Fisayo Akinade has enjoyed quite a successful onstage and screen career.
With notable on-screen roles in Channel 4’s Cucumber, Netflix’s Heartstopper and HBO’s Atlanta, the actor who hails from Manchester is back in his comfort zone on stage in The National Theatre production of The Crucible.
Playing the character Hale we got into the complexities of the role …
Please introduce yourself …
Hello, I’m Fisayo Akinade I’m an actor from Manchester.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
Full on but exciting.
Tell us about The Crucible …
So … The Crucible is about a lot of things. On the surface, it’s about the Salem Witch Trials. But really what it’s about is power, how it’s used, misused, utilised and corrupted. It’s also about guilt, shame, judgment, and blame. But above all, I’d say it was about power.
What’s your role in The Crucible?
I play The Reverend John Hale. He’s a minister from a neighbouring town and has a keen interest and deep knowledge of all things witchcraft related. He’s summoned to Salem to ascertain the condition of a young girl who some of the Salem townsfolk believe has been bewitched. What transpires in that room sets off the devastation that comes in the rest of the play.
How did the role find you?
Last year I got a call asking if I’d like to play the part at the National Theatre, of course, I jumped at the chance as I love the play and think Hale is one of the most interesting characters.
Highs, lows, solutions …
The biggest high is getting to play Hale and to say these brilliant words by Arthur Miller. Working with such a talented company and director has also been a real high. A low? I wouldn’t call it a low, but a difficult aspect was Hale’s relationship with Tituba. Tituba is an enslaved black woman, and the play (thankfully) has been cast with representation in mind. Which is a great thing. But it did throw up a problem. The society in the play is one that accepts and practices slavery. I’m a black man and in the first act of the play my character has to be very firm with Tituba who Hale believes has information that could help the young girl in bed. Tituba is also threatened with violence during the act. We worked hard to find a way to uphold the story whilst attending to the fact that there were two black people on stage of very different status and backgrounds and what it means when those things collide and frankly how to make it make sense. It threw up some good and useful conversations and I think we’ve found a good solution, but I suppose that will be for audiences to decide when they see it.
You have an extensive career on stage but also have some screen work under your belt – where are you most comfortable?
I think I’m most comfortable working on stage. I love the rehearsal process and getting the opportunity to try different ways of playing a role. There’s so much room for experimentation when working on stage. On screen you have to turn up and deliver and there often isn’t the time to rehearse or talk through ideas. I also love theatre because it is so much more alive and immediate than TV. I do enjoy the technique required for screen acting and enjoy every opportunity I get to become more comfortable doing it.
Which project of your career thus far defines why you got into acting?
That’s such a hard question. I got into acting because I felt my freest and most comfortable when I was on stage being someone else. I’m not sure I could pin it down to a single moment or role. There are parts I’ve played (Hale included) that have pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of, but I think it’s the journey that matters most.
Tell us about your work in the groundbreaking series Heartstopper
I cannot tell you how much I love being a part of Heartstopper. I had teachers growing up that were incredibly supportive and to now, in adulthood, getting to play a teacher who helps gay teens felt like a full circle moment. I adore the show, and everyone involved with it. I love me some drama and darker themes but sometimes a little sweetness is exactly what we need. Very proud of that one.
You were also in Atlanta how did that come about and the impact that had on you as an actor and creative?
Getting that part in Atlanta was such a whirlwind, I sent a tape and got the part within a few hours. It was very stressful. I am such a huge fan of that show and its cast so to get to play a part in it was a little bit of a dream come true. I got to work with Brian which was great. He’s very funny and very secure in what he’s doing. They would change lines on the fly, so it was a real learning experience. They move at such a fast pace, and it was scary and exciting to get on board that train. I’ll remember that experience for a long time.
Any plans to get in the director’s chair or write your own stories?
I have fantasies about directing or writing one day and I do have some ideas. But I think I still need time to find the confidence to actually put pen to paper.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
What’s your current plan B?
I don’t really have a plan B. If everything did fall apart, I’d consider going to culinary school and training to be a chef.
What are you watching right now?
Right now, I’ve just finished Succession which had its final episode this week. It’s one of the best shows ever written and the acting is sublime. I’m also watching the anime Demon Slayer which I’m obsessed with.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading Mythos by Stephen Fry which I’m enjoying also I’ve just pre-ordered The List, by Yomi Adegoke which I am very excited about.
What are you listening to right now?
I’m listening to the Off Menu podcast. Ed Gamble and James Acaster get different famous people on and invite them to their dream restaurant and have the guest take them through their dream meal. It’s very fun and you learn things about actors, musicians, and other famous people that you maybe wouldn’t in a traditional interview setting.
The last thing you saw on stage?
The last play I saw on stage was Brokeback Mountain.
What’s on your bucket list?
The big thing on my bucket list is Visiting Japan. I’ve wanted to visit for years. Hopefully, next year will be the year. Also, on my bucket list are a visit to Massimo Bottura’s restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Pujol in Mexico City and Core by Clare Smyth.
Where’s your happy place?
My happy places are, anywhere with my sisters and watching Real Housewives with my fiancé.
Celebrate someone else …
I want to celebrate my friends Kayla Meikle, Tamara Lawrence and Cherrelle Skeete all three of them are brilliant actresses doing brilliant work, plus they’re great people.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
That’s such an interesting question. I wouldn’t say I’m purposely following in anyone’s footsteps but there are a few actors who have inspired me to pursue this path I’m currently on. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Lucian Msamati being two of them. They are two actors that have inspired me in ways they’ll never know.
Next for me is The Crucible on the West End (opening now) and hopefully a third season of Heartstopper!
Where can we find you?
I’m not on socials so I guess you’ll have to find me out and about on these streets. Or at the stage door of the Gielgud Theatre if you come to watch the show.
Where can we see The Crucible?
See Fisayo Akinade playing Reverend Hale in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible directed by Lyndsey Turner playing at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End until 2 September 2023 – thecrucibleonstage.com