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Jimmy Akingbola - Kate and Koji/Arrow/Most Dangerous Game interview (exclusive)

Jimmy Akingbola

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JIMMY Akingbola talks about co-starring in new ITV comedy Kate and Koji alongside Brenda Blethyn and why he was attracted to playing the role of an asylum seeking African doctor. He also talks about the importance of balancing the comedy with some of the more important social issues it confronts.

He further discusses some of his forthcoming roles, including starring alongside Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz in the forthcoming Quibi thriller Most Dangerous Game and Jason Sudekis in Apple TV series Ted Lasso, as well as some of his past roles in the likes of hit superhero TV series Arrow and alongside Idris Elba in acclaimed Sky comedy-drama In The Long Run.

Q. What attracted you to new ITV comedy Kate and Koji? And your character, an asylum seeking African doctor?
Jimmy Akingbola: The first thing that attracted me was the opportunity to be a lead in a UK comedy sitcom as it has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I was excited to play Koji because he wasn’t a caricature; his story is very important and needs to be told. And last, but definitely not least, the writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin; it’s like getting to play for Jurgen Klopp. They have been there and done it with great shows like Outnumbered.

Q. Did you speak to any asylum seekers to gain any insights?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes, I did. I spent quite a few hours talking to a man that was in the same situation as Koji. I also talked to a lawyer and I did online research.

Q. You’ve been quoted in the past as saying that representation in the arts is important to you. I would imagine that Kate and Koji offers viewers the chance to see something from another perspective – an asylum seeking perspective? Was that another part of the appeal?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes, it was. I think the writing is so good and clever that you get that perspective. The show also has a lovely way of enlightening you about social and political issues in a very clever and subtle way.

Q. So, although a comedy, it has something serious to say as well… How important was it to you that the script find the right balance between this?
Jimmy Akingbola: It was very important to me. I didn’t want us to just skate over Koji’s situation and laugh. People seeking asylum are looking for a place of safety; what they are going through is very serious. If it didn’t have the right balance, I wouldn’t have taken the job.

Q. Given the state of Britain post-Brexit, as well as the wider global view of asylum seekers [and America, Iin particular], this is also highly relevant and timely. Was that also important to you?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes, as I’ve said before I liked to tell untold, unheard and important stories. I love it when my work creates conversations and debates. I feel like our show challenges the typical myths and scare stories about people seeking asylum.

Q. How was working with an acting legend such as Brenda Blethyn? And did you have long beforehand to work on your chemistry?
Jimmy Akingbola: Working with Queen Brenda was a dream come true. And yes I call her Queen Brenda… I’ve always been a massive fan of her work. She’s an acting legend with a generous heart and she has brilliant, funny bones. It’s been an absolute joy watching her work. She made me laugh during filming too many times. We actually had no time at all to work on our chemistry. We had a quick lunch before Christmas with Andy Hamilton and Blake Harrison and then the next time I saw her we were shouting at each other in a café!

Q. And I’d imagine that working on a script from Outnumbered and Drop The Dead Donkey duo Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton was a treat?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes, you can’t beat great writing. Their scripts are so easy to get into. I’m an actor that likes to tweak scripts if I can, but each time I tried that with Kate and Koji, I would just go back to what Andy and Guy had written because it was always better.

Kate & Koji

Q. How was filming in front of a live audience? I would imagine that your background in theatre provided quite invaluable?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes. I’ve filmed in front of a live studio audience before and done a lot of theatre but that was a long time ago so I still needed to be on my A game during filming. For me, live studio sitcoms are like a hybrid of TV and Theatre; it’s very exposing and, at the same time, so much fun once you embrace it. I’m always buzzing after shooting an episode and I think audiences enjoy seeing us actors sometimes forget our lines and make mistakes.

Q. What can you tell us about Most Dangerous Game, for Quibi? What role do you play in the series and how physically demanding was it?
Jimmy Akingbola: So sorry, but I can’t say anything about my role but I think you will love it. If I do say anything I’ll get into trouble! Most Dangerous Game, for me, is a bit like a combination of two films, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) meets Running Man (Arnold Schwarzenegger). It stars Christoph Waltz, who plays a billionaire who enlists a desperate man, Dodge (Liam Hemsworth), into a deadly game of survival. Sorry, I can’t say anymore, but do tune in on April 6, 2020.

Q. How was working alongside Liam Hemsworth and Christoph Waltz?
Jimmy Akingbola: Amazing! Both Legends! In between all of the action, we had fun and quite a few drinks as it was very cold in Toronto. A friend of mine keeps joking with me, saying that I only work with Legends. Of course I said ‘no, don’t be silly‘… but then she listed my last five cast mates…Idris Elba, Liam Hemsworth, Christoph Waltz, Jason Sudekis and Brenda Blethyn. Maybe she has a point? Next up, Al Pacino?

Q. The format is interesting… each instalment is 10 minutes or less? How does that affect the editing process? And does it make your scenes more challenging – to convey more and fufil the demands of the scene in less time?
Jimmy Akingbola: Yes that’s correct each instalment is 10mins or less. As an actor, I feel like it doesn’t really affect anything. If anything it makes you to be more ‘in the moment’ and not allow yourself to become too self-indulgent, which I think helps the editors and makes the scenes have the right energy and pace.

