New Sky series Django, is loosely inspired by the cult classic Western, Italian Spaghetti (1966).
While searching for his daughter, Django comes upon New Babylon. Here, Django discovers that his daughter is alive and set to marry John Ellis, the founder of New Babylon. Sarah – who blames her father for the death of their family, massacred many years earlier while he was at war – wants Django to leave. But he refuses to give up and does everything in his power to get a second chance with her.
We spoke to actor Benny O. Arthur who plays the character Kevin Ellis …
Please introduce yourself …
My Name’s Benny O. Arthur, I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany in a west African household of Ghanaian heritage. I am an Actor.
It’s actually a crazy story because I had no idea what I was getting into at first. A friend of mine knew one of the casting directors and just by chance saw the casting call which she then forwarded to me and I forwarded to my agent. It was only after they got back to us that I saw the title Django for the first time. I immediately [thought] of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and that’s when the scale of this project started to dawn on me. It was one of those things where you do the audition but don’t think you’re going to get it anyway. So I sent in my tape and thought that was the end of it. Skip to a week later and I get a call from my agent asking me to get horse riding gear because I would be starting training that week and I would be moving to Romania by the end of the month to shoot Django.
Tell us about your character and what their goal is in Django …
I had the honour of playing Nicholas Pinnock’s character John Ellis’ son Kevin. Along with Sarah and his brothers Philipp and Seymour, they make up sort of the first family of New Babylon. New Babylon is this idealistic and, for the time, kind of utopian city and community founded by John and Sarah, that welcomes all outcasts and people of different races and creeds as equals. All people, completely regardless of gender, origin and faith, should find refuge and a life in freedom here.
When we meet Kevin, he is John’s biggest champion. He uncompromisingly believes in John and his vision. Even in the face of hardships and challenges, his faith in his father is unshakeable. I always liken it to how when we’re kids, our parents are like superheroes to us. They’re the biggest, the strongest, the smartest and only as we get older, do we start to realise their humanity and see that they too have their faults. As John’s youngest son, Kevin has a youthful and hopeful worldview that ultimately brings him into conflict with the harsh reality of the Wild West. The idealistic image he has of his father eventually begins to crumble as he comes to terms with the fact that even our heroes carry a darkness with them.
Tell us about working with your fellow cast …
It was such a privilege to get to work with an incredibly talented cast from all over Europe. Being in the midst of Matthias Schoenaerts, Nicholas Pinnock, Lisa Vicari, Noomi Rapace, Jyuddah Jaymes and Eric Kole and just being able to learn from each one of them by watching them work is something I am really grateful for. But what I mostly cherish is the friendships I’ve gained through this project. You know it has a pretty nice ring to it, that I can call Matthias, someone I’ve really admired for Rust and Bone and Bullhead my friend. As someone who only grew up with an older sister, I also feel fortunate enough to have gained two older brothers because, the brotherly dynamics we shared on screen never really subsided once the cameras stopped rolling. Nicholas – who’s both a father and a silly mate; someone I really look up to and who taught me a lot as an amazing collaborator in front of the camera but also off camera about navigating this industry especially as a black actor. Seeing as we spent nearly 7 Months away from home shooting this series, I am so glad to have had Lisa there as well. Her also being from Germany meant that there was always a piece of home there with me that I could lean on.
What was it about the script that made you say, “Yes, I want to be a part of this?”
I had never really envisioned myself being in a Western, let alone playing a cowboy, because the way I was introduced to this genre was always through a white perspective that left out stories of cowboys of colour, even though historically a large proportion of cowboys were in fact black, Native American and Mexican. So what really drew me to this story was this new perspective and the potential for stories from individuals that were very much present in that era.
As huge fans of Westerns, the creators of this show definitely wanted to honour and pay homage to the iconic genre while taking the liberty to infuse it with some fresh angles through this show. With the subversion of common Western tropes and stereotypes, especially in regards to the roles of women and men and the masculinities and femininities they all harbour, the writers created space for more layered and complicated characters. And it’s not in a revisionist way, people like them with all their complexities were there. Django just aims to add to the genre by telling stories with them. Ultimately it’s a show that tackles modern things or perhaps rather things that are still contemporary, set to the backdrop of the Wild West of the 1800s.
What does the story of Django mean to you personally?
To me, Django is a story about finding yourself and your place in a world that can be unkind and trying. It’s about coming to terms with the fact that ultimately you cannot outrun the pain and the traumas of your past and that eventually everyone has to face their own darkness they harbour inside in order to move forward.
Tell us a memorable moment on set?
I’ll never forget the first time we stepped into New Babylon. The production design team did a phenomenal job. They literally erected an entire town in a volcanic crater in Racos, leaving nothing up to the imagination with all the detail and care they put into creating New Babylon. I remember us all in awe as we walked through the little roads and paths going from house to house just exploring the town that was going to be our home for the next months. It was such a privilege because having a set that is actually a real complete town really helped us immerse ourselves into the world of Django.
Which scene or character best defines what you love about this project?
I don’t know if I can narrow it down to just one character or scene. Especially as the season progresses and the stakes are raised, you really get to see things inside each character shift. But I must say that Noomi does an incredible job at showing the contradictions and volatility that this world provokes in these characters. What she created with her role as Elizabeth really captures the spirit of our show.
What’s next for you?
I’m actually gearing up for the release of another Sky original series called Tender Hearts coming out next month, which is super exciting. And later this year a feature film titled Wake Up I shot on the canary islands last year. Definitely an exciting year ahead of me.
How do we keep up to date with you and your work ?
You can find me on instagram and Twitter @bennyoarthur
Django is available to watch weekly on Sky Atlantic with NOW from 1st March.