#TBB10 with David Gyasi on his Role as Achilles in BBC’s Troy: Fall of a City

When I say I’ve been waiting to speak to David Gyasi, a fellow Ghanaian Brit out here making serious moves, for the longest!

You’d be forgiven however if you weren’t aware of this actor making stealth moves, as Gyasi has only just joined social media and doesn’t have a footprint of interviews behind him. So to refresh your memory, Gyasi has starred in major productions like George Lucas’ epic about the African American Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails (2012),  the Oscar-winning sci-fi blockbuster Interstellar (2014) alongside fellow British Blacktor David Oyelowo. He led the regretfully shortlived apocalyptic sci-fi series Containment (2014) and he’s even voiced a children’s animated series, Chuggington / Chuggington: Badge Quest for seven years (2008 – 2015) to name but a few. 

Now, Gyasi’s relative anonymity is about to change with his new role as Achilles in the new BBC epic series, Troy: Fall of a City. Big budget, period drama, men with bare chests draped in leather waving swords as they battle for honour and what not, the anticipation is real.

We spoke to Mr Gyasi to find out more…

1# Hello David, finally getting to speak to you! How’s 2018 been treating you so far and you’ve just joined social media… how are you coping? 

It is a joy that we managed as you say to finally speak…it’s been a few years in the making but we got there!  2018 has been busy but a whole heap of fun so far. Long may it continue.  Social media is not actually as bad as I thought, to be honest, I’m managing to keep the real world my priority and just dipping into the virtual one now and again.

2#  Are you caught up with the Black Panther madness?

Let’s put it this way it’s already my favorite film and I haven’t even seen it yet.  I was gutted to miss the premiere and other screenings due to work commitments but I reckon I’ll see it at least 3 or 4 times this year.

3# Well you’re involved in your own ‘mythological’ tale, the upcoming BBC series Troy: Fall of a City – can you give us an outline of what the series is about?

It’s based on Homer’s ‘Iliad’ but told very much from the perspective of the Asian (Trojan) side. That’s not to say that you don’t get a real sense of the Greek plight.  That’s the beauty of telling the story over 8 hours it gives us the opportunity to really sit with and get to know very many different characters.  Essentially the show is about war, the visceral, raw and very personal effect it has on us as humans, demi & full gods.

4# You’ve been cast as Achilles, what’s Achilles’ position, goal, and intention?

Achilles is a fascinating character of internal conflict. Part god part human. Part killing machine part lover! We join Achilles at a point where his goals are shifting along with his understanding of the meaning and point of life.

5# What was it about the character that made you say yes?

It absolutely captivated me, the idea that this man/demigod, warrior/pacifist, lover/hater.  He deals with constant turmoil.  It both excited me and blew my mind, making the job and challenge one I couldn’t walk away from.

6# I’ve read some backlash about the colourblind casting applied to Achilles, did you have any concerns taking on this role, understanding that he is historically Greek and is this the first role that you’ve been colour blind cast? What are your general thoughts on this process?

I think your concerns or rather questions as an actor are generally whether you connect to the piece of writing.  What does the character have to say or contribute to piece? Do I feel any connection or better still burning desire to play this part?  Not at any point did I ask the question: ‘How do I play his whiteness or Greekness?’.

This isn’t the first role I’ve taken that has been colour blind cast.  It’s one of many, in fact, my role in Interstellar was originally a Russian astronaut called, Romashov.  After the process of meetings and auditions, it changed to Romilly.

The process of casting or the process of backlash? If the question is about the casting process – I think ‘character’ is a good place to start.  If I sat where the decision makers sat I’d be looking at the talent pool in front of me to see which actor or actress is able to draw out the defining struggles, conflict, love, loss, life, rhythm, pace, essence, and all the other weird and wonderful bits that make up our beautiful and interesting characters.  Then go from there.  I have to say the longer I’m in the business the more brilliant decision makers I’m meeting who are from this school of thought.  It’s very encouraging.

If the question is about backlash… I don’t think about it.

7# This series is said to be very action filled and violent, how did you prepare for the role and what were some of the challenges whilst filming? 

I found it helpful to do some reading around the story.  One book I found particularly helpful was, The War that killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander.  In chapter 2 she likens the ramifications of Achilles refusing to go to war being akin to Muhammad Ali refusing to go to Vietnam in the 60’s.  This was an incredibly useful comparison, it led me down intricate pathways including conflicts of abstinence from violence vs being the finest warrior in the world. What would it be like to have pacifist tendencies but be a ‘blessed’ terminator?  This then affected the way we designed the fight scenes and the choreography.

The brilliant team at, Pyranha Stunts really worked tirelessly to ensure that all Achilles’ movement and fighting techniques were efficient and clinical.  The reward hopefully being a sharp clean fighting style that also lends itself the idea of the internal conflict – bloodlust vs pacifism, resulting in no wasted efforts on extra blows and even the idea that he would try to be moral in his killing.

In order to execute the demanding choreography, I had to undergo a 6 day a week two-hour gym schedule along with 2/3 stunt rehearsals a month… I loved it!

Troy: Fall of a City cast – Menelaus (JONAS ARMSTRONG), Achilles (DAVID GYASI), Agamemnon (JOHNNY HARRIS), Odysseus (JOSEPH MAWLE)

8# You’re used to working on big budget productions, but is there extra pressure when something is of such a large scale, in comparison to smaller independent projects – and the expectation that it’s got to do well… How much is this on your mind when on set?

The pressure is the same if you love the piece and the character you really want to serve them as best you can.  I then think the rest will take care of itself.

9# What’s next for you? 

It’s a busy time at the moment, I’m currently waiting for a flight to Prague to continue on, Carnival Row an Amazon series I’m currently shooting that I have loved since I first read the script over 2 years ago!  We are also in the middle of doing a deal on a couple films for Spring/Summer fingers crossed that the dates work! Due for release this year are Troy: Fall of A City, imminently. Alex Garland’s, Annihilation with Nathallie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Issacs.  Donavan Marsh’s Hunter Killer with Gerrard Butler, Common, and Gary Oldman.  Aurora Fearnley’s short film, Pulsar starring an exciting young cast including Jessie Buckley, Anna Koval, and Tahirah Sharif.

10# What’s your Achilles heel?

Hmmn… Not getting enough sleep.  Need to improve that!

Troy: Fall of a City begins Saturday 17th February, 9.10pm, BBC One


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