Charles Babalola is proving exactly why he is one to watch as he takes on leading roles in TV and Film he is a rising star.
An Alumni of LAMDA he has appeared in films The Legend of Tarzan and Mary Magdalene as well as starring in the Royal National Theatre production Network in 2018.
The actor currently stars in the BBC/Amazon co-produced series The Outlaws (previously called The Offenders) – Stephen Merchant’s new show about a group of misfits doing community service. He has also been cast in the upcoming movie Borderlands (coming early 2022 – based on the ultra-popular video game), is also currently shooting the second season of The Outlaws.
With a very busy schedule well into next year, we had the chance to speak to Charles about his career so far and how he navigating through it…
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Charles Babalola – I am an actor, and my heritage is Nigerian.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Very very very hectic, but very good! I woke up this morning so I’m thankful.
It is an absolute pleasure to talk to a fellow brother who spent their secondary school years in a catholic school in east London reflecting on your journey thus far what’s been the biggest eye-opener/learning curve that has helped you navigate the industry?
A pleasure to talk to you and thank you for having me. I would say just to accept and understand that I can’t control my destiny in the industry. That mindset has really allowed me to have inner peace with whatever happens. Quite early on I was trying to navigate my way through the business and you eventually start to understand the game. You’re going from job to job and learning more and more about how things work…..and I suppose I got to a point where I really understood you can’t control a lot of the things that can change the course of what you’re doing. There are a lot of moving parts to this business and any one of those can change the way things transpire for you. What you CAN control is the hard work, the time, and dedication you put into the job outside of work. I do my best to make sure I’m giving everything I’ve got in that respect.
A really enjoyable aspect of your work so far is the alternative takes on well-known stories, such as Mary Magdalene and Gretel and Hansel, what is it about these types of roles that draws you to them and excites you as a performer?
As I’ve always said, I just like to do good work and tell important stories. Stories that will leave an impact. Stories that will allow audiences to come away from watching something and it may have changed their opinion on a character or given them an education on a subject matter they may not have known. Those are the main things that draw me to any kind of role really.
You’ve got two major productions you’re involved in. Borderlands and Outlaws. Firstly can you tell us about ‘Hammerlock’ the character you play in Borderlands …
Hammerlock is a British dandy explorer in this quite unique and bonkers Borderland universe. He’s very astute and very reliable as a character in the game and I try to bring that element to him in the movie. I know from all the Twitter notifications I got when it was announced that I’d be playing him, that he’s a much-loved character in the game and he was a really fun character to play around with.
Borderlands is a renowned video game being adapted into a film, it has a huge following how does it feel to be a part of this franchise and are you ready for the attention it will undoubtedly bring you?
Do you know what, I knew about Borderlands, the game when I signed up for it. There were loads of different fan opinions on who should play Hammerlock and who shouldn’t play him, and who should play the other characters etc. The fans are so important to the success of franchises – it’s like football or NBA or any major sports franchise….they’re nothing without the fans and I feel like it’s the same with video games. I believe they always need to make sure there is a connection with the fans. So when it came to the movie, I definitely felt that I wanted to bring my own take on it, but also wanted to honour what the Borderlands universe know as Hammerlock.
I don’t know how I feel about the attention it will bring me – I don’t really think about that, to be honest. I just really hope that the final product is good and the world that we’re trying to portray translates. I’m sure it will, as the director Eli Roth was a great captain of a massive ship and I trust that he knows what he’s doing.
Can’t go without mentioning Kevin Hart and the other big names also cast in this film … coming from East London to being on set with some acting icons was there anything that resonated with you being in their presence?
Well, first of all, I always say that these high profile Hollywood actors or ‘celebrities’, whatever you want to call them are just human beings at the end of the day. At their core, they’re just like everyone else. Albeit with higher status in the world and heavier pockets. Irrespective of that, we all share a respect for each other, and we all share a respect for the craft that we’re in. So once you have that foundation, you see them as them. Of course, you’re going to have that initial element when you first see them, thinking wow, that’s Kevin Hart or that’s Cate Blanchett…. Because these are people you’ve admired from the TV or Movie screens for the longest time. So, that initial moment can be a bit daunting, but generally when they open up to you, or you share that first moment with them on set, it really puts you at ease.
There seems to be less and less of a disproportionate influential exchange between the U.S and the U.K with black British aesthetic and artistry clearly visible stateside, is this something you are experiencing and what are your thoughts on it?
