In 2013 Shaquille Ali-Yebuah was cast to play a young Steven Amos in BBC Radio 4’s, What Does the K Stand For? and since then has gone on to featuring in film, television and theatre with stints in popular series including Casualty, and joining the cast of CBBC’s, Dixi and BBC’s, In and Out of The Kitchen.
More recently Shaquille joined the cast of 2015 Bruntwood prize winner Katherine Soper’s debut play, Wish List, directed by Matthew Xia. The production is a collaboration between The Royal Exchange Theatre and The Royal Court. The British Blacklist caught up with Shaquille as he gears up for the plays’ run in London this coming January.
How did you get into acting?
I come from a very musical background, so from a young age I’ve always wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. From the age of 8 I used to write stories, poems etc. but when I got to high school that’s when I knew acting was the form of art I wanted to pursue. In 2013 when I got to college I heard of Identity Drama School which was 2 days a week – ideal and affordable. I started drama school to learn more and stay out of trouble and didn’t know about the agency, but my first term there we did a showcase which was my very first time performing a directed show in front of a crowd, after the show I was asked to come in for an audition which resulted in me getting signed to IAG.
You have acted alongside veteran actors such as Ellen Thomas, Don Gilet and Stephen K Amos quite early on in your career; how did the experience help when taking on other projects?
I played a young Stephen K Amos; Ellen Thomas & Don Gilet were my onscreen parents. It was a great experience as I was still learning and to meet such great actors was inspiring as they were so humble and wise. Watching Stephen on stage working the crowd was amazing and I learnt a lot through those live performances. In the audition, I met Stephen and it was chilled and full of banter so going on to other projects just gave me more confidence. It taught me to go into auditions just be yourself, give a great performance and the rest will take care of itself.
You’ve played characters in Casualty, parts in several commercials, and the character Scotty in the TV series,In and Out of The Kitchen; you also have a few films under your belt, what have you enjoyed doing the most so far?
Casualty was amazing as it was my first ever role and a guest lead. I travelled to Cardiff where we filmed and I remember just being excited, it was my first acting job let alone professional acting job for the BBC and my first time in Cardiff, so that will always be a highlight. I’ve also done a Nike advert for the 2014 World Cup “Winner Stays On” campaign which we flew out to Spain to film for 6 weeks in Barcelona, then London and Madrid. That is the biggest highlight thus far and gave me insight of what’s to come. Being amongst Ringan Ledwidge who is an amazing director, Andy Ansah who is one of the best sports choreographers and all the football superstars was a bizarre feeling it all felt surreal. The cast was a mix of English and Spanish boys which was cool, most them weren’t actors but aspiring footballers. They taught us Spanish, we had nights out and it was a great experience. The commercial ended up being the highest viewed commercial on YouTube with 118 million views and racked up 20 million views in 4 days.
In your career to date who has been most influential to you as an actor and what if anything have you learned that you will carry with you throughout your career?
I admire the careers of Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington… they are very influential to me. I watch interviews and learn a lot through how they carry themselves, I always learn and take something away from every project and from the different directors I work with. A major part of acting is about reacting and making choices and we react and make choices in everyday life so I learn from everyday life scenarios and bring these experiences to characters and projects. I believe talent will get you through the door, but character will keep you in the room. So, be yourself, express who you are and remain humble and positive.
You were among the cast of the third series of CBBC’s Dixi earlier this year, how different was it being part of an interactive drama?
Very different as it wasn’t as intense and there’s more freedom in a way. Film is, get it right first time, also with theatre as it’s live, but with interactive drama you don’t have to because it’s more non-scripted. I enjoyed it as it was a very talented cast and team, Dixi had 2 successful series already so to be in the third was amazing and it is a very young audience with live feedback so you can see how they feel about the characters and different episodes. I would definitely do an interactive drama again.
Wish List is a new play about Tamsin who packs boxes in a warehouse, on the clock, with a zero-hour contract. Her brother Dean is housebound. Working to obsessive-compulsive rituals of his own. When Dean is declared fit for work and his benefits are cut, Tamsin must fight to get the support she and her brother so desperately need.
You are currently part of the cast of the play, Wish List at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. The play is set to come to London in January at The Royal Court Theatre. How did you get cast for the play?
The normal process, I don’t get offered roles yet! I had an audition with Sophie Parrot where I first met Matthew Xia and then a recall where I met Matthew and Katherine Soper, I got the role shortly after.
What was it about this play that made you want to get involved?
The play is written so beautifully by Katherine, about such a sensitive subject. It’s based on mental illness, zero hour contracts and real life problems in society that people ignore and bury. When I first read the script, I felt like this play was a torch which is shining a light on all of today’s problems in society that are kept in the dark. After my first audition I really wanted to be a part of the storytelling.
How did you go about bringing your character Luke to life?
Well, Matthew Xia is a genius, and during the rehearsal process we watched documentaries, real experiences etc. We all discovered our characters together which really helped. Matt and Katherine told me what they wanted Luke to be, and through the creative process and our first show Luke was cemented. Throughout this emotional rollercoaster Luke is the light, the hope the audience have, he’s young, full of energy and big on optimism.
How was the play’s run in Manchester received?
Manchester was great, we had 25 shows majority sold out and got really good feedback from critics and a 4-star review from Lyn Gardner and various 4-5 star reviews. This is my first theatre job so the experience has been amazing, a show every night, with different audiences who all receive it differently.
Are you excited for to be performing in London, how different do you think the audience response will be?
Really excited, I think the response will be great as I don’t think anything this raw showing harsh reality has been in theatre. I also feel the audience response will be different as Manchester and London are very different cities, but I feel it will have the same impact. A different set of critics, a new audience, I’m looking forward to it and performing in my hometown.
Apart from the play, what else do you have planned for 2017?
I filmed a Netflix original, iBoy earlier this year which is an action thriller starring myself, Miranda Richardson, Rory Kinnear, Maisie Williams, Bill Milner to name a few, which will be coming to Netflix anytime soon. I also just finished filming, The Children Act a film directed by Richard Eyre starring Emma Thompson which should be out 2017. Besides that, I’ve been writing my own scripts and look forward to getting the title “writer/director” under my belt as there’s so much other things on the creative side I want to do. God willing 2017 will have good things waiting.
Thank you Shaquille it was lovely talking to you and good luck on your journey, we hope you keep us updated, and we hope to see big things from you in the near future.
Wish List will run at the Royal Court Theatre January 10th – 11th February 2017
To book tickets go to the Royal Court website.