TBB Talks … The Flatshare With Shaniqua Okwok

Shaniqua Okwok doesn’t see acting as just a job or craft but a way to be a voice for the voiceless …

From Steve McQueen’s Small Axe to Debbie Tucker Green’s Ear for Eye Shaniqua chooses her roles with a purpose in mind. On the surface, it would seem that a rom-com like The Flatshare doesn’t fit into the typical archetype of a series that represent any problematic issues. But in between the comedic quiffs and cutesy love story The Flatshare opens up a wider conversation …

We spoke to Shaniqua about her role as Junior Barrister Maia Constantine and how a rom-com like The Flatshare can shed light on more than just love …

Please introduce yourself…

Hey, I’m Shaniqua Okwok, I trained in acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama graduating in 2018. My body of work has included ground-breaking pieces such as Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, Russell T. Davies’ – It’s a Sin and Debbie Tucker Green’s Ear for Eye.

Please describe your life right now in a word or a sentence

Crazy.

Please tell us about your character in The Flatshare

In The Flatshare, I play Maia Constantine a Junior Barrister and best friend to Tiffany our central protagonist. You’ll see both of these sides of Maia throughout the series.

What was it about the script that made you say, “Yes, I want to be a part of this?”

I haven’t seen many black British actors get the opportunity to be in the main cast of a British rom-com. I like to base a lot of my career on being versatile. I try to make sure I appear in spaces and play characters that people like me aren’t getting enough opportunities to be a part of. I see my role as opening the door for another young black actress to do what I did, but even better the next time. It’s also a genre I hadn’t done before and I was dying to do a lighter show from some of my previous work. I was fortunate to read the scripts and completely fall in love with Maia. Rose Lewenstein has written her in a way that fits into the narrative in such a multifaceted way, which instantly drew me to the role.

Shaniqua Okwok as Maia – 2022 The Flatshare/42 © Paramount+

So when you were on set, who are the people who are most important to you in getting your job done?

For me, if I have a fantastic director who will push and challenge me, I will perform at my ultimate best. I like to have a collaborative relationship with the director but still with some space to make and carry my own choices. I think another major influence is the actors that I have been fortunate to work with across my career and again reflected with the cast of The Flatshare. When you feel comfortable, supported and respect the other actors in their craft, you take the scenes to places that even the writer couldn’t have imagined. I think all around, everyone from the cast to the crew helps me do my job; when the set is harmonious, I can move with ease and just focus on being present in the scene.

What does the story mean to you personally?

From Maia’s POV, The Flatshare shows the injustice of the criminal justice system here in the UK and that’s a story I wanted to be a part of. As the person who led the change in the reformation of drama schools in the UK on race; I want to do whatever I can to impact society both on screen and off. I want to be a part of as many stories that comment on the bias and discrimination we have here in the UK. Most of the work I have done is a commentary on that. I know so many ‘Ritchies‘, many of them are my black male friends in the industry; who I have trained with or worked with. It’s sad to say that, at any given time they too could become a ‘Ritchie’ just based on their skin colour. The criminal justice system currently is pitted against them to fail and not issue consistent justice.

Tell us a memorable moment on or offset …

My most memorable moment on set was when me and Jonah Hauer-King, the actor who plays Mo, ordered a GBK in our rolling lunch of 30 minutes but it came late. So, one of the most important scenes for Maia, Tiffany and Mo where their friendship reaches a breaking point in episode 4, behind the scenes, we were running in between every take trying to have a bite of our burgers in the corner of the set. We couldn’t hide it, as the smell was poignant and we were definitely not allowed to eat on the set! The memory makes me laugh because we were still able to be totally explosive when the cameras came on.

What’s your current plan B?

I don’t do plan Bs. I never have done. Anything I have set myself to do, I have never failed. With God on your side, how can you be scared? No weapon formed against me shall prosper. Those who follow me on social media, know that God speaks dates to me and every time without fail he has presented an opportunity to move my career forward within that date. I trust in my path.

Jessica Brown-Findlay & Shaniqua Okwok – 2022 The Flatshare/42 © Paramount+

A book you have to have in your collection?

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer, this book was given to me at one of the darkest parts of my childhood to remind me that you can change your circumstance – no matter what cards you are dealt. It is of course the complete opposite genre to The Flatshare, but it always grounds me and reminds me you are not defined by how the world sees you or treats you. You can’t control other people’s actions and sometimes you won’t be able to understand them, but you don’t have to let them dictate yours.

A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date?

This is a very hard ask and because my life to date has been extremely complicated, however, I will focus on the present and say Young MA – Praktice. Focus on your craft, practise and practise and you can really walk in any room with confidence. “Imma be a billionaire, speak that to existence” as Young MA recites in the song.

A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly?

White Chicks, it’s a classic for me and I pretty much know all the lines to the film!

Shaniqua Okwok as Maia – 2022 The Flatshare/42 © Paramount+

The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you?

The first stage show I remember seeing that blew my mind away was Nut by Debbie Tucker Green in the shed at the National Theatre. Nadine Marshall was incredible and I loved the play’s commentary on mental health and personal desperation that human beings can go through. Anthony Welsh was in this play, and it feels like a full 360 moment to now work with him; as he was an actor I looked up to in my teenage years before heading to drama school.

What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week?

I have been sad to not have had a moment to fully digest and be present with the launch of The Flatshare, it feels like life has taken me by. I think it’s so important for us as actors to really celebrate every achievement and not allow it to go by us. It’s the small things honestly but I went ham on the black Friday sales and now my bank account is wondering whether it went through a sale or just got traumatised! I am so glad that the show I made with some phenomenal people, has been received so well and people appreciate the work we put in and most importantly have enjoyed watching it.

What’s next for you?

I will be working with Marc Munden next year, a director I deeply admire, as a supporting lead in FX’s Never Let Me Go which will air exclusively on Hulu and be distributed across the world as well as the UK on Disney+.


The Flatshare is available to watch now on Paramount+

Main Image: 2022 The Flatshare/42 © Paramount+

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