Alex Lanipekun’s career has seen him reinvent himself time and time again…
Earning praise for his electrifying performances in Spooks, Homeland, 24: Live Another Day, and Riviera he shows no signs of slowing down.
In this candid conversation with TBB, the London-born actor discussed his latest role as ‘Tycho’ in the new Sky series Domina and its importance in progressing representation in traditionally ‘whitewashed’ historical dramas.
Please introduce yourself.
Hello I’m Alex Lanipekun and I am currently playing Tycho on Sky Atlantic’s Domina.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now
The nuance of your character Tycho is one the most intriguing elements of Domina, what was it about this role that caught your attention?
Thank you, it’s been a real journey. I had some great conversations about what Simon Burke wanted to do with both Tycho and Antigone, played by Colette Dalal Tchantcho. But initially, it was sent over by Julie Harkin the casting director, and I just thought the scripts were really excellent.
Domina is set in Ancient Rome, which is now modern-day İtaly. Given your own Italian heritage, it would be interesting to know if you drew any inspiration from your background when approaching this role.
I’d be lying if I said filming in Italy and getting to spend some time with family wasn’t also a big draw for me. It is the home of my grandmother, who I was very close to. I definitely drew inspiration from the times I visited as a child, and the experiences (not always great) that I had interacting with people who weren’t as welcoming as they perhaps are now. Today, Rome is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I honestly felt very lucky to be able to spend a few months there.
In the past, one of the major critiques of film and television based on ancient Rome is the lack of diversity. Were you conscious of this prior to accepting the role on Domina?
Absolutely, and I said yes partly because I could see clearly that the whole team on Domina really felt passionate about dealing with that head-on. Of course, you still have to find your way and negotiate the territory as you find it. But this is a show about exploring and restoring Livia Drusilla, played by Kasia Smutniak, to her rightful place in popular Roman history. In doing so, Simon is also presenting a space for those voices which have lain silent for a long time. To be part of such a great ensemble, that gets to bring her story to a wider audience is pretty special I think.
It has been a while since you last consistently performed in a stage production, do you have a desire to return to theatre in the future?
I do miss stage work, very much. To be honest, when I left drama school I quickly realised all that was really on offer was supporting parts for me. There were a lot of plays about Africa or black America being put on then, and I wasn’t really ‘black‘ enough for a lot of those productions I suppose. Also, I don’t come from money at all, I had to earn enough to pay the bills, stay in the game and help out my family if they need. I was lucky enough to be getting opportunities on screen so the equation became simple in the end.
The roles you’ve taken on in your career rarely ever resemble one another. Is this because you make a conscious decision to challenge yourself; or is it part of a deeper intention to shift the narrative of the type of characters that Black actors are cast as?
Both I think. I saw an interview with an actor who said the industry tells you who you are then it’s up to you to go with it or fight against it as best as you can. | chose the latter. It has meant a different road and a few years of getting a little lost in the forest, to be honest. But I didn’t want to perpetuate the archetype that I felt the roles I was being asked to audition for or play would participate in. I have to say, I’ve always been incredibly supported by my agency. There are also a few amazing casting directors who really trusted and challenged me, and I’m truly grateful, cos it really could’ve gone the other way
Over the years you’ve become more involved in writing and directing; what are the differences between being in service of someone else’s vision (e.g. Domina) and trying to bring your own to life (e.g. Run)?
Well, Run was essentially part of a pitch for a feature that we’re now developing with an American producer. I was writing before I was ever in Drama school or believed I could have this career. Writing has got me through some pretty dark periods and it continues to bring me great solace. The two processes bring out different sides of myself, but it’s all just channelling imagination. I’m hopeful that the UK industry is ready for different voices that aren’t shoehorned into obvious representational tropes, the way they used to be. Fleabag and I May Destroy You have both really set the tone and show producers that diverse voices can be successful, critically and financially. The essential question I always ask myself is: Who is this project being made for? The answer to that usually explains what I’m seeing in front of me.
Many people would assume that everything actors do is in service of developing their craft, meanwhile, you spent lockdown completing a master’s degree in Anthropology (congratulations!). What motivated you to pursue this pathway and what did you gain from it?
Ha! Yeah we’re all just self-involved narcissists desperate for attention to fill the void of a broken childhood. But I gotta say it’s been an amazing experience. Busy and stressful and writing essays again for the first time in 20 years felt bizarre and terrifying at times. I’ve just finished my first year and still have my dissertation to write, but UCL has been really accommodating during the pandemic and because it was all online, I was able to sign up. Eventually, I hope to be able to draw on what I’m learning, as I try to develop and produce more projects for TV and film in the future.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you have lined up?
At the moment I’m up in Manchester filming a new show for Sky called The Rising. It’s being directed by Ed Lilly who was part of the team behind HBO and the BBC’s recent show Industry. It’s tough, but I’m really enjoying the challenge. I can’t say too much, but it’s being produced by Julian Stevens who was behind shows like The Fall and The Missing and has a great writing team, being led by Pete McTighe. I think it’s gonna be a really strong piece of work when we’re done.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
• A book that you have to have in your collection? – Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu.
• A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Liberation by Outkast from Aquemini. I also love Robert Johnson’s complete collection.
• A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? – Ace In The Hole by Billy Wilder or In A Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray.
• The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? – First play was probably Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park as a kid. But seeing Arcadia by Tom Stoppard age 11 at the National Theatre, made me fall in love with theatre. It’s a beautiful play.
• What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? –
Sad: Remembering my dear friend who died a year ago during the pandemic.
Mad: Where to start… Watching Dominic Cummings’ appearance for the Select Committee…
Glad: Seeing the positive responses to Domina, we worked so hard during the pandemic to get it done for everyone. So it feels great that the public is enjoying it.