In 2016 a young man captured our attention with the words ‘roll thafe’. RS the aspiring uncool rapper with a lisp was the brainchild of young Nigerian British creative, Kayode Ewumi.
RS played by Ewumi, in the online series #HoodDocumentary became an ‘overnight’ sensation after his infamous appearance on 1Xtra’s Fire in the Booth. The series’ first episode is currently at 3million+ views, RS has become a global meme and at one point everyone quoted his words of ill-informed wisdom. On the back of its success, #HoodDocumentary was picked up by BBC Three. However, people felt its raw quality was lost once it went through the BBC Three machine.
But Ewumi wasn’t phased, he went on to star in the BBC series reboot of Are You Being Served, made a pilot for his comedy Enterprice for BBC Three and has continued writing behind the scenes.
Now he’s back in front of the camera in the new ITV 2 comedy, Action Team. We caught up with him to talk about life after RS …
1# Tell us about Action Team …
[Laughs] Action Team is James Bond-esque. This guy Logan [Tom Davis] is trying to save the world from some villains who wanna destroy the UK. So he’s gotta try and prevent that with an action team of people who have different specialties and qualities.
2# … and your character Huxley?
Huxley’s this young boy on work experience. Logan really likes him so he just follows them as they go to different countries on missions. When it came to the character they had what they had for Huxley down but they wanted me to add my own spice to him. I like Huxley, he’s not killing people, he hasn’t got a knife in his hand. He’s tryna do good in the world, even though he may ask silly questions there’s room for growth.
3# How did you get the role?
The casting director who cast me in Are You Being Served, hit me up and said come in for an audition for a read through, it wasn’t even a thing then. I think they got a commission for a script and they did a table read. Partly to do with my faith, I don’t like to swear in my work [or do sex scenes], and that’s something that they respected. They just allowed me to make it my own. I went for the read through and then I got it.
… no sex scenes or swearing but RS swears in #HoodDocumentary!?
I wasn’t that serious in my walk as I am now. I was still getting to know God. Post Hood Doc, and Fire in the Booth I made the conscious decision that I don’t want to swear in my work. I also think when it comes to sex and swearing it’s an easy way out, it can be used too much I’m not saying people who swear are wrong, it’s part of life cool, I just think how can I tell a story without swearing? Is it needed? Or how can females be funny without taking off their clothes?
… are you saying never, ever… like ever?
Right now, and where I am with God, that’s not what I want to do. Like Denzel [his sex scenes] are shot in a smart way. You see before, you see after, you don’t see the action. People like Malachi Kirby, Letitia Wright and Josh Campbell who also have faith I see the decisions they’re making and their interviews, we may not have the same rules about swearing or whatever, but when you see people who have faith and are flying the flag, it inspires you to keep doing what you’re doing.
… but what if you get the ultimate role offer?
I’ve got one of the best agents in the world, I’ve got all these things that I don’t feel comfortable doing, and she respects that. Also, the way some of these scripts are written for young black people, are just terrible, stereotypical, no substance… I turn down about 80% of what my agent sends me, she understands. If I’m turning down roles and I’m not paying bills, then it looks like I have to change profession innit!? Acting is part of my life but it’s not my life. I may stop in three years and become a lecturer.
3# It’s a pretty renowned bunch of people that you’re working with on Action Team, what was it like on set?
It was cool. We shot some of it in Bulgaria. I’ve got big love for Tom Davis [writer/lead] and James De Frond the director [co-writer]. Sometimes directors put the job rather than the actor first. I think it’s important to put the human being first. They were always considerate of our well being. It was such a lovely vibe. I like my own space and like to do my own thing sometimes, so there would be times I’d be in my trailer or my hotel room and they just respected that. James especially man, he’s a G. He just knows what he wants as a director.
4# Huxley appears to be the only diverse character in Action Team’s main cast how do you tackle roles which seem to place your character in isolation?
People have the conversation about tokenism, but sometimes I just think I’ve got a job to do, and I wanna do my job. It’s not one of those conversations I have all the time. Because if they don’t know black people or if that world doesn’t involve black people in their mind, then that’s their business. I just do what I have to do and what I can do.
When it comes to stuff I want to do with my money and invest in – I’m looking to try and set up a company and generate faith-based content and also bring more black faces on screen. That’s one thing that I really have a desire to do with my work. Every time I get a commission I always think what can I show? What story can I tell? I’ve got so many friends who are sick but they don’t get a look in. I always try if I’m telling a story, to bring in as many minority faces.
5# So it seems you blew up in 2016 with #HoodDocumentary but when did you really get into the game?
