Lewis has been a massive success for ITV, possibly becoming just as big for the channel as Morse once was. Now though, as it starts its last series tonight on ITV, we have a new face entering the fray, as Babou Ceesay joins the cast as Alex Gray, Lewis’ new assistant.
We spoke to the actor about him joining the show, David Harewood’s comments on the lack of roles for black actors and why his past makes him even more grateful to be an actor.
So what can you tell us about your character Alex Gray?
I suppose he’s a bit of a rookie, he’s just become a detective constable. He’s got this opportunity as Hathaway is away on a career break and Lewis is in need of a sidekick and he volunteers.
What was like joining such an established show as Lewis?
Well, the positives are that it’s really smooth. People know what they’re doing, people know how the storyline’s work, directors come in and they’re bold. However, I suppose on the other side, I’m coming in trying to fill some really big shoes. Hathaway’s really well known by the audience, so are they going to accept someone as different as myself in that role? I’m introduced slowly enough that I don’t think it’ll make anyone balk.
Was it a little bittersweet knowing that the show is going to end soon after you joining it?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m in now, but it’s not going to carry on’. I always knew that though, even when I was signing up to the job. You know how it is though, they say it won’t, then it might, then it won’t again. There’s a whole carry on like that. Who knows what might happen in the next few years.
Lewis started life as a spinoff. If it came up, would you be interested in an Alex Gray one?
(laughs) I think you’re reaching there a bit! Of course I would, definitely. Why wouldn’t I be? I love detective dramas and I think it would be really different to see a character like mine heading up a series.
David Harewood (star of Homaland) recently claimed that there are very few leading roles for black actors in Britian. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, this has come up quite a bit, but I think there are definite opportunities. I think there could and argument not so much for the number of roles, but for the number of people compared to the number of roles. Acting in itself is a hugely oversubscribed industry, which in itself creates problems. When you get to a certain point in your career, you want to see there are bigger opportunities available instead of just continuing to keep playing bit parts. So maybe, if I had time to do a statistical analysis, I’d check out what happens when you get to that so-called glass ceiling.
With Idris Elba in Luther, Chiwetel Ejiofor in The Shadow Line and Lennie James in Line Of Dutty, do you think that detective dramas are changing that?
Absolutely and there’s more coming up. It’s not just detective dramas though, drams in general are becoming more interesting, more varied, more accepting. Dramas that show cultural diversity without making a big fuss of it are more like what it really is like in modern day Britain. It’s all over the world too. I just spent two and a half weeks with my family in Gambia, and the demographic over there is getting so mixed. There are people from Syria, Lebanon, China, Europe. Of course there’s places that are more homogenous, but the market is becoming more diverse, therefore the dramas are becoming more diverse. Otherwise, to be blunt, it just gets boring. People are going to get tired of seeing the same show over and over again, just being regurgitated.
You recently did a stint on Jo Brand’s BBC Four comedy Getting On. What was that like?
It was so much fun, they’re so incredibly funny on that show. I joined in quite a small role, although to start off with I was only going to be in one episode instead of four. The way the three of them write it and develop it is great, they don’t have a strict story arc and just let it develop as they go along. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was one of the most relaxed sets I’ve ever been on. Just so quick and easy and the quality of what comes out makes me very happy.
You’re also in a film with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, what can you tell us about that?
It was a lot of fun, we went to Nigeria. It’s called Half Of A Yellow Sun and it’s based on an excellent book. It’s based around the Biafran civil war of the 1960s, and a love story in that very dense and tense environment. I play one of Chiwetel’s closest friends in the film, who’s a university lecturer like him.
You came to acting quite late. Is it true that you used to work in finance before?
Yes, I used to work as an accountant. I always wanted to act though, even when I was on the straight and narrow. After doing a bit of work though, I was thinking “What is this? Why is this better than anything else?.” Don’t get me wrong, I still did my job, but there was always a part of me left unfulfilled, so I jumped ship and here I am.
Does having worked that sort of job make your acting success sweeter?
Absolutely, I totally appreciate where I am now. It does get tough of course. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most successful actor in the world, it still gets tough. And I’m OK with that, because I know the alternative very, very clearly. It might be simpler, as you get a salary at the end of the month, but I never felt like it was challenging me. In auditing, the challenge disappeared quickly for me. I just couldn’t make myself love it, having tasted acting before, I always knew there was something else out there for me. It’s not about fame or money, there are far easier ways of getting there. I just wanted to do this.
So what’s the rest of 2013 got in store for you?
At the minute I’m just waiting until the film comes out, that will be a nice moment for me. I’ve gone for a few auditions; some of it is really good stage based stuff. I love the theatre, so I’m hoping that works out.
Babou Ceesay stars in Lewis, which starts again tonight on ITV.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith