. What's what's this about? What's this about Jeremiah?
Yeah, well, we're here. We've got the privilege of being, being with Sope. We're gonna talk, we're going to ask you a variety of different questions. I hope you're ready. But we just, we just wanna talk. We wanna we wanna chill. So I guess we've got like, there's a few things that we sort of wanted to touch on like a few topic areas - heritage upbringing, background, your ideas for legacy and like leaving an impact the impact of the audience on you. And we were thinking to start with heritage and upbringing.

So Gabriel, if you wanted to... 

GO: Yeah. Great. I know you've touched on this kind of somewhat in in kind of previous interviews that you've done. So you've kind of talked about coming from a Yoruba background coming from a Nigerian Christian household and, you know, growing up here, how has that kind of influenced, influenced you kind of as an actor, as a, as a person, as an artist?

SD: The first thing that came to mind actually was not necessarily like a glowing positive, it was that there's a certain, what's the word, measuredness,.. I think that I approach my career with, or a certain, not reticence, but there's like a, maybe there's an added level of self doubt or just like needed to be even more self-assured than certain people need to be because of,... It's not something that I was encouraged to do from when I was young, you know, I was not like they weren't like, Oh, you want to be a creative, or you want to be an actor, musician -  go on, go ahead do whatever you want, you know! Everyone will support you. That was never, that was never in the lexicon of my parents growing up. They was all about being professional, being a doctor lawyer, all of the same old African tropes.

But I know I've learned this come from a really good place. I think for me, when I was younger, it was about, it felt a little bit like suppression or a little bit like a straight jacket in, but it was because they wanted their children's lives to be better than theirs. So now that I have the understanding, I'm able to appreciate what my parents were trying to do for me and what they did to do for me growing up.

It does mean that, you know, like they say, if you can see it, you can be it. 

GO: Yes. 

SD: I think I need that a lot more. I need to be able to see something before I can believe that I can do something. And that even goes into the parts that I play. You know, one of the next parts I'm going on to play is set in history. But the role itself is quite fictional and there was a little bit of a struggle that I was having because you don't see black people in those roles in period drama, as you, it's very hard to find them in history at all. And like, because as an actor, everything you do you want to be based in truth. 

GO: Yeah.

SD: Like there's a little bit of, whereas I know if my parents were just like, yeah, do this, do it could be like, I'll be like, yeah, it doesn't matter. I've got, I've got the freedom to go into these roles that don't exist and I'm going to create them, you know? So that's that's definitely an effect that my upbringing has had.

But also, it's given me this drive to be excellent. It's necessary that I exceed and excel. You know, they say you'll be the head and not the tail, head and shoulders above your peers. One of these prayers, you know, they're still rattling around in the back of my head and I had this as I could drive, and it's a bit of fuel or energy for me to continue striving and continue like pushing myself if I'm not competing with others and compete with myself and compete with history, you know?

So that desire for of my parents, for their children to be excellent and to be comfortable and to be settled and to also be leaders of their generation. Ha, all of them are coming back now! Like that's, that's, that's built into me. So whilst there is a little bit of checking of oneself, there's also this fuel and fire to, to always succeed. So those are the two things I think philosophically that my upbringing had given me. 

GO: Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think I'm sure we can definitely relate to that. Personally kind of, I'm also from a Nigerian  Christian, Yoruba background, so yeah...

SD: Those sentiments you've heard them so many times. 

GO: Ha, that's it exactly. I mean, I’m still hearing them. You know, cause obviously with the, with the pandemic living, living at home with the parents. And so, and so those things still are still things that are kind of repeated and still, still echo in the, in the walls of the house. That kind of leads on nicely on to kind of two, two other things that we wanted to ask you about kind of on the topic of being kind of a leader in your field and in some ways trailblazing and kind of following that, the ethic that you grew up with.