I feel like since the Black Lives Matter movement brought some real focus to these issues, and more people started to understand the clear injustices and systemic failures that were happening in the world and in the business, it’s gradually getting better. I still believe that there are fewer opportunities for me as a black actor, and this is just the reality of what we’re living in. I feel that there are efforts being made to make more work for black actors and tell more stories about the history of Black people, but it all starts with the curators. We need more black curators, we need more black writers, directors, cinematographers, first AD’s…..the list is endless. Once we get over that barrier, I believe the opportunities for black actors in this country will shine through. It all starts with the curators…..it’s that simple. But….we’re trying and anything I can do to make it better, I will contribute to that.
And the other project you’re in is The Outlaws can you tell us more about your character Malakai and his role in the series?
Malaki plays a street brother from Bristol, who’s involved in the dark side of things, and gets involved in a bit of a predicament with the character serving community service in the TV series. He has a lot going on in his life, and as the show builds, you find out there are a lot of layers to him. What you see going on on the exterior, doesn’t always represent what’s going on, on the inside. I like to think that he’s a nuanced character, a character that has depth and layers. Which was really important to me when I was working out how to play this role. He’s a bit of a bad guy, but there’s always a reason why bad guys are bad guys, and hopefully, as the series goes on, the audience will start to see what makes him tick and why he makes the decisions he makes. Overall, it was a really fun character to play.
The cast of Outlaws is another mixed bag of big names Clare Perkins, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Walken etc which is quite reflective of the narrative – strangers are thrown together under the name of community service. Was there an element of art imitating life when filming this series and how did you as a cast navigate those differences when bringing the story to life?
It’s a story about everyday people being brought together. It’s a story about criminals…but not all of them are what you’d perceive as everyday criminals. The series shows you that you never know who is who and what their story is. I feel like all of the actors were perfectly cast and everyone on the cast was really invested in making these characters come to life.
The original name of the series was Offenders, and now it’s The Outlaws which places a lot more weight on what we’re about to watch … can you expand on the name change at all?
I don’t know the reason for the name change actually. I just remember getting a message from Stephen Merchant telling me that the name of the series had changed to The Outlaws. Which I think sounds better than The Offenders. As you say it gives it a weight that it maybe didn’t have with the previous title.
Your love of London and your acknowledgement of the systematic issues we face in our country are no secret, did any of this influence you in taking the role of Malaki in the series? How much of your own experiences scaffolded your performance?
A lot actually. I’ve said already that I know the mind of this kind of character. I watched this type of person and character around me when I was younger growing up in the ends. So for me, I wanted to make sure I physically manifested this character and also allowed the audience to delve into the character’s mind. I feel a lot of times when you see these characters portrayed on film or tv, you see one dimension. You don’t really see what’s going on behind the exterior. I feel that this is one thing that really drove my performance…..the mental aspect of the character.
What is this moment in time like for you as a black creative?
It’s a beautiful time to be a black creative. I love my blackness representing me in all walks of my creativity. I love using my blackness. I love bringing my culture into everything that I’m doing. It’s a moment! It feels like a good moment right now to be a black creative, but there’s still a long, long way to go. And there’s a long way to go for people to actually appreciate our blackness.
If Hammerlock was in The Outlaws and if Malakai was in Borderland how do you think they’d navigate those worlds?
If Hammerlock was in The Outlaws he’d have everything under control man! Hammerlock just knows his shit! He’s a very astute guy and in this crazy Outlaws world, Hammerlock would be the guy you’d go to if you had any issues. Maybe the leader of this Outlaws world. Maybe he’s the therapist of The Outlaws, sorting out all their issues!! I think Malaki would love being in the Borderlands world because he can get down and dirty when he needs to and a lot of that world is seriously down and dirty!
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
A book you have to have in your collection? Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? This Is England by Shane Meadows
The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? I can’t remember the first, but one I saw as a teenager was Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with James Earl Jones and Adrian Lester at the Novello Theatre. I think it might have been the first all-black production of that show. It was so good I went back to see it three times.
What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week?
What made me sad this week was that I got ill. So I’m at home recovering from it right now. The thing that made me mad this week was talking to someone about racism. And what made me glad was that I’m alive and breathing.
The Outlaws premiered Monday 25th October on BBC One with episodes airing every Monday. Episodes 1-4 are available on BBC iPlayer to watch.