Lois Chimimba is fast becoming one to watch on both stage and screen with a worthy catalogue that keeps growing.
Chimimba stars as Hannah in The One Netflix’s new binge-worthy 8-part series which allows imagining finding your true love and the implications of DNA-based matchmaking. The series follows events 1 year after a scientific breakthrough has allowed people to use DNA testing to find their ideal partner. However, even perfectly matched couples have secrets.
Proud of her Glaswegian & Malawian roots the actress is a familiar face on both stage and screen training at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, Chimimba will probably be most recognisable as nurse Karen in BBC One’s Trust Me (2017). She also starred in Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum. Her stage credits include Damon Albarn‘s musical Wonder. land as Aly in 2015 and 2016 and Chekhov’s Three Sisters as Natasha.
We caught up with Lois about her latest role on The One and how important it is to see black couples portrayed on TV…
Please introduce yourself
Hello! My name is Lois Chimimba. I am an actress. Scottish and Malawian. Living in London. I prefer emails and texts, over phone calls. I’ve only just got contact lenses – it is wild how much I can see. My Prosecco intake has doubled in the last year. I am becoming increasingly squeamish. I’ve started to learn how to play football. And I really do try to maintain a positive attitude.
What word or sentence best describes your life right now?
‘Failing means you’re playing’ – there have been some harder days recently. But at least I am trying.
Thank you for joining us again on the British Blacklist. The last time we spoke to you was in 2019 when you starred in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. And here you are speaking to us about the highly anticipated series The One where you play Hannah. How did you get cast for the part?
I started meeting with Lauren Evans and her casting team in September 2019. I think I auditioned for 3 parts in total, and I couldn’t decide at the time if that was because they liked me, or because I couldn’t quite get any right. They were lovely meetings though. Really relaxed, and I felt like Lauren was totally rooting for me. I think it was towards the end of the month that I got the call to offer me the role of Hannah. I was on a night shoot, in a particularly rainy Wales, but I certainly did perk up after that call. I only had time to really quickly call my mum with the news. She screamed and shouted ‘YA DANCER’ down the phone (which is Glasgow slang for ‘fantastic’, and totally out of character for my wee gentle mother), and I went back on set – absolutely beaming.
Hannah makes some interesting decisions in The One how did you explore bringing to life her character attributes that would make the audience understand her journey over the series?
We (Eric and I ) sat down with our first director, Catherine Morshead, right at the beginning of the process. Chatting through Hannah and Mark’s relationship with Catherine and Eric, was probably the most helpful tool for me. We established what Hannah and Mark’s relationship was like prior to MatchDNA, and once that was set in stone, I felt like a had a grasp on the kind of person Hannah might be. She does have some serious lapses of judgment, but I found it relatively easy to understand her thought processes. Love can make us all a bit mad. Essentially, the choices she makes come from fear; from trying to keep her own little nest secure; from low self-esteem, perhaps. I hope that will be relatable to an audience.
Eric Kofi-Abrefa (Blue Story) plays Hannah’s partner Mark, can you tell us about the relationship between Hannah and Mark and how their relationship develops throughout the series?
When we meet Hannah and Mark, they are a pretty stable couple. Totally in love, and seem very well matched. But as MatchDNA (the program to help find one’s true love) gathers momentum, Hannah starts to worry about who might be out there for Mark. It is slightly a case of ‘curiosity killed the cat’, as Hannah’s decision to do the test for Mark – behind his back- has pretty disastrous consequences.
It’s also not often in shows like this that you get to see a black couple’s relationship be part of the central story, what was that like to be a part of, and was there ever a conversation between you Kofi about how monumental this could be for audiences watching?
I definitely had a sense of comfort when I learned that it was Eric and I to play this couple. I’m curious as to how audiences will view it, but, for me, it just felt great to have a real sense of support from Eric on set. When little conversations were to be had about things like props – say, I thought that the character wouldn’t have had certain toiletries in the bathroom; maybe there was a brush that I knew would be totally lost in her hair- we were able to have those discussions with someone to concur.
Comparisons have obviously been made between The One and Soulmates (Amazon) as they follow the same premise how do you think the shows differ?