How does, how do you think that influences kind of, in terms of being an actor, right. Because you said, you said it's not really something that you grew up with or it's not, it wasn't really something that was encouraged and yeah. Do you think, do you think that's, how has that impacted kind of your sense of kind of a legacy or do you feel kind of a sense of responsibility of in your role as an actor, in terms of, in terms of opening ... Or kind of being visible and opening, opening that path for people who might have come from your, from a similar background to you?
SD: Yeah, I think it goes back to that whole, if you can see it, you can be it phrase, but also, it's not just for the person who's seen it. It's for their family or for their parents. Especially I was working a lot about diversity in grassroots creativity, especially in acting like National Youth Theatre and stuff like that. And one of the biggest demographics that we found that are totally alienated or not represented in youth theatre is like East Asian actors. And that if you think about them, like, I don't want to lean into any stereotypes or anything, but my experience is that, even more so than African parents, East Asian parents are very much like you're here to be a professional. We're sending you to England to study so that you can come back with skills and like real jobs, etcetera. And also because East Asian actors are not as represented as even Black actors or South Asian actors on screen, they don't have anyone with that could be like, Oh, well look, I mean, now they've got people like Henry Golding and Gemma Chan, Constance Wu, like you can list them off.

Thankfully, the world is changing, but without people to point to their parents and be like, look, we are represented and we can be successful in this space. Let me try. That battle of convincing your parents to support you is a lot harder. So bringing that back, like, yes, there have been lots of successful Black actors in the generations above me. They may have had to go to America, maybe some of them in the States, etcetera. But I would like to think that my, myself, my generation, we are... If the door was left ajar by the ones before, we are pushing it wide open for parents to really see that their children can be successful in the creative arts. And I think that with the plethora of like recording artists that we have that are Black or of Nigerian descent. But just to be fair, you probably find someone in a creative injury industry that came from your village now as a Nigerian, you know! Two degrees of separation away from somebody. Yeah, my mum definitely knows that Dave's mum or something like that. It is possible. So because of that, it definitely reduces the barriers, cultural barriers to entry for people into acting. And then I do embrace that responsibility because I know how difficult it was for me to convince my parents this is something that I want to do. So if I can make it easier for the next Denzel or the next, you know, someone below me, then that would be, that's a wonderful legacy to live by.

GO: I think that's, that's something that I always think about the usefulness of kind of my work. And again, kind of for better or worse, that kind of sits at the back of, at the back of my, my head as, as Jeremiah will, well know we've had, we've had many, many anxious, WhatsApp conversations over kind of thing. But I think, I think kind of the... it's the, if you see it, you can believe it. Or if you see it, you can be, it is a really, it's a really kind of pertinent thing. And I think that that leads nicely onto the questions that Jeremiah specifically wanted to ask you. Do you want to, you want to take it away?

JB: Yeah, just, I guess this comes in two parts, but the first part being, thinking about like the makeup of the audience and how that impacts you as an actor. Yeah. So the presence of Black people or other like kind of just the presence of the people that are engaging with your work and how does that affect you as an actor? Often predominantly working in potentially - well I don't want to assume - but you know, working in various settings that might just be predominantly white or those kinds of things. How does that impact you as an actor also thinking about maybe that question is more prevalent with stage work but also thinking about the audiences for film and television and how does that affect you as well? 

SD: I mean, this is like this podcast is for the Barbican and the one time I got to perform there was with the RSC in Coriolanus.

GO: Yeah. 

SD: And I think this is the, like, as soon as you asked me that question, this came into mind for two reasons. One was that, I've got good friends, man. A lot of my friends decided that they all got to get together without me in a WhatsApp group and discuss that, Oh, we're all going to go on the same night. Yeah. Don't tell Sope. We're going to be there. And it was like a little section of the Black London acting, acting community, guys and girls and elders and youngers, you know, they all just decided to come to the theatre that one night, and I had no idea. I had no idea. Nobody told me. And then when we got to the curtain call, all I could hear was [cheering]. My goodness. I almost run off the stage into to the audience. I was just overjoyed. I was elated. And to think that my people were riding for me that night in, in it it's like a concert hall, man. How many times do you get Black people performing in concert halls? And that's, you're like the Chineke! Orchestra, you know, and then it was Shakespeare, which is very stereotypically, not for us.

I mean, we're trying to do a lot of work to change that because Shakespeare was a working class writer writing in working class voices, but it's been co-opted by the higher up to tell us that it's not for us and it's a lie. But still some people feel alienated from it. Especially young non-white people.

And then at the RSC, which is at the pinnacle of that , which is trying hard to with this engagement, but not always successful, to think that I had like a section, it felt, it felt like the audience was full of Black people that evening. So that, I mean, it's not necessarily answer your question, it’s the reverse - how about, how does the audience affect me? You know. Knowing that my art can go that far, reach those people can be celebrated by that. But by my own people, you know,  it's a joy overflowing because maybe it's to do with the way that I grew up or something, but sometimes you could feel, in certain creative industries, or you have to compromise a bit of yourself or a section of your blackness in order to fit in and take the opportunities that are given to you.
So yes, in that, in that moment, I felt vindicated. I didn't feel like... I felt hope, you know, and I think also specifically with that part, like the casting of that production was very interesting in that there was a very clear separation between the upper class and the lower class. And in the upper classes, I was the only black man. There were no women of colour. And there was another Asian man who was playing a very, very small role, almost subordinate. So the way the story of Coriolanus goes, he's kind of manipulated by people, his mother, his like stand-in father figure, uncle kind of guy, the whole state are just like playing him as a puppet and wanting to do what they want him to do.
And he's like, no, I'm going to be me completely. And it was, I struggled with it after the first read through actually, and I haven't spoken to many people about this, but it was like, Oh, actually, if you look at the optics of this, this is a solitary black man. Who is effectively being adopted or co-opted by white society and is being made to behave in a certain way or conform to their ideals.

And it's not too much of a stretch to think of how much like black people are made to change their voices or change their behaviour or their mannerisms in order to fit into white society or into the society of wherever the diasporism is located. So then to think that I was going through this existential, racial sort of struggle about this play. And then it was only really going to be seen by white people. It was a little bit, Oh, no, like what's going on here? What am I doing? What can I do to, to elevate my people in this discussion, interrogation. Yeah. So like, I think sometimes regardless of the story you attended, you have to be conscious of who's receiving the story and whether or not it's helpful. Is a story that you're telling the right story or is it told in the right way for the people who are receiving it.  And that goes not just for white people, but for your own people as well, or people who look a little bit like you, but not exactly like you. The greatest joy would be to completely break down the access, the barriers, cultural barriers that make people not want to engage with it or not want to engage with Shakespeare or anything. And then we will create this utopia where actually I'm not really thinking about the audience because their audience reflects my life outside of the theatre. And I'm not as concerned about these racial questions because either the audience will answer it with me, or nobody's thinking about it because we're all equal.  So nobody's really looking at race. 

JB: Brilliant. Cause so the root of that question, me and Gabriel went to see Coriolanus when it was at the Barbican. We went to see it and we remembered like afterwards Yeah. So we were standing up and clapping. Gabriel is... Gabriel is Gabriel innit, so whenever Gabriel is in a room, you know that Gabriel's in a room. So, but we are there, we're clapping, we're making noise and we both remembered you sort of like seeing us and like nodding, in acknowledging us. And we were like, yeah. And that's something that we both took away and sort of, as we were leaving, it was us thinking about it. Cause we were aware that we were like the only black people in the audience as well. And so when that happened, it was something that we've kind of have sort of gone away and thought about. We've both performed in situations as well, where the audience does not look like us, where it's it's, you know, it's a majority ... Well, it's just, it's mostly white and we've had those kinds of experiences and, yeah. So it was, it was just interesting that even as we asked you that question, the thing that came back to you was your people being like, yo, we're setting up, we're going to come to this space. And yeah, those kinds of things are joyful. We went to see one of my boys graduate and he graduated from Imperial and, everyone's clapping politely. And when he stepped on stage, it was, it was, it was, it was, it was everything. 

