TBB Talks To… Award-Winning Actor/Writer/ Director Adjani Salmon

Adjani Salmon is a proud Jamaican truly living the dream…

He is the award-winning writer, actor, and director of Dreaming Whilst Black which is loosely inspired by real-life events. The series was adapted from the hugely popular web series Adjani created with Ali Hughes and has racked up a number of noms and award wins in the past year propelling Adjani’s career and leading him on to new roles in programmes such as Doctor Who and more recently Channel 4’s Chivalry.

Chivalry follows a successful producer and a “woke” writer and director as they are brought closer by a creeping attraction and a feeling that they are just pawns in the studio’s agenda for a Saudi Arabian buyout.

We spoke to Adjani about Chivalry, winning awards and creating Dreaming Whilst Black

Please introduce yourself…

Boasty, boasty, Godfather, man Adjani, Man a half humble, man are boasty, mek a likkle film like it’s ‘03…

Word or sentence that best describes your life right now…

Busy.

Firstly congratulations on the RTS and now BAFTA win for Dreaming Whilst Black, how does it feel for your work to be acknowledged by the industry in this way?

Humbling. Still processing all my feelings and what this means. It’s a surreal feeling to achieve something you put out into the universe, knowing how high a feat it would be to reach and processing the new reality of what this now means. There is also a deep sense of reflection in thinking about the people I would have loved to see me achieve this.

The series started off as a web series. Did you see these things as possibilities when pitching the show or did you just want to get it commissioned and anything else was a bonus?

I did. As Haile Selassie said, “It is only when we strive for the impossible that we can know what we are truly capable of“. My mother has always encouraged me to be the best and do my best as well. After seeing Issa Rae’s trailer for season 1 of Insecure and her journey to getting there, my goal was to achieve what she had created, thus I made the web series. When I saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge win three Emmy’s for Fleabag, I made another goal to make Dreaming Whilst Black at least as good as Fleabag. So essentially, whenever I see that the bar has been moved, that is what I strive to do.

Dani Moseley & Adjani Salmon – Dreaming Whilst Black

What came first, writing or acting?

Directing. Then I wrote in order to have something to direct. Then I acted because I couldn’t afford actors to perform what I wrote.

As an actor you have taken lead roles in the projects that you have been involved in, in Chivalry you have a supporting role, what was it about this project and this character that made you say yes?

The concept of a #MeToo comedy was intriguing as Dreaming Whilst Black also makes commentary on the industry in another way. The character of Aston reminded me a lot of myself when I first looked after my Goddaughter.

You play the character Aston in Chivalry, married to a feminist film director, down on his luck in his own career and currently a stay at home dad. How does the dynamics between the two characters work and will we be seeing cracks in the marriage as Aston tries to reinvent his career?

Cracks in the marriage come from the difference in stages of their careers and Aston feeling neglected now that his wife is successful. Even though he actively chose to support her, he still struggles with the reality of what that support looks like, which leads to him making bad decisions.

How do the roles you choose to take on help you to hone your craft?

Each project is an opportunity to learn from other actors and directors. I also learn a lot from auditioning and doing self-tapes. Aisling (Bea from Dr Who) told me to do every self-tape I get because it’s an opportunity to explore a new character and practice being present as a performer. So many times I auditioned for roles that I wouldn’t necessarily want to do, but do it for that practice.

Adjani Salmon as Aston – Chivalry

As a writer how do you find navigating somebody else’s ideas without the room to incorporate your own; being the canvas not the painter?

I guess as an actor the job is to bring a writer’s character to life. I always share my opinion on the script, but ultimately it is my job to serve their story. So after discussions are had and we’ve agreed on the direction, I trust the director’s notes and vision.

You are a Jamaican man with locs playing parts that someone who looks and speaks like you usually aren’t considered for. How were you able to navigate your career in a way that took you away from stereotypes? And is there ever any pressure to conform?

I have the privilege of being a writer and director, therefore my career is not hinged upon one trade. This means that I can choose to turn down stereotypical roles (which many have been sent) and focus on other skills that I have such as writing and directing for income. Unfortunately, many actors don’t have that same privilege so I understand why actors make those decisions. That being said, mi nu do nuttin wa mi nu waan do.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

  • A book you have to have in your collection? Familiar Strangers – Stewart Hal

  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Graduation – Kanye West

  • A film/TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? There isn’t a particular show, however, a GOOD comedy mockumentary is always a go-to.

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance, or concert)? To be fair, there wasn’t a particular first moment for me because my mother always took me to the Christmas pantomimes at the Little Theatre in Jamaica from a very young age. Every Christmas my family (cousins, aunts, etc.) would go. So comedy plays have always been a normalised fun experience for me.

  • What has made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: That Burns (Andre Burnett, a close friend of mine) is not alive to see my success, which he always believed was possible. Mad: Nothing. Glad: Finally completing my short film, Mai Jeruom… Oh yea, and winning a BAFTA!

Chivalry airs every Thursday @10pm on Channel 4 the full series is available on All4.

Stream Dreaming Whilst Black on BBC iPlayer.

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