The death of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher gives the film ‘SUS’ (2010) additional resonance.
Its writer Barrie Keefe recalls working on a local paper in east London where he was told the real life story of a black man whose wife died of an ectopic pregnancy. However, police detained him as a suspect in her death believing he’d performed an illegal termination. It wasn’t until after they’d brutally (physically and otherwise) interrogated him that the resultant post-mortem found her death was accidental. Written in just three days, Keefe was able to link the story with the advent of the historical 1979 general election as he realised the new Tory government aimed to increase police powers.
‘SUS’ begins to tell the story through characters ‘Leon Delroy’ (Clint Dyer), ‘D.S. Karn’ (Ralph Brown), ‘D. C. Wilby’ (Rafe Spall) and ‘Georgie’ (pregnant wife) played by Anjela Lauren Smith. With an opening montage of violent policing, sitcom character ‘Alf Garnet’, racist graffiti and central London white power marches, 1979-placed ‘SUS’ provides some of the raging disquiet beyond its police interview room. The film’s scenes are rightly claustrophobic and sticky – not only from grief and fear-filled sweat, but rancid excitement of the police officers gorging at the prospect of the general election delivering a Thatcher-led government.
To be screened in the British Urban Film Festival spring season schedule, Director Robert Heath’s film gives us flashbacks of ‘Georgie’s’ dying moments and we get a sense of her painful isolation. Anjela remembers her involvement as ‘Georgie’; “Clint and Rob asked me to be a part of ‘SUS’. I had seen the play at the Young Vic a few weeks before they started shooting. ‘Georgie’ was only meant to be a photograph, so I was chuffed when they asked me to shoot a few flash back scenes”.
Anjela is one busy person and as one can imagine when trying to juggle multiple creative projects, she’s hard to pin down. The British Blacklist had to settle for a digitised – though much anticipated email interview.
Born in Brixton, Anjela has fond memories of this south London area. She recalls; “Brixton has always been a very colourful place. As a kid I had the routine of having to pull the shopping trolley for my Mum through the market. My Mum had particular stalls that she went to and I would get a treat of popcorn at the end! For me the streets felt safe, as we would play outside and in the local park”. However, this safety was punctuated with some anxiety; “I remember the night of the early riot (1981) very well as we were at home, watching smoke rise in the distance. I was very young, but learnt later about why the riots occurred”.
Early in her career Anjela was the dancing seductress appearing in Paul Weller’s music video ‘The Changing Man’. Then came film ‘Babymother’, which caused contention when released in 1998. Critics claimed it played on stereotypical representations of black women. Taking it in her stride, Anjela as ‘Anita’, was ‘Babymother’s’ star. Directed by Julian Henriques and starring opposite the delectable Wil Johnson (and a host of other black British stars), we watch single mother ‘Anita’ following her goals to be a singer. She played ‘Maureen’ in director Ngozi Onwurah’s ‘Shoot the Messenger’ (2006). Starring David Oyelowo, the BBC drama was lambasted for reasons to include its premise that racism laid entirely at the feet of black people.
With a plethora of British films depicting black life through issue-led ‘urban’ environs, one would be forgiven for believing that black film isn’t au fait with the generic conventions of romantic comedy. An antidote comes by way of ‘Cherps’. Directed in 2005 by Kolton Lee, Anjela stars as ‘Lorna’ coincidently opposite Clint Dyer’s ‘Reggie’, a loveable player trying to change his ways. Anjela acknowledges Clint’s influence in her professional career. “Clint Dyer is a dear friend and I feel has been my mentor during my whole career. We’ve worked together on rehearsed readings and also on film. What I love about Clint is his patience, guidance and loyalty. He has helped with my self-belief as an actress and I know that he is a man of many talents”.
Anjela recognises the importance of having shelter from some of the setbacks in the industry, reiterating, “It’s always great to have a mentor in the industry, as sometimes it can be a bit lonely and you need impartial advice, or just the wisdom of someone who may know more than you; ‘each-one-teach-one’. Now, I also mentor very gently, a few actors who have come to me for advice”. She extended this belief through her voluntary work with an organisation called Envision. Additionally, Anjela worked with Lambeth summer schemes where she elicited sportswear and lifestyle brands such as AND1 and Stüssy to donate prizes for talent show type activities. “It was fun as we organised an X-Factor style competition so the kids would perform in front of the panel. I got called ‘Simon Cowell’ (laughs)”.
The British Blacklist mentioned earlier juggling, Anjela is tackling. One object in the air is poetry. It’s a treasured, but until now, sheltered aspiration she says; “I’ve been writing since 1999 and it took me a while to gain a bit of confidence to want to show people my work. ‘The Flower Within’ is my second short poetry book and I have had some nice feedback, which is always encouraging.” continuing, “As a writer, you live in your own head sometimes so it’s nice to be able to share work with others.”
Finally, giving some insight into challenges of the industry Anjela stresses some of the tests actors will face, but offers some contingencies. She shares thus, “…stay fresh and hope to God people like your work and respect your craft. Also, acting isn’t like a 9-5 job; the recession has meant that we have to try and diversify or get normal jobs at times, just to stay in the industry we love.”
Check out Anjela’s website: www.anjelalaurensmith.com