The name may not be familiar to you but we’re pretty sure his afro is! At just 14 years of age, Baxter (such a cool name!) Willoughby has already built a solid portfolio of work including appearing as the lead in over 30 music videos for massive UK artists such as Tinie Tempah for, Not Letting Go and Craig David’s recent, Change My Love as well as working with Grammy Award Winner Gregory Porter and Comedian Michael McIntyre amongst others.
Willoughby has further flexed his natural talent in feature length productions including playing a young Prince in Channel 5’s Autopsy and the upcoming British feature film, Brixton Rock. Conscious of the flack today’s youngers get for being lazy, ungrateful and lacking vision, I decided to take a different approach and joined forces with my 15-year-old nephew Malachi Asare-Appiah to speak to the talented and inspiring Baxter and his amazing mum Jane about his experiences so far and why it is important for him to be a positive influence to other young people.
What has been your best experience in the job so far?
Baxter: There have been a couple. The first was playing [the young] Prince in, Autopsy, an upcoming TV biopic of the musician’s life and career which will be shown on Channel 5 in April. Prince had a very difficult relationship with his father, quite abusive and so I had a lot of emotional scenes to get through – but I had a fun time playing this role as I learnt to play the piano, how to stay in role and how to maintain a different accent [Baxter had to use an American accent]. Although I am young, I knew of Prince through my dad who sang, Purple Rain a lot so it was something I looked forward to doing.
Also, one of my first jobs was starring in a music video with Irish band Kodaline for their song, All My Friends. It was quite an intense part where I played a young boy who spends a day hanging around with some older boys who get up to a lot of bad stuff. In the end he runs back home because he realises that it’s not what he wants to do with his life. I enjoyed that too because it gave me an opportunity to express myself in a way I hadn’t done before and opened more opportunities for me.
Jane: That was quite an important role for him as a lot of producers saw it and were impressed by his ability – it landed him more jobs. I feel it taught him how to get a story over without lines and so that really was a prominent role for him.
How do you think working with people like Craig David and Tinie Tempah has shaped you as an actor?
Baxter: It has definitely given me confidence and helped me to work with anyone. I love doing the job and meeting all these different people. That is how I see them – people who I work with. I see it as a job and I feel that they are all people who I can learn from.
You have a fairly settled background and home-life, how difficult is it to relate to some of the more emotionally turbulent roles you have to play?
Baxter: I submerge myself into that role. I let my mind go blank and literally think about what that person would have gone through and how it would make me feel going through that and I am able to re-enact it. I don’t find it difficult to be honest, I just think it through.
Jane: I think Baxter’s had to do a lot of ‘expression-based’ roles, that’s how he started out initially in music videos, telling a story without words – and that carries across, even the director for the Prince film commented that she could feel his fear of his father in that role. But I also think Baxter has worked with some really good directors and children need good directing.
You seem to have a very mature and confident view on life and on acting, what has influenced this?
Baxter: My mum and dad have definitely helped me a lot, they brought me up to have a down to earth attitude and as a result that is just how I am and how I generally approach things.
Jane: With Baxter, my husband and I definitely do work as a team [to support him] we’d be proud of him if he worked in McDonald’s! He’s a caring soul who has always worked hard and I think that’s what makes him a good actor – he has heart and can relate to other people from different cultures and he just enjoys it. There’s nothing worse than having kids in the industry that are in it for the fame, which is the wrong way to approach it. Baxter simply enjoys the work he does and the people he meets.
Who influenced you to get into acting? Jane, did you push Baxter into it?
Jane: Ha! Actually it’s all Baxter. My husband and I rarely go out alone; we spend quite a lot of time together as a family. On a family night out when Baxter was 7, we went to a Michael Jackson tribute show. Baxter was sat on my husband’s knee when suddenly he jumped off, got on stage and started dancing with the tribute act. After the show, some people who were sat in the audience come up to us and asked if Baxter would perform as a mini-Michael at an upcoming charity show to raise funds for a little boy who was very ill – I was very surprised because he wasn’t usually very confident. However, he ended up doing the performance and we couldn’t get him off the stage. I said to my husband if he likes it maybe we should get him into acting. We then found out he was dyslexic but reading scripts helped him to improve his reading at school. People like that fact that he goes in, does a good job and goes home. If he stops getting work we always tell him that he’ll find something. Besides that, I feel that acting has given him a good work ethic and provided other life skills that a lot of children won’t have such as turning up on time, shaking people’s hands, being prepared through learning his lines so I don’t see any harm in it for him at all.
Baxter: I agree!
Have there been any hindrances to your career? Do you think your age has limited you?
Baxter: Not really. I’ve had a good time so far. It is harder with dyslexia but acting has helped improve it. There have been characters that I have wanted to play, that if I had been a little bit older I could have gone for but other than that my age hasn’t created any barriers.
Jane: I always say to Baxter that as long as he remembers who is and carries on being a positive role model he will get far. I do feel that people do sometimes judge Baxter because he does have a big afro; they say things like “Where did you get it” or “when are you going to cut it”. If it was any other type of hair, they probably wouldn’t say those things but Baxter is very proud of his hair and who he is.
Jane, do you think Baxter’s mixed heritage caused any prejudices in the jobs he might get?
Jane: I do think he’s been typecast in some ways. For instance, he recently went to an audition and one of the casting members asked him if he was a street dancer and thought he would do a backflip any minute. Baxter told her “no I am an actor”. Despite that I do feel that he has a lot of support in the industry, which comes down to Baxter himself, he knows and is proud of who he is and his background. Jordan Kensington [Founder of Invincible and Urban Music Awards] in particular has supported Baxter for many years since appearing in, The Newspaper together. There is negativity and I do think it is definitely harder for [kids like] Baxter but he works hard and shows that anyone can do it!
Baxter, you attend school alongside undertaking your acting jobs. Does your career affect your education?
Baxter: Having to read scripts regularly has really helped me to improve by two reading years. My school work, therefore, hasn’t suffered and my school have been very good about giving me time off to attend jobs.
How do you think you have influenced other people your age?
Baxter: I think seeing someone like me doing these roles does give other young people something to work towards, and helps them to build and boost their confidence. I generally do enjoy helping people through my charity work (Baxter has been heavily involved in Audley Harrison’s “Never Give Up” campaign and working with the Samaritans).
You have a new series coming up on The Colour Network, can you tell us more about that?
Baxter: Yes, it’s called The Good Family, it’s a web series by Kojo, the actor-comedian. It’s about a South London family who win the lottery and how it affects them. I play the main character and another well-known comedian Slim will play my father. We start filming in early 2017.
Jane: Baxter auditioned for a supporting role but when Kojo heard him he asked him to try another character and Baxter ended up getting the lead role!
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now and what type of roles would you like to do in the future?
Baxter: I would love to keep working as an actor doing different types of roles as the variation challenges me and helps me to improve my acting skills. For instance, I just finished filming Brixton Rock where I played Brenton Brown who grows up in Brixton in the 70s and 80s in a care home. In the film, we get to see all his struggles like being locked up in cupboards and being punished. It was a very challenging and emotional role but I enjoyed the variation it gave me.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone trying to get into acting?
Baxter: Practice at home, find a script and read it in different ways – angry, sad, etc. It is hard work, though – everyone thinks it’s glamorous but it’s not… there are a lot of long nights!
Interview by: Jennifer Aikins-Appiah (@ghbritnatural) & Malachi Asare-Appiah
The Prince Story: Icon, Genius… Slave airs 9pm Channel 5 Sunday 16th April
To keep up with Baxter Willoughby follow him on Twitter via @