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Babou’s future looking bright

KING OF THE SCREEN: Babou Ceesay has been making a big impact in the world of drama

WHO REMEMBERS being particularly blown away, last November, while watching the highly anticipated drama 'Our Loved Boy' on BBC One? It was based upon the life of Damilola Taylor, a Nigerian schoolboy whose murder sent waves of shock and grief throughout the country.

Moreover, the tenacity and compassion of his father Richard Taylor captured the nation's hearts, also. This was perfectly encapsulated by the British-Gambian actor Babou Ceesay.

He said: “It was an honour to be able to play one of my fellow Africans. The story means so much to me. [..] To have the opportunity to make families across the UK, from whatever background they're from, watch that and relate to it, to see grief and understand its nature - or at least try to - meant a lot for me.”

Babou is widely regarded as one of most gifted players in the UK and has been steadily gaining the adoration of audiences and, hence, his stripes over the past decade.

He is not from your typical showbiz background, aside from a Grandfather who was an amateur actor in Senegal, some years ago.

No, Babou actually studied Microbiology at Imperial College and enjoyed a stable accountancy career before completely switching vocation.

Was he nervous about leaving the security of a 9-5 and for pastures new, unknown and famously unpredictable?

He said: “Acting had always been in my mind but, actually, speaking to a family friend (cousin's girlfriend's sister) who'd attended drama school, the idea just blew my mind.”

Babou underwent classical training at the prestigious Oxford School of Drama; his first graduate job was to be a role in Max Stafford-Clark's critically acclaimed stage production of Macbeth (2004).

He went on to land a role in British-German comedy horror film Severance (2006), which garnered positive acclaim and saw The Independent newspaper tip him as 'the face to watch'.

This marked a significant leap from the stage, upon which he'd honed his craft, into film. When asked, the Barnet-born thespian cites how his theatrical training prepared him for the silver screen:

“Theatre has a profound impact on the work I do now. Repeating a performance, night after night, starts to give you some grounding.

You have to be courageous because you're performing live. The fear of 'fluffing it' will drop you to your knees - you have to get on with it.


LATEST ROLE: Ceesay stars alongside Freida Pinto in Guerrilla

The process of trying to access the character doesn't necessarily change [between TV and stage]. At the end of the day, you're asking the same questions of your character: who they are, what's motivating them, why they behave the way that they do?”

Indeed, Babou has showcased his flair and asked many-a-question of the richly diverse characters he's played over the years, in projects such as Silent Witness (2008), Law & Order UK (2009), Casualty (2011), Luther (2011) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2013), to name a few. He's currently starring as Marcus in a Sky Atlantic original series 'Guerrilla' alongside Freida Pinto and Idris Elba.

Created by Academy Award-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, American Crime), the film is based in 1970s London and explores the struggle for racial justice and equality at the time.

Babou reflects upon his character: “The thing I love about Marcus is that he is trying in a world where it's not necessarily accepted. “Marcus doesn't want the world to exist where you can be judged on the colour of your skin; he wants equality but at the same, he wouldn't change himself as a black man. On some level, he doesn't mind being recognised as what he is, he just doesn't want to be judged for it.

“That is an argument that doesn't come often, to see someone grappling with that.”

As one of the few black success stories in UK film, Ceesay notes the multiple dimensions to the 'glass ceiling' debate as it pertains to the UK film industry. Ultimately he is of the school that “the glass ceiling is there to be smashed by the mind.”

“My mum says 'get up onto the world stage as a human being first and foremost, along the way some people identify you as black, some - a man, some will say he looks and behaves this way. If you carry on allowing them to limit you then they will.'”

Babou has made ground-breaking career strides, played a significant amount of British/African roles and hasn't upped sticks completely for the Big Apple, to our knowledge. As such, his stance on Samuel L Jackson's recent observations of the British actors is perhaps all-the-more important.

Ceesay reflects: “If I get the opportunity to play an African American, I will try my very best to treat it with the respect it deserves. I hope that my external view will be able to look beyond emotions to question behaviour, to create characters that may in the end be as profound as an African American could create.

“I identify as an African man and saw Forrest Whittaker play Idi Amin (The Last King of Scotland, 2007) and was given an Oscar for it. I am proud of that; in fact, there are some elements of the fact that he played it that's important. Meryl Streep played Thatcher (The Iron Lady, 2011) - I don't see anyone else playing that part, personally.

“I respect Samuel L Jackson, love his films and will continue to see them - including Kong, the moment I get an opportunity.”

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