SD: It has to be, you know. We do need to take up more space in these, in these spaces, just like. Never reducing ourselves in order to fit in with what is right or what is the conformist. I think I make, I make a point of that, even if I'm on my ones, if I go and see someone who like would respond to that sort of celebration on stage, regardless of how white the space is, I make sure I, my authentic self. And I connect with that person because I know what it did for me, that that joy is revolutionary, you know, and if we can inspire joy in ourselves with by being ourselves, and we need to do it more, need to do it.

JB: You, you were in His House, which, ah, beautiful, amazing film. Yeah. As a writer as well, the writing in that film, and there's certain, there's some lines that really, I was just watching it and I was like, this is, is poetic. Like just everything on top of the performances on top of all of that.

GO: For me watching it, it definitely, it brought to mind kind of those, those old Nollywood horror films. You know ...


I say this, I say this...

JB: Let him land...

GO:... In that, in that it was, it was drawing on  there's the, there's the figure of the, of the apeth  of Sudanese folklore. And you know, in my, in my brief research, I didn't realize how prominent the apeth was. And like East African you know, traditional beliefs and storytelling is not something that's been on my radar because obviously being West African that's where a lot of my focus was.  And so. How was it? How was it kind of for you being in, being in a story that's being told on Netflix to a mass audience that is touching on kind of African folklore, African traditional beliefs and mythologies and that kind of thing. What does, how does, how does that in your, or does that in your mind kind of connect to the whole thing about audiences and connecting with where you're from and kind of what you see and how, yeah, just talk us a little bit about that?
SD:I think all art is a wonderful medium for sharing and sharing culture, especially. And I think Netflix is an incredible extension of that to the nth degree. And why I really love about what they're doing over at Netflix HQ is that they have set up an African division, you know, and they've commissioned writers and producers from all over the continent to create like high quality African content. I mean, Queen Sono is an example of that. And that's about this for those who haven't seen it, it's about this South African, like. James Bond basically where she's a woman played by Pearl Thusi. And it's excellent. Like just to see the vibrancy of Africa through the screens, because they go all over Africa as well with that series. And yeah, it's not without its flaws, but what piece of art isn't, you know. So it definitely fills me with pride to be able to be sharing culture from the continent of Africa with the rest of the world, because it was distributed internationally and Netflix is a wonderful sort of agent of that. And it works in all different ways as well. You can watch Ukrainian films on Netflix. If you're looking for it, it's all there. Very easy to find so that, figures, cult, folklore figures like the apeth, and many more to come, that are being shared on such a global platform. It's it's definitely a step, it's a giant leap for mankind, you know, and to be a part of that is definitely an honour.

And it's sort of like the work I want to do or want to do more of that, you know, like sharing our life experiences and making people feel seen and sharing those stories and giving a voice to. People who don't normally get a voice in this case, refugees, for example, like, I think that's what. I want to be doing.

JB: I guess, as a, as a followup, sort of directly on that question, and you sort of talking about the roles that you would like to do, and like the things that you would like to sort of take on . How, how is it for you sort of selecting what you do and don't do and making those decisions now and sort of, yeah, your power and control in, in that, in that sort of experience and those decisions going forward. 

SD: Definitely earlier on in my career, it was a case of like, take what you're given, be grateful for it and do your best. And I still like maintain a lot of that. You know, I remember there was a Luton Town football club manager who once said that like, all we can do is control the controllables, you know, and then everything else is sort of, it's sort of a, up to luck. At the beginning, you can only take what you're given. That said you can go out and make your own work, so maybe I’m talking nonsense. But early doors, it was a case of like, if I get seen for it, I'll do my best and try my best, but I'm not going to say no to anything. And there's an element of that, that I like to keep, because there might be something that I look at as just like, Oh, this isn't really me. This isn’t what I want to do, but it's going to be a massive challenge. If I've got, to go so far away from my comfort zone to achieve this thing to the point where it's scary, maybe it's the things that I should be doing, because if I want to push myself as an actor and get better, Then those are the roles that I should be after, but also I think there is a point now where I'm building a career.

