Actor, Fehinti Balogun has been busy of late.
We sit down with him to discuss performing in a post-pandemic West End, saving the planet and his dream role ...
Please introduce yourself …
My name is Fehinti Balogun, I’m Nigerian, and I’m an actor and theatre maker.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Your latest project was playing Bryan in the Harold Pinter play Walden. What attracted you to the role?
I love the play. The moment I read it I knew I had to make time for it in my schedule. It talks about things that a normal West End audience doesn’t get confronted with, but not in a way that blames or shames anyone. And to add to that, I get to play an emotionally healthy, excellent, beautiful communicator who’s able to look after both his needs and others whilst expressing his limitations. What a dream.
One of Walden’s central themes is environmentalism. In the play, your character Bryan believes the world is not beyond saving. Are you hopeful that we can halt or even turn back the damage we have done to the earth?
I don’t think it’s about reversing the damage that’s been done. I think it’s about changing the structures in place that have allowed the damage to happen in the first place. Because even if new technologies are developed to begin the process of reversing the damage, unless we address the underlying problems we’ll just go around in circles. The underlying problem being capitalism, and all the things that are produced as symptoms of this problem: racism, ableism, sexism, colonisation, climate change, etc. I am hopeful when I look at organisations and people having this discussion. I’m hopeful that there will come a time when the link between all these things is as clear as the need to cut emissions.
On your Twitter account, you’re very forthright about numerous issues such as the environment, police powers and racism. Would you ever consider stepping into politics or do you feel it’s a duty of anyone with a platform to be a voice for causes they believe in?
I think more the latter at this point. The only reason I started talking about injustice is that I realised I could. I realised I represented a heritage and a culture that doesn’t often see itself prioritised, whilst at the same time being in rooms where I could take up space. I think that there is a duty to -within our capacity – use our platforms to stand up for something, whether that be in public or behind the scenes.
Actors on the stage talk about feeding off the energy of an audience. Do you feel a difference playing to the smaller, spaced crowds due to the required socially distanced seating?
Not massively. It feels full. It feels lived in. No matter how small, there is always a collective consciousness to tap into. As I said to my agent: I’ve played to empty houses before lockdown – this is a f#cking joy.
Walden is Supported by Arts Council England thanks to National Lottery funding. With theatres being dark for so many months during the pandemic do you feel the government could have done more to support the arts?
Yes. My answer is similar to the reversing climate change question. When it comes to centralised funding, the funding will only go to certain groups whilst the majority of the local theatres lose out. They are the ones who need the most help.
Our readers will remember you from the game-changing I May Destroy You as the character Damon. Did you recognise from the get-go that this Michaela Coel project was something special?
100%. I read the script and similarly to Walden knew I had to do it. It was just so detailed and beautifully delicate and true to what exists. These weren’t just characters, they were real people.
You graduated from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 2016. In many people’s perception the drama school, rightly or wrongly seems to be a network or closed shop for actors of middle, or upper-class backgrounds that put them at the top of the pile come casting time. Have would you respond to that perception and have you found that being a RADA alumnus has opened doors for you?
I think historically that is true, but I also know RADA as well as a few other drama schools have been called out on that and are trying to make changes. But that doesn’t mean more can’t be done. It’s about schemes that allow all types of people to be able to afford to audition, move to London, etc. And no bias towards training on audition panels.
The bigger conversation is about how we support actors to sustain themselves whilst auditioning. Inevitably if you have the money to spend on more time preparing for the audition, you get more of a chance. I don’t have an answer for this, but it does come down to structure. Is there a more holistic and lateral version of auditions? And how do we as members of this institution encourage that?
Being an alumnus definitely opened doors for me. I got my agent at RADA. When I wasn’t acting, I was working at the RADA bar or doing workshops with them. But I also got to spend 3 years continually doing the thing, so when I got out I felt so confident with performing whenever I got the job.
One of your first professional engagements after graduating was appearing in an Old Vic’s production of King Lear. Is there a Shakespeare role at the top of your bucket list to play during your career?
Phillip the Bastard in King John, Coriolanus, and Hamlet.
Walden is on for a short-run period of three weeks. Will you be jumping into another project straight away (tell us about it) or taking some time out to consider your next step?
The minute we stop I start filming a piece I wrote called Can I Live? with Complicite. It’s all about climate change from the perspective of a person of colour putting the experiences of people of colour at the heart of it. It uses hip hop, spoken word and visual arts to convey a quite epic journey. It’s been 2 years in the making so I’m very excited to finally get it out there.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
- A favourite book you have to have in your collection? All About Love by bell hooks
- A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Hard question! Think maybe Prince of Egypt – Heaven’s Eyes
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Avatar the Last Airbender
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? I think maybe one of the Henrys’ at the Globe. The thing that’s stuck with me though was my geography teacher – who loved theatre and organised this trip with the theatre geeks in my year – looking at me and saying you’ll be on that stage soon. So shoutouts to the OG Mr. Goatly
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: I miss my family. Mad: I mean always corruption … But this week I’ve had to keep my head down so I’ve not been mad, just motivated. Glad: Mum dropped off Jollof and it has lasted me THE WHOLE WEEK. The woman saves lives.
Fehinti’s Social Media: Twitter