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My Mentor: Noel Clarke

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The actor, writer and director salutes the man who got him into the film industry

I was working as a gym instructor when I met Rikki Beadle-Blair.

I’d always wanted to be an actor, but I could never afford drama school and all that malarkey. Rikki was a writer and director who used to come to the gym
I worked in. I got to know him, and one day I heard he was doing auditions for a Channel 4 show called Metrosexuality, which was based on a play that he’d written.

He gave me my big break.

When I found out about Metrosexuality, I was like, “I’ve always wanted to act, please let me audition.” The part was for a 16-year-old and I was 21, but Rikki said, “If you come prepared and you really work hard for this, I won’t tell Channel 4 how old you are.” So I focused, knuckled down and got the part. They thought I really was 16 [laughs].

Rikki is 100 per cent responsible for my work ethic.

It sounds clichéd, but Rikki taught me that if you’re going to do something, you make sure you are totally prepared. You get things done before they need
to be done – and that’s now my mentality. He gave me that work ethic, that perfectionist attitude. If he hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am now. My first film, Kidulthood, was supposed to have a happy ending. Rikki changed that.

He always read the stuff I wrote and gave me helpful feedback.

I showed him my first script for Kidulthood. He was one of the first people to tell me, “Yeah, this is really good.” Originally, though, in the first draft, I had the character of Trife survive – it had a happy ending. Rikki’s point to me was, “If Trife doesn’t die, you’re essentially saying to young people that you can behave the way these kids behave and everything will be all right.” At first I didn’t get it. I was like, “I want a happy ending!” But he was right – you have to teach young people that there are consequences if you behave like that. Trife had to die; so that’s what ended up in the film.

He helped broaden my mind.

Rikki’s gay, he’s very flamboyant, and he opened my eyes to accepting everyone. When you’re a teenager in Ladbroke Grove, as I was, you don’t know much about different cultures or sexualities. Through him, I got the role in Metrosexuality and I met lots of different people of various backgrounds and orientations, and understood that everybody is human and none of that stuff really matters.

The Anomaly, directed by Noel Clarke, is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 27 October. Chasing Shadows is on ITV now

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