I'm no longer really laying the foundations of that. I'm sort of deciding what kind of actor do I want to be? Is it, do I want to be an action movie actor and, and keep doing those things or do I want to be a romcom actor? And personally, I would love to not be able to be pigeonholed into any of those categories because of the breadth and diversity of my work, but in terms of things that I definitely would say yes to, there's a project that came on through my agent recently, that was just way more as an artistic exploration than anything that I'd ever read before. Like, there are no lines in the whole film. And I'll say, I want to do this because this is, this isn't going to be played in cinema, this is going to be played in like orchestra halls, you know, because they want to put music next to it or play their music live. I was just like, yo, this, this, this is exciting because it's not your standard, like, don't get me wrong. I'd love to be in the Marvel superhero universe as well. But it's not your standard. Like, Oh, we're just going to go to the movies, see this film, ah that is nice. Like, what is the next step of moving pictures? You know, what else can we do with it? How do we heighten the art? Someone is playing with the colours on screen, you know, at the end of the day, if I read the script and the story is interesting because if, even if the character is not like the best or the most developed, then I've got to do my job and flesh that character out in its performance. You know, I find those little nuances that make that character interesting. But if the story arc is something that I'm excited by then that’s a project I want to work on. 

GO: I'm going to, I'm going to take cycle it back just a little bit and ask about, ask some questions about your kind of relationship to training as an actor who kind of didn't go to drama school. Yeah. What's your relationship to that in terms of, especially, I guess, working, working in theatre?

I guess, I guess it can feel like I, my own experience in with that, I felt, I felt like there's kind of a gap or I've been very self-conscious about having not been to drama school. And so I know I was wondering, I was wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit about that experience or kind of how your, how, the way you trained in the way you came into the industry has kind of affected or shaped kind of your path through it?

SD: Well, I definitely shared, well, no, I'll be very honest with you in my experience. There've been times where I've been scared because I didn't go to drama school. Like, especially when I went to the RSC just like, Oh, You do voice work every day for three years, someone mentioned it’s like a thousand hours worth of voice to make sure that your voice can fill this space and that you'll maintain your instrument. You know that you're not gonna run out of steam, you're gonna lose your voice or anything like that. And they had to take me aside from early, I was in rehearsals maybe two or three months before everybody else so that they could like give me these voice works. Do them every day, meet up with a voice teacher, make sure that I'm going to be able to carry that space.

It wasn't even a case of like, they made me feel insecure by it. I was already insecure about it. The learning, what I was competing with, like there was a, it was humbling. It made me make sure that I was on job, you know, taking all of the opportunities to learn and grow and develop that I could do so that I wouldn't be like, found out what wouldn't be a fraud on stage, you know?

And I think that's one of the biggest things that, that has done for me. It's like, Oh, now I'm, I'm even more eager to learn. Because I haven't had that specified time of training and learning and honing one's craft. So I'm just always looking for avenues. And what can I learn from you? What did you do that, that was really interesting. Like maybe I'll bring that into my performance. So the way that you're holding your eyes, looking just off camera... all of these things that's so so rich, so learning on the job, I think if you haven't learned before not to say that people who've been to drama school are just hella relax and don't care. I'm sure. I know people who are constantly driven, constantly learning, but having that feeling of needing to catch up made me keep that even more. 

JB: The fact that you, the Gangs of London and His House came out in the same in the same year is beautiful to me because they're, they're so, they're so different. I guess what, in terms of your approach and your preparation for both and sort of the training element that kind of goes into it practically, but also from like a mental standpoint and getting into it for like Gangs of London, but then also just the differences or the nuances as you approach something like His House,
SD: There's a quote. And I'm going to butcher it by a theatre practitioner called Peter Brook. And he says a man walks across an empty stage. And I can't remember the next part of it is, but basically it's already a performance, you know, without words, without lighting, without anything. He is being observed and that makes it piece of theatre, you know, and what I took from that is that, and this happens in life is where prejudice comes from. So much of your story is inferred. Before you open your mouth, just from how you're dressed, how do you walk, where you're looking. How you hold your shoulders, you know, your physicality is such an important part of storytelling. And so when it came to doing preparation for Gangs of London, they were like, okay, cool we want you to learn the choreography. I was like, okay, I need to know about his history. Like, yes, his father was a boxer. He was in the military. This is the sort of hand-to-hand combat that he would do. And sort of like kept drilling that to the point where my body and the way I hold myself in the way he walked through a room was indicative of that sort of thing. Those are those things are like super nuanced and maybe the camera doesn't pick them up, but it's important for me to have them in my performance so that I'm doing my job. I'm not just giving the camera what it needs and then like taking breaks afterwards. And the same for His House. I think we actually shot His House before we shot Gangs of London. But because of who he is, where he's come from, he doesn't need muscles. He doesn't need this physicality. It's not his job. He worked in a bank. If anything, he would have been a bit thinner than, than he is in the film because of the sort of journey that he's been on. So yeah, all of those things I think are really important to building character in that present, presents the story. They are for me anyway. And I think maybe you see that stuff more in theatre because you're getting full body all the time.

JB: Training routes, paths into the industry. And I think there's, there's a lot of those out there. But yeah, I guess advice in terms of maybe practically, but also just in terms of mentality, approaches, things to be wary of things that helped you or perhaps like if you were looking at past Sope and been like, Hmm, this is kind of, these are the things I would want to impress upon you before you began upon this journey.

SD: I think it's always good to remember why you're doing it. Some people are doing it just to be famous. Some people that didn't sell them lots of money. Given how wildly different people's experiences of their careers can be, is it is hard to sustain discipline and your enthusiasm if those are the reasons that you're doing it, how'd that reason if you love it, because you love it.

Remember exactly that moment that you loved it and let that feed. I can tell you the exact moment. So I went to university, studied economics, but I was doing plays every time. And I had this like report that I was supposed to do over the Christmas period about child labour in third world, developing countries. And I, I was doing it. It was fine, but I sat there in my uni room, surrounded by all these papers. Just like if I choose this could be the rest of my life. And I know that this isn't what I enjoy doing, but I'm good at this. And I can do it, but I don't know if this is what, when the rest of my life to look like.  And then Easter that year, second year, my mum took me into the kitchen. Just like, why are you depressed? Straight up. What's wrong. I can tell something's wrong. 

GO: African mums never miss. 

SD: She forced me to think about what was wrong in my life. And I think it was that realization. I was just like, I'm not enjoying doing my economics. I'm enjoying everything else about uni apart from my course. And then that summer. I went to the National Youth Theatre and I did a play with them in London. And my whole disposition changed. You know, I was entirely lifted. I was happy with people who are like minded. I met one of my best friends that year and we were creating art and we were performing theatre. I was like, I'm happy. Now this is, this is what's making me happy. And then the year after that, I was like, I'm not applying for any internships, not applied for any like. Year in industry, you know, them placements. I'm not doing it. When I leave my course, I'm going to hand my parents my degree, and I'm going to see what acting looks like, you know, and those moments are what I think about when I'm so happy that I made this decision when I'm struggling and I'm just like, why am I even doing this thing man? I've got a degree. Let me go and go to the City. Canary Wharf is just there. Let me make some money. And whenever I'm looking at scripts and it's hard, its like but this makes me happy.  And I studied harder on my scripts than I ever did for any of my exams, you know, because if it gives me joy, it's like, Oh, I'm going to find this nuance of mine in the richness of the texts, you know? So yeah, definitely find those moments of find that thing. That's going to keep you going because you're going to need it a lot. You're going to need it a lot. And it's not going to be easy. 

