Elliot Edusah, one of Digital Spy Rising's 30 Black British stars of tomorrow, is about to have a wild New Year's Eve.
Starring as Cappo in Pirates, writer-director Reggie Yates's comedy feature debut, Edusah stars alongside Reda Elazouar (Kidda) and Jordan Peters (Two Tonne) as the trio desperately try to get their hands on tickets for 1999's hottest garage night, Twice As Nice. What follows is a nostalgic romp from North to South London, with hilarity, heart and a high BPM along the way.
In a love letter to the '90s garage scene, the friends call themselves the Ice Cold Crew and have experienced success on pirate radio. But their plan to take things to the next level seems to be skewered when Cappo plans to quit as manager, with university leading him down a different path.
For Edusah, Pirates was a breath of fresh air after turns in WW1 blockbuster 1917, Steve McQueen's Small Axe series and BBC Windrush drama, Sitting in Limbo. "After doing a lot of intense projects about race, I wanted to do something fun that I didn't need to mentally prepare for every morning," he explains.
"I naturally crack silly jokes or say the wrong thing and get away with it and Reggie just allowed us to be funny. There was a lot of improvisation and creativity."
The cast's on-screen chemistry is clear and it's the same off-screen as Edusah calls Elazouar and Peters his "brothers", as well as praising Yates for always being there for them.
"I know he was going through his own things in lockdown, we all were. But we could WhatsApp or call him anytime. He even took us to Richard Curtis's beach house for a couple of days before filming. That's where we really bonded," he recalls.
"At this point, we didn't even know that COVID existed, so I think forming those connections kept the chemistry alive when we did eventually get on set. Reggie's efforts made us want to go above and beyond for this project."
Yates also called on friends from his garage days to help the cast do their research into the era, with many turning up to be in one party scene.
While Edusah wasn't shooting on this day, he rocked up at the Ministry of Sound to see the likes of Wretch 32, Manny Norte, Lonyo and Mercston. Shot shortly before COVID hit, this scene had a lucky escape from lockdown restrictions and social distancing.
For Edusah, authentic storytelling is always key for him when choosing projects. "It doesn’t have to be honest in mine or the audience's favour, but it has to be true," he continues.
Edusah describes his role in Sitting In Limbo as a less-than-sympathetic Immigration Enforcement Officer as a "tough spot" to be in: "[That role] went against every grain in my body. I'd have let this man [a victim of the Windrush scandal] stay! But when I choose roles, it's about telling stories the world needs to see."
In Small Axe's episode Alex Wheatle, however, Edusah felt more comfortable with his character.
"That story was about South London boys in the '80s. I'm part of that community today, so I related to it a lot. I feel a big responsibility when I do those stories that feel like they've been hidden or undiscovered for years. It feels like I'm speaking to my ancestors and the people who broke down doors before us," he notes.
"That's why I felt my role in 1917 was so important, too. As a Black man on the set of a WW1 film, I was representing a demographic of soldiers that rarely gets spoken about. It hurts me to never see that. I wanted people to see a Black face in that sea of soldiers."
— Elliot Edusah (@ElliotEdusah) January 10, 2020
TV and cinema can fall into the trap of only representing stories of Black pain, but Edusah feels it's all about balance. "Dark and light, sad and happy, ugly and beautiful… Black people have invested a lot more into this country than the violence and drugs that get depicted year after year," he continues.
"It's incredibly important to tell stories of Black joy and show people who have never seen a true depiction of Blackness that there's also good vibes and energy."
Having a Black community around him is also important to Edusah. Speaking of his time at LAMDA and The BRIT School, he reflects on the connections he made with the likes of Leah Harvey (Foundation) and Archie Madekwe (Midsommar).
"We didn't only go to these schools to learn, we went to build a network. It's important to be able to pick up the phone and talk about an experience I might have had, and be reassured that it's totally normal. Now, I see my peers on set and I know they have my back, like I do theirs," he says.
With his eyes on America and having just wrapped Django, a TV retelling of Sergio Corbucci's 1966 classic Western, Edusah's career is on the rise.
Pirates is his next chance to show a wider audience what he's about, but as his star ascends, how does he deal with any self-doubt? "When I started taking things less seriously – life, work, everything – it all fell into place," he reflects.
"Life is about balance and finding joy in failure, letting it motivate rather than crush you. The majority of times, things are never as bad as they seem. A failure, two years or even two days later, will be forgotten. Time is the biggest teacher.
"There's a great renaissance of Black art where we're seeing London today. That's why it's important to see shows like Small Axe, I May Destroy You and Top Boy, and films like Pirates and Boxing Day. These stories couldn't have happened 10 years ago.
"We had to have the Anuvahoods and Desmond's and The Real McCoys to get here, and not need to be overly dramatic or comedic when telling our stories. That's what life is all about – turning pain into something beautiful."
Pirates is out in UK cinemas from November 26.
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