Prior to going to uni, I did drama in college and had a lovely relationship with all my drama teachers. It can be really hard to be open and to be naked and show this is who I am. In drama, I felt like I could do that, bring myself out and my teachers accepted me, the choices I made and the conversations I wanted to have. At parents evenings my drama teachers would always say, BRIT school or drama school but my dad especially wanted me to try and get a degree first. So I went to Coventry University to do journalism, but I dropped out three days into my course and auditioned for a theatre course. I left with a 1st.
… what did your dad say?
What can he say!? [Laughs]. I told my dad over the phone. He said ‘now you’ve finished, how do you make money?’ This is where Hood Doc comes in. Terrell Williams who I made #HoodDocumentary with, I’ve known since year five. We finished uni at the same time, and another guy Reynold Maunze who was at my uni, I contacted him. I used to make vines, and I’d go to Terrell’s house he’d help me, like hold the camera and I remember one specific vine wasn’t really working. I took off my top, put on my jacket, he told me to stall the car, I put on a lisp and RS just emerged. That was 2015, then we went to BBC Three, from there I remember making a decision to go full time into acting. My family really supported me throughout my journey, regardless their own opinions they showed support. They came to all my shows, in secondary school, at the Young Vic. I owe them everything.
6# What inspired #HoodDocumentary and at what point did you know you had something special?
People Just Do Nothing on BBC three was a big influence. I remember watching that and saying ‘T, let’s do a mock’. One time after we’d shot all our stuff, we were in a cafe in Elephant Castle I think Rey had put some clips together, it was the beginning of episode one and I just started screaming. I think then we knew we had something special.
7# Who has been your most surprising or humbling fan?
Daniel Kaluuya. I did a show called A Season in the Congo going into my second year of uni. The Young Vic do youth productions of the main show, Daniel did the main show with Chiwetel Ejiofor. I played Daniel’s character Joseph Mobutu and Daniel came to see it. Then Daniel did an R&D day and I came on as a runner through a mutual friend but again we didn’t talk much. Then when Hood Doc came out he got my number through a mutual friend. He called me and said, ‘don’t let anyone tell you what you’re doing isn’t great. You see people like Ricky Gervais doing the office, this is what you know… keep on going and keep flying the flag.’ I’ve met up with him a couple of times now and he just gives me advice. I’ve respected Daniel since Sucker Punch days. When he called me he wasn’t even the big star, but I just remember being so humbled and privileged.
8# People have said #HoodDocumentary lost its uniqueness when it went to BBC Three, that you sold out. How did that affect you and how do you feel about the transition?
I agree. It lost a certain vibe to it. But if that opportunity came again, I’d always do it because it made me learn. What changed was that RS was the element of spontaneity. Just walking around doing whatever and the long 12 second pauses, but when you’re on BBC Three and budgets are in place, and there’s six five minute episodes and we’re experimenting with arc stories and as writers, Terrell and I are experimenting. The stuff I’m writing now is through that experience, it was amazing training. But yes it did lose that certain element to it. I’ll never deny it.
There are times where I try to explain, but sometimes I smile and don’t say anything. That’s the best answer to just crack on with things. I don’t really get involved in massive debates about religion because you’re coming to challenge me not to learn so there’s no point because it will just turn into a back and forth, we’re just wasting breath, and it’s good to save oxygen! If someone really wanted to know and asks me like you did then… But if someone’s like ‘yo, why did you sell out bruddah?’ I say that’s the decision we chose that we stand by. I’ve learned I will never play to the sound of the people. I can’t. Because the same people who will make you, are the same people who will kill you so I always play to my heart.
9# What’s next for you, are you going to follow British Black talent to America?
Just after Daniel had done Get Out, he was here in a play called Blue/Orange. After the show we met up, I talked about America he said, ‘I just wanna make work’. That’s exactly the same for me. I don’t know where my job will take me if work takes me there if the job is right then so be it. But right now with what I’m doing especially in the ministry in my church, I’m happy writing and getting on with it. I’m all about making my own work, I’m focusing on a lot of faith-based content. I’m doing Enterprice for BBC Three. It was just a pilot but now we’re going into a full series. Enterprice is going to be baaaad. I can’t tell you when it’s landing. But it’s coming, it’s gonna be wild.
10# If you could pull together an Action Team which three people would you call?
Daniel Kaluuya. Letitia Wright because she’s just bad ass. Then I’d pull in Michael Jackson. He’d be the guy we work for, then me Daniel and Letitia would go on missions.
Action Team airs on ITV2 10 pm Monday 5th March 2018