I don't say that to dissuade anybody, but just to, if you come in with that knowledge, that you're not going to be sidelined when you're not working for seven months, you know, and then also find other ways to be creative. Even if you're making music and it's not coming to you just then like try and write something that isn't lyrics. Like maybe it's just a poem. Maybe it's a short story and see how everything works together to create something else, you know. In terms of pathways and access and learning opportunities. I would not be here without the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. And I joined there when I was 15 and I was there until I was 22. And that was, I did something with them every single year. And with that as with all things, the more you put into it, the more you're going to get out of it. I was like, Oh, I'll do an assistant for this one, volunteer for that. And I'll do this and I'll do that. And then they were just like, okay, cool, man – you’re doing too much! [Laughter]
And then they in turn elevated me because it's like, we don't elevate this guy, he's just not going to leave us alone, you know? So they gave me the platform to perform in front of people. They gave me the confidence. They gave me a lot of skills, gave me the opportunities and they gave me the belief that I could do it.

Because they had given me those opportunities. So I'm, I'm very, very grateful to that institution. And I would encourage everyone who is under the age of 20. I don't know how long it goes on for now, but the earlier you get into it, the more you're going to get out everyone to edition for the NYT, if they want to be an actor. But then again, what's wonderful about NYT is that it's not just for people who want to act. It was really like an excellent, the summer holiday course for me to meet people from all over the country, you know, meet different kinds of people, not just like people from ends or people who look like you.

It's, it's wonderful. And also it just, it gives a lot of people confidence. And it's just about opening yourself up to new opportunities and new experiences and new people and all of those things, all of those experiences and opportunities and the people that you meet will all funnel back into your creativity some ways. So the NYT was really just a way of opening myself up to the world. And I think that's another important piece of advice that - art reflects life. So you have to live as much as your life as possible in order to get that into your art.
JB: Yeah. There's so many points, I think in the answer that would just, yeah, that was perfect. Because even as you were talking about like remembering those moments and then you were, you were like, yeah, cause you were thinking like, I've got my degree. I can go and do economics. I was like, I've been there. Like I've been there. Like I was like you know, I'm thinking those kinds of things and those sorts of thoughts and thinking like, ah, actually, what is it that sort of brings me back? Or what is it that sort of makes me want to keep going? And, and it's knowing that like, I, I do love this and, and this is, this is that.
And then also talking about NYT, giving you that belief that you can do it. And I know for, for myself in regards to like, poetry and sort of that kind of thing. Doing Barbican Young Poets with Jacob Sam-La Rose and just having that belief. I remember when I got him to sign his poetry book, like when I just like, it was maybe the first or second year and he signed it and it was something along the lines of like, "you're a great poet now and I look forward to the poet you're going to be". And just that kind of, the people that you meet and the belief that they impart on you and like how important that is and different forms of creativity, everything that you're kind of saying. I was like, yeah, man

GO: It's funny actually, how. I think with the three of us, our experiences are really mirrored each other.  Like I think it was around a similar time when I was at uni as well. It was kind of second, second year, slightly later in the year. But it was when we were talking about our dissertation and I remember they got all the  - so I did philosophy, right- they got all the philosophy students who are just moving into third year into a room, into the lecture hall. And they gave us these dissertation booklets and I'll never forget. They put the booklet in front of me on the table and I opened this, flips through and I closed it and I just thought, I could not care less...

SD: I’m surprised you didn’t just dash it off the table! [Laughter]

GO: All through school, the plan was not to, was not to do this professionally. I remember finishing, finishing A Levels at each stage, at GCSE. I was like, okay, I'm not going to do drama. I'm going to do something serious. And then I remember my mum being like, "Don't even dream about going to drama school or something like this". Something along those lines. 

SD: That’s why I didn’t go, man! People ask me that, Oh, why didn't you go to drama school?  There are two reasons. One, I didn't know if I was good enough. I didn't want to waste my time. I knew that people said that I was good at my school, but like, that's the difference between going from, I don't know, play in football on your street to playing football in the England team? And then also "Don’t even... Drama?! Drama!"  Never going to happen. So I didn’t even bother to ask, you know, there's some things you'd know about your parents. You were saying that your mum said don't even think about drama school....

GO: Yeah. It's almost like she saw it before I did, because it wasn't even in my mind when she mentioned it until she mentioned it. And from that point onwards, I was like, yeah, what if I do go to drama school, maybe... Every time, every time I was frustrated with my course, which I loved, but like, it just, it just wasn't the career that it, that it was going to lead me down was just not something I could do. Yeah. There was always that question at the back of my mind. And so acting and theatre was always there as a release valve until I found myself graduating. And then coming straight out of uni, cause I auditioned for NYT in third year of uni and going straight into the NYT course. And now it goes up until the age of 26. And so similarly, I did something every year that I could, because my mentality was different. I wasn't coming straight from school and I think, and I think that's the great thing about, about it and about kind of the journeys that we've taken on about lots of what you said. Maybe if those things had been encouraged or maybe if we were more aware of those things, or maybe we wouldn't be kind of sat at our, at our desks having these conversations as artists, maybe we would have taken, kind of different courses. And so there is something about coming to a conscious decision when you're older and they kind of give, they kind of put the stakes behind what you're doing. Right. That's, you know, because when you're having a difficult time, you kind of remind yourself as to why you're doing it. And your experiences kind of gave you that reason.

GO: Do you think, do you think you defined yourself kind of, how did you decided. On that fateful day to be like, no, I am gonna, I'm going to continue doing this. I am gonna gather my papers and you know, what go and work in the City. Do you think you'd have found yourself kind of in the, what would parallel timeline Sope look like?

SD: I think so. You know, because I, there was a point earlier in my career in which I sort of followed economics still. I used to look at the exchange rates or look at commodities like trading and investing. That was still sort of interesting to me and it's dropped off. And that makes me feel as though, like, actually there’s only real space for one driving passion. I suppose my other driving passion would be football. So I could see myself more likely working at Arsenal football club as some sort of economist that I could at the National Theatre. Because I've got a friend of a friend who is an economist for a theatre producer. So she makes a decision to like what price the tickets are sold out and how many people can we expect to come through the door. But I don't think I would have done that because it would have pained me too much. I wasn't actually doing the acting. I remember one time when I wasn't acting, I was doing crew work and that's people who make stages or break stage, and I remember one day I was stationed at the National Theatre to work as crew. I was like, this is not the, this is not the perspective of this building that I wanted. And I think it would be the same from the office. 

GO: You mentioned, you mentioned kind of doing other things, doing other things to, to keep you, to keep yourself creative and to keep yourself saying my question, my question for you is what, what other things do you do?

SD: You know what? I really enjoy playing music, not necessarily making music, but. I've got piano here. I've got my bass. I've got an acoustic guitar. And every so often, like it's something I want to improve, it's like another discipline that I want to sort of like have share with my children, for example. So I suppose that is my alternative outlet and poetry as well. I've already recently got into poetry by rote a lot, but more as a therapy, you know, it was more of a way of like, writing things to get them out of my head, so they weren't haunting me anymore. But yeah, it's I do enjoy the way words work. 

JB: Hey, thank you so much for joining us. It was, it was brilliant talking to you. It was good vibes.

SD: Ah, it was my pleasure. Thank you for having me. 

JB: That was our conversation with Sope Dirisu, wrapping up the series of Inspired on the Barbican podcast, Nothing Concrete. Stay tuned for more weekly episodes from the Barbican by subscribing to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts. Peace.

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