TBB Talks … Mayor of Kingstown with actor Tobi Bamtefa

Tobi Bamtefa has worked alongside some of the most prominent actors in the industry.

After beginning his career as a spoken word artist, he landed the leading regular role of Godswill in Rowan Joffé’s series Tin Star opposite Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks. Tobi’s other screen credits include Woody Harrelson’s self-penned, directorial debut Lost In London and How To Build a Girl along with the BAFTA-nominated, A Confession and the international Emmy-winning production Responsible Child. Recently, Tobi stood out in Inua Ellams’s adaptation of Three Sisters directed by Nadia Fall at the National Theatre.

Tobi’s latest role is Deverin ‘Bunny‘ Washington in the popular crime drama Mayor of Kingstown which follows the McLusky family in Kingstown where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry. In its second series, we see Tobi’s role as ‘Bunny‘ become a series regular.

We spoke to Tobi about his role in the award-winning show.

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Tobi Bamtefa. I am an actor of Afro-Caribbean heritage (Nigeria and Jamaica) but grew up in north-west London. I was born in Nigeria and left at the age of 10. I studied Law with the aim of becoming a barrister but alas, that dream was folly as I was never passionate enough about Law to make a career out of it.

I come from a very creative family. Both of my parents are actors and my brother is a graphic designer. I also have cousins who are fantastic singers and musicians. There’s even a chef in the family.

My Mum played Aunty Funke in the Netflix series Meet The Adebanjo’s and my Dad is perhaps best known for the Nigerian classic Movie Saworoide (1999) directed by the legend Tunde Kelani and also the 90’s Nigerian TV series Checkmate in which he played the character Chief Fuji. It was with that influence I decided to pursue a more creative career.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

A lot of wonderful and testing changes have happened in the past few years, and I’m learning how to make the absolute best out of the opportunities, both personal and professional.

Tell us about your latest project Mayor Of Kingstown

Mayor of Kingstown explores a family of unofficial power brokers (The McLusky’s) who try everything they can to maintain peace and order in the prison-saturated town called Kingstown. It’s a show that explores the business of incarceration in America and the corruption that essentially keeps the business running, and the subsequent effects it has on the people of this town.

What’s your role in it?

I play a character called Deverin ‘Bunny‘ Washington who is the leader of the Crips in Kingstown.

Mayor of Kingstown – l-r: Tobi Bamtefa (Bunny) & Jeremy Renner (Mike McLusky)

How did it come about?

My agent is amazing. She sent me the audition material for it, I had a read and I felt quite connected with the character from the two scenes they sent, but because it was American, I felt it was a really unlikely long shot. Interestingly, that thought allowed me to be more relaxed with the tape. I did my due diligence as always, but there was no tension. I just had fun with it. Before I knew it, I was having an hour-long phone conversation with Taylor Sheridan at my in-laws house while they were watching Oprah interview Harry and Meghan. Found out a couple of weeks later in the middle of the night that I had booked the job and my wife, my agent and I all had a massive cry on the phone.

Tell us the high points, any obstacles working on Mayor of Kingstown and how you overcame them?

Season one was filmed in Toronto, Canada during the global lockdown. They had really effective and stringent measures in place to battle the spread of COVID but with that came a lot of isolation. I continued having therapy sessions over there to help as I found being away from my wife extremely difficult. We were newlyweds who had gone from being around each other constantly during lockdown to this sudden arrangement apart. Separation anxiety is really a thing!

Season two interestingly enough had more to do with the weather. We filmed in Pittsburgh and there were a couple of times that filming had to be postponed due to lightning strikes. Never experienced anything like that before. Other than that, I found the entire experience on set incredible. The crew from both seasons were very supportive, worked hard and generally looked after me. I made a lot of friends.

Tobi Bamtefa – Mayor Of Kingtown

What’s your plan B?

This is the ‘plan B‘, plan A was terrifying. My entry into this career was never a conventional one. How I started in this career is nothing short of the grace of God. The sequence of events that kicked off everything was too significant to be a random set of coincidences and despite my attempts at “planning” things, every opportunity I’ve had so far came in the most unexpected manner. All I can really control is my ability to receive what I have asked from the universe and to be grateful for it. Make a meal of it.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?

Mad – This government and its obvious and ridiculous attempts at hiding the sheer, unfettered and frankly staggering levels of immense incompetence.

Sad – Folks have been struggling as a result of this corruption playing out before our eyes.

Glad – Everyone is fighting against it because it’s actually a joke ting. Power to the people.

What are you watching right now?

Atlanta, Gangs of London, Riches, Happy Valley, Woman King and King of Boys.

What are you reading right now?

Just started Will Smith’s Book Will.

What are you listening to right now?

Little Simz – Point & Kill (fave song this year).
D Smoke – Closer to God.
The Eagles – Hotel California.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody.
Any song by Sona Jobarteh.

The last thing you saw on stage?

Orlando – Garrick Theatre (Brilliant!) Shout out to Akuc Bol. She’s wonderful in it!

Mayor of Kingstown – l-r: Jeremy Renner (Mike McLusky) & Tobi Bamtefa (Bunny)

What’s on your bucket list?

Travel to all the States in Nigeria and then all 54 countries in Africa.

Celebrate someone else (who do you rate right now?)

Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù – My candidate for James Bond.
Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo – She’s a magnificent standout in everything I’ve seen her in.
Ken Nwosu – One of the bravest and most eloquent actors I know. Acting-wise, he faces challenges with the entirety of his being and then miracles just happen in front of your eyes.
Tasha Smith – Phenomenal woman! Loved by everyone. She doesn’t know this yet but I have claimed her as my mentor.
Burna Boy – Because Burna innit!
My younger brother, Dayo. That guy is just amazing. I don’t think he hears it enough.

Celebrate yourself …

I’m alive! Survived the pandemic and even worked through it. I love my family intensely; I love my career and I love who I am growing into. It has not been easy by any stretch but I’m here overflowing with love and peng-ness.

Whose footsteps are you following in?

I don’t know how to answer that question because everyone’s path is catered to them. However, I can share a piece of career-related advice shared with me on the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre by none other than Bryan Cranston himself. I had been struggling with auditions and when I asked for advice, he took time and told me (I’m paraphrasing), “Your job is not to get the job. Your job as an actor is to create a compelling character. Anything outside of that is beyond your control“. That piece of advice changed my perspective and shifted my approach positively. I actually went on to book the next three auditions I had weeks after. More importantly, it taught me to not stress over what I could not control and to focus on what I could. Myself. That’s my path.

What’s next?

Dabbling in producing a series. Stay tuned.

Where can we find you?

Mayor of Kingstown seasons one and two are on Paramount Plus right now! I’m also on socials. Instagram and Twitter (@tobibamtefa). I post a lot of what I’m up to on those.


Mayor Of Kingstown is streaming now on Paramount+

Main image Credit: David Reiss.

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