Born in south London to Ghanaian parents, Levi David Addai has had a whirlwind journey in the scriptwriting field. Starting off in theatre his plays have gone on to win him numerous awards and nominations. From his first play, 93.2FM (2005) which triumphed at the Royal Court theatre to, I Have a Dream at Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre which was the winner of the 2011 Alfred Fagon award. Then, Oxford Street, in 2008 which also enjoyed a successful at the Royal Court was nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award.
In 2011 Levi broke into TV and has had multiple successes on the small screen. His hit TV feature, My Murder which cast the then relatively unknown John Boyega and Malachi Kirby in leading roles , won several awards. The adaptation told the true story of the ‘Honey trap’ murder of Shakilus Townsend in 2008. Addai went on to be lead writer, co-creator and associate producer of, Youngers an E4 critically acclaimed drama series.
Taking us up to 2016, with him writing a 90-minute drama for BBC entitled Damilola, Our Loved Boy which tells the true story of the moments leading up to the murder of Damilola Taylor from the perception of his parents and family.
We caught up with Addai for a brief chat before the programme airs tonight on BBC 1
Thanks for talking with us Levi! In an interview with BBC Writersroom you mentioned that you write the shows you would want to watch, especially on TV, could you elaborate more on that and also do you feel like your interests are not showcased enough in entertainment?
Yes, but probably no more than any other viewer. This is more about taste. If I was a fan of crime and period dramas I would be in telly heaven as a viewer right now. Working in television gives me a privileged opportunity to make the TV I want to see. I’m doing something about it – however little it may be right now.
A lot of your work seems to be centred around the black community and you have been recognised as a creator that pushes for diversity, would you say this is true and why?
My characters reflect the world they live in e.g. Youngers, which was set in Peckham. With My Murder and Damilola, Our Loved Boy, they are factual dramas and so the lead characters have to be black. These three programmes were brought to me and I felt responsible to ensure the characters in these seldom seen worlds were ‘real’ and engaging so that an audience of any background would want to follow their journey. Plus, as a black man, it would be very odd to have never had black characters in any of my work. But does this mean I’m being diverse?
You began your career writing for the stage, how was the experience transitioning from theatre to screen?
I always wanted to write for television but it is not my intention for it to replace theatre. I want to do both plus film! The fact is, opportunities lessened in theatre as TV came knocking. So I went with the medium that offered me the opportunities to tell my stories and keep my skills sharp.
You recently created a 90 min drama for the BBC entitled Damilola, Our Loved Boy telling the story of Damilola Taylor from the perspective of his family. How did you find this endeavour? Was it difficult adapting a true story as distressing as this one?
There are lots of typical drafting challenges that you face both in development and when the film is in preproduction. Together with exec Colin Barr and the fantastic producer Sue Horth we nurtured the story with sensitivity and respect. Director, Euros Lyn absorbed everything I wanted to say in the script and didn’t take one line of action or dialogue for granted. The cast, led by the ridiculously talented Babou Ceesay give it their all. However, the biggest challenge was dealing with my own emotions. Every redraft was painful, as with each one I had to mourn a little. The subject matter isn’t a work of fiction. It’s about real people and how they were robbed of a real person. You’ve got to have a heart of stone not to feel that every time you go through the story.
In the film we follow Damilola’s story from the beginning, did you work exclusively with his family to get a proper breakdown of all their personalities or did you add your own interpretations?
I had a brilliant research team at Minnow Films, Lizzie Kempton and Sarah Harris did a fantastic job of talking with Richard, Tunde, and other family members, friends of family, police, church members and community leaders of the time. They would compile the transcripts and send them to me. I would then respond with further questions like “what was Tunde’s first job?”, “what music does Richard like to listen to?” and they would go back and ask. I am as interested in the minutiae as I am the big details. It all helps me know more about the person and I can use this to depict a more detailed character.
What were the key things you were keen on showing in the film?
Going behind the scenes of the Taylor family and showing their journey, their strength, their love and ultimately their unity. I hope by the end of the film the audience don’t see the family as just victims of crime but are inspired and encouraged by a family who overcame so much.
Any upcoming work we should be excited about?
Unfortunately, I can only talk about what has been green-lit. I’m currently adapting Malorie Blackman’s amazing novel Noughts and Crosses as a television series for BBC One.
Damilola, Our Loved Boy airs tonight Monday 7th November at 8:30pm on BBC 1
Catch it on BBC iPlayer as soon as it airs.