Soulmates is an anthology, whereas The One follows the same group of people throughout the series. But, we so often see projects with similar inspiration. Hopefully, there’s no reason why people can’t enjoy both.
Do you believe in ‘the one’ and have you ever tried online dating/matchmaking sites? What do you make of them?
Nah, I don’t think I buy into the idea of a ‘one’. Some of the friends I have do feel like soulmates. And I definitely think there is probably only a small group of people that one will meet, who seem to really ‘get’ us. But in terms of a love match, I think even being with someone who has so much of what you want, you will probably still have a need that others, like best friends or close family, will meet. And that’s fine and good. I have tried an app before, but I don’t think it’s for me. The prospect of dating people I know is stressful enough, never mind a total stranger. It happens when you least expect it, so they tell me.
What attributes would you want your perfect soulmate to have?
Definitely funny. I’d hope for a partner that was hard working, ambitious, smart, reliable (though that seems a bit boring), but probably most of all, kind.
Your career on stage and on screen has been consistent over the years. How have you kept the work coming in – despite it supposedly being challenging for black actresses in the UK?
I do feel like I’ve been lucky in terms of relatively consistent work. As well as plays and filming jobs, I do voice-overs and audiobooks, and I often take part in script readings and workshops. So, in many regards, I’ve had lots of opportunities. But you only have to take a brief look at the nation’s recent history to know there are still many huge challenges for black and brown people, and that affects every industry.
More and more, I see that casting breakdowns are looking to see all races. Increasingly on sets, I’m being offered ‘nude’ clothing that is the colour of my skin. There are also (very slowly) more black makeup artists on set, and certainly more pressure for hair and makeup teams to actually know how to work with Afro hair. So, I’m starting to feel less of a burden, and that there is more space for me to have honest conversations when I’m finally in the room.
But, certainly, I have found challenges with getting work. Storylines where I’m being put up for a character in a family, where the parents are likely to be known, white actors- I know that’s me out of the running. When the core group of characters already has some black or brown actors cast, I know my chances are reduced. And still round the table where the big decisions are made, how often is there a face that looks like mine? And of course, that has an impact on who is getting the job. So, I absolutely think I’m in a privileged position. I’m so excited about my current work, and the people I’ve worked with have been massively supportive. My agent helps me make good choices. And I feel like so many directors and casting directors I’ve worked with, actively try to bolster me. But, I still definitely have plenty of concerns. However, I’m determined to keep moving forward and I will try to be active in rallying for change. I am grateful for what I do have, but I will fight for more.
Where is your happy place on stage or on set?
Probably my favourite place to be is in the rehearsal room. Getting to feel totally comfortable in a part, and feel like it’s really yours. Getting to learn about the world you’re going to be in, as well as really knowing the actors and director. But, in an ideal world, I’d love to be able to go between Stage and Screen. I love how varied filming days are. And more and more, I feel like I have a voice on set, and that I’m intrinsically part of creating my character. Which is super fulfilling. But I still love the buzz of excitement (and fear) when I get on a stage.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like our audience to know about?
I’m currently filming The Offenders – Stephen Merchant’s new drama. And coming out on BBC One and iPlayer later this year, I have Vigil, a thriller written by Tom Edge and starring Suranne Jones. I’m excited about both. I’m also due to work with the Pitlochry Festival Theatre to create some online material. It’s nice to feel like theatre stuff is starting to get going too.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? – Right now, I’m reading My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I’m only halfway through, but I’d definitely recommend it!
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Let It Be – Aretha Franklin
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? – Catastrophe. I rarely watch things multiple times, but that show still makes me laugh.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – The first production I saw when I moved to London was Men Should Weep. At the time it was incredible because it was the first production I’d ever seen of that scale. But later that year, a tutor at drama school remarked that I’d never work with my native accent because ‘no one could understand me’. That production, showing Scots dialect in all its glory, helped me know she was wrong!
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – The loss of Sarah Everard has made me extremely sad. The treatment of women at her Vigil has got me mad. I’m glad for all the friends, men and women, and who have checked in on me after the many strikes of last week. I’m lucky to be so supported.
The One is available to watch on Netflix Now