TBB Talks … Man to Man with Selorm Adonu

Actor, writer & producer Selorm Adonu is a young up-and-coming creative who is definitely bound for big things.

The South London-based creative has worked on a range of films and projects both on and off-screen, including Netflix comedy-drama Mask, BBC3’s PRU and most recently his hard-hitting drama short that he wrote and starred in, Man To Man also starring David Harewood MBE.

Joining forces with producer Marcus Austin, Adonu founded the production company XVI FILMS with the intention of telling high-quality black stories for screen; on a mission to create a new wave of film.

TBB caught up with Adonu after the premiere screening of Man to Man

Please yourself – tell us who you are, what you do, where you’re from …

My name is Selorm Adonu, I’m 19 years old from Croydon and I am an actor, producer and most recently a writer!

Describe your current life situation in one word or a sentence …

My current life situation in one sentence is “an unpredictable comedy-drama series

If my memory serves me correctly we first met at the PRU screening you and Marcus Austin approached me and said … “we’ve got something for you“… how did you and Marcus meet and what’s the nature of your business together?

Marcus and I met at the BRIT School of Performing Arts. We were both in two completely different strands but one day I saw a call out to be in a student film at BRIT and from there our brotherhood formed. Marcus and I both clocked we were passionate about making powerful, quality films and wanted a way to not only fast-track our career but also find a way to get more young people like us in rooms where our voices can be heard and taken seriously. We wanted to prove that we as young black brothers could create high-quality films and content like no other, and so from there, we set out our very very ambitious goals to make our own production company XVI FILMS.  

Selorm Adonu & Marcus Austin

How did the concept of Man to Man come about and what was its inspiration?

I had been writing Man To Man as a feature for about 6 months before it was ever actually a conversation about being made. It was after having multiple conversations with a lot of my black brothers in my school about how similar our experiences were with black fathers that I was inspired by how open we all seemed to be about talking about our masculinity and father figures, but for our own fathers, these conversations often felt rigid and argumentative. One day I came across the most outspoken individual I had ever met about black men’s masculinity at Fully Focused MYM called Ignatious Kalue, (Iggy) and he spoke to me about a film concept he had about a father and a son that was similar to mine. So we both pitched our merged idea to Fully Focused and from there, our story was born.

So you co-wrote and starred in Man to Man – how difficult was it navigating being on screen and having your words directed and acted by others around you – were there any moments that you wanted to tear up the script and start again?

Writing and starring in my own work was something I was always ready to do. I had enough of sitting around waiting for the next job and so I decided to take my career into my own hands and write my own opportunities and jobs.  I always knew that Man to Man was something I wanted to act in because it was close to my heart. It was less difficult being directed as this is something that I am used to but having to do draft after draft and cutting my script was definitely a difficult process. There was so much dialogue and scenes that I wanted to put in but because of time and budget, it had to be cut. However, I believe some of the cuts made, made the script stronger and more concise and it is still something I can be proud of.

Tell us about your character in Man to Man and what his motivations are?

In Man To Man, I play Dion. Dion is what I know all young black men to be deep down inside; emotionally intelligent, sensitive, strong-minded and just wanting to be heard and listened to by the older generation and not be looked down upon. Dion is motivated by this same want to be heard by his father.  So when he is trapped in the ring with him, backed up against the ropes, we see all of Dion’s pent-up aggression and anxiety finally explode, deciding for once to do exactly what Malcolm (his father) has always taught him – to fight back – only he decides to use his words to break through his father’s walls in a way that has never worked before.

Selorm as Dion – Man to Man

The most important thing is that Dion is not perfect and quite naive at times, just like all young people and as much as his reasoning for wanting to be listened to is valid, his idea of wanting to “be treated like an equal” to his father, a man who has put a roof over his head and looked after him is where his flaws start to creep in. We see so many sides of Dion in this film, we see his vulnerability towards Malcolm, his strength and humility for his little brother Micah all in this short 20-minute film.  Acting in this film, I felt so connected with this character that the performance became just true raw emotion that I discovered I had also been feeling.

And working with a cast including David Harewood – who played your father in the film – what did you learn from being in the room with an actor of his calibre?

David Harewood brought everything and more to the role. Working alongside him was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had and as an actor, I felt like I was constantly learning from him. Being in that tight ring with him for those shoot dates, I would always try to match his level of professionalism so whenever David was ready, I made sure I was ready. He set a standard and I ensured that I met that standard with every single shot, every take and every rehearsal we had together so there was no room for nerves.

Marcus Austin, Selorm Adonu, David Harewood

It’s an extremely powerful and inspiring film – what was your reaction to seeing the final edit for the first time?

I saw the final edit for the first time at the premiere and it honestly felt like a core memory was unlocked for me. I don’t usually take moments to sit down and take in my achievements because of the fear of losing my momentum or slowing down. But that night I saw the final edit, I just remember this honest feeling of being proud of myself. Like ‘Wow Sel, you just wrote and starred in your first film with David Harewood at ODEON Cinema. You should Be Proud of yourself’. And I just felt like I could take a moment to finally breathe for a second.

You should be proud. What’s the plan for the film-festival route? TV screening? Expanding the story?

So the film has currently been selected to circulate at Rhode Island Film Festival in New York thanks to the Fully Focused Team, and we are also going to submit it to a few other festivals throughout the next months. Until then because of the reception at the premiere, there are possibilities of expanding the story out into either a series or feature film that I am going to start working on but for now, I am going to leave it in God’s hands and enjoy the moment of this short version of the film for a while.

Being a young black man, what are some of the biggest misconceptions that you’d like to erase and update?

Coming from South London there is a huge misconception about the image of young black men, that we are easily influenced by drugs, money and fame, blinded by the glory of the ends. But if you were to ask any young black man in gangs why they trap or deal or are in gangs I guarantee you each and every answer you find will be around the idea of ‘survival’. The idea that our system does not look after young black men so some do what they have to to survive.

It’s often due to lack of opportunity, lack of successful role models in the community and lack of care for our health and well-being. What we crave is an opportunity, and to be listened to instead of us being villainised in the media and feared on our own streets. So I’d like to update our image and that misconception of us being easily influenced and let the people know that instead, we need spaces for our stories to be heard and for our skills and dreams to be nurtured and not told they are ‘too ambitious’ so that one day we can have a more accurate and updated image of what a young black man looks like in today’s society.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

  • A favourite book you have to have around all the time? My Bible

  • Your favourite all-time music album? Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

  • A TV show or Film that you can or have watched on repeat a number of times that no matter what you’re doing you’ll watch again? Snowfall

  • Something you watched on the stage that had a lasting effect on you?For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy’ By Ryan Calais Cameron

  • What’s made you Sad, Mad, and Glad this week? Sad – Getting to final rounds for a role that my heart was set on and not booking it, but we keep it stepping by God’s Grace. Mad – My brother finishing the last plantain in the fridge. Glad – Seeing my Mum proud of me and the progress this year that I promised my younger self I would make.

Man to Man will be available to watch later this year. Keep up to date with Selorm here.

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