Q. Talking of streaming, you’re also a part of the Apple TV series Ted Lasso alongside Jason Sudekis. How was that? And who do you play? Was there much room for improv on a series like that? And if so, how did you find that?
Jimmy Akingbola: I love Jason Sudekis and I love improvising. Jason and I had a lot of fun improvising during our scenes. He would write the scenes but allow me to improvise around them. For me, it was exciting because I got to do a show about football and riff with Jason Sudekis. I play his friend Ollie who works as a driver.

Q. How easy is it for you to keep a straight face when doing farcical comedy such as Ted Lasso?
Jimmy Akingbola: It’s not easy, it’s extremely difficult. Jason made me laugh on every take. I initially tried sucking in my cheeks to stop me laughing but that looks terrible on camera.

Q. You worked with Idris Elba on his series, In The Long Run, which was met with widespread acclaim. How was that experience, both of playing a character like Valentine and working alongside Elba?
Jimmy Akingbola: Working with Idris and playing his younger brother, Valentine, has to be one of my favourite TV jobs so far. Alongside Kate and Koji, of course. Working on In The Long Run was literally like working with family. We all feel like we have made something special. The last, successful comedy that centred around a black family was Desmonds and that was over 25+ years ago.

So, hopefully Sky will keep re-commissioning In The Long Run and we can go from the 80s to the 90s. When Idris is on set, it feels like I’m working with my big brother because the level of banter between us rises and some of it makes it into the show. I’m really proud of the show and I feel like everyone needs or has an uncle like my character Valentine.

Arrow

Q. You’ve also been a part of the popular superhero genre by playing the arch-villain Baron Reiter in Arrow. How was that? And what kind of pressure do you feel from such a diehard fanbase when taking on a key character such as that?
Jimmy Akingbola: Playing Baron Reiter in Arrow for me was like being cast as Darth Vader in Star Wars. My inner child was screaming with joy. I really love creating iconic characters and in some ways, because of the die-hard Arrow and DC fans, I felt a lot of pressure. I came into the show after four seasons and so I wanted to make sure I made an impact. I was excited that on The Hollywood Reporter’s “Arrow: Most Formidable Villains” list, I was ranked 8th!

Q. How are things going with the Triforce Creative Network? What are you most proud to have achieved so far and what are some of the things you’re working on at the moment with it?
Jimmy Akingbola: Things are going great with TriForce Creative Network; we have had a busy start to the year. We are working with Amazon Audible on our writers showcase WriterSlam, which provides opportunities for writers to get commissions and representation. We are also working with Hat Trick Productions giving 10 writers the chance to try out for Have I Got News For You.

Our actors’ showcase MonologueSlam is happening again in Newcastle and we are consistently offering great new jobs via our TCN Talent Pool. One of the things I’m most proud of is that our TriForce Creative Network now has over 42,000 members, (all non-paying and with a reach of 250k) spanning the UK, all demographics and levels of the media business.

It traverses race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic background, and provides a link to all in the network from the bottom to the top. Plus, our patrons and supporters consist of people such as Kathy Burke, Adrian Lester, Noel Clarke, Kacey Ainsworth, Chizzy Akudolu, Nicholas Pinnock, David Morrissey, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Zawe Ashton, Jermain Jackman and Goldie.

Q. What do you look for when providing opportunities for diverse talent? Is directing something you’d like to eventually do?
Jimmy Akingbola: I focus on people and organizations that really believe in diversity and inclusion. And I try to make sure there is always a tangible outcome for our talent. I’m not interested in directing at the moment but that may change. I’m more interested in producing and making diverse and inclusive TV shows.

Q. Which actors, directors, writers and producers have inspired you?
Jimmy Akingbola: Too many… Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kathy Burke, Idris Elba, David Oyelowo, Riz Ahmed, Inua Ellams, Robbie Gee, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Marrianne Jean Baptiste, Dennis Kelly, Michaela Cole, Arinze Kene, Daniel Kaluuya, Dominic Buchanan, Joe Penhall, Nicholas Pinnock…

Q. When did you know that acting was the thing for you?
Jimmy Akingbola: When I wrote and performed my first ever monologue at the age of 16. I was at Epping Forest College and I’ve never looked back since.

Q. And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given so far? And perhaps one of your most memorable fan reactions? My best piece of advice?
Jimmy Akingbola: I do try to give advice, telling people that work ethic is really important and it’s not just about talent. I also tell actors that perseverance is key because actors’ careers peak at different times. One of my memorable reactions has been from my niece, who was interested in acting, so I suggested she should try doing classes at Identity Drama School. She auditioned, got in and since then has not stopped working and is now represented by WME and IAG and has been in shows like Game of Thrones, Black Mirror and Siren. #ProudUncle

Kate & Koji airs on ITV on Wednesday nights from 9pm.

To find out more about Triforce Creative Network, visit the website

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