You could argue that Top Boy is responsible for giving the world its first true glimpse of London. The British street drama was a national hit when it first aired on Channel 4 in 2011, but it became a global sensation when it was revived by Netflix in 2019. Its return came thanks to executive producer (and series superfan) Drake, who fell in love with its authentic portrayal of an inner-city community coming of age in the darkest corners of the capital, where socio-economic disparities are rife and often dictate your fate.
The show, which is sometimes dubbed Britain’s answer to HBO classic The Wire, highlights the gritty realities of UK gang culture, drug dealing, violence and poverty, while also centring the depth and humanity of its characters with a stellar cast led by Ashley Walters, Kano, Micheal Ward, and Little Simz, among other new talents.
Netflix’s first season reintroduced us to life on Hackey’s Summerhouse Estate through the lens of drug-dealing duo Dushane and Sully, as they navigated the arrival of Jamie Tovell: a new, younger kingpin taking over their turf. It delved into the intricate mechanisms of the narcotics food chain, and showed with unflinching accuracy what happens to the humble foot soldiers at the bottom. The finale left us with multiple cliffhangers including Jamie’s arrest, Sully’s cut-throat decision to kill his best friend Dris (an act of vengeance that eats away at him when he eventually suffers from PTSD), and his unravelling relationship with Dushane.
Now, Top Boy is back for its highly-anticipated second season as a Netflix Original. This time, we’re getting a closer look at the internal struggles of our favourite characters and their individual journeys through an array of intertwining story arcs. From explorations of love and sexuality, the depths of loyalty and familial bonds, to the experiences of refugees and those living in single-parent households, the new season is more emotive than ever.
Here, the cast of Top Boy delve into their characters and the challenges that came with portraying them…
Micheal Ward on Jamie Tovell...
“The best thing about this season is that it teaches you how to be there for your people. If you’ve done something wrong, it’s easy to feel like a hypocrite when you advise someone to do the right thing in a situation knowing you’re not even doing it yourself. It was good to just address those things within Jamie this season because it made me realise a lot of that in myself. For me, the relationship with his brothers is the focal point of his life and that dictates the way he manoeuvres. In the trailer we hear him say ‘everything that I do is for the two of you’ and ultimately that’s his drive, even though his arrest [at the end of season one] strained their relationship.
“Figuring out why Jamie does certain things that I, Micheal, wouldn’t agree with can be a challenge. At times, I’d question why he makes certain decisions but I had to block that out and focus on what I resonate with him on. More than anything, that is his will to win and succeed in what he does. He never wants to be mediocre and that’s something I really don’t want to do in any aspect of my own life. I want to be the best at anything I approach, otherwise I’d rather not do it at all and Jamie is like that too. He wants to have the best relationship with his brothers, and he wants to be in a prime position for everything that’s going on in the ends. There’s something in that. You work to become the best, it’s not something that just happens.”
Ashley Walters on Dushane…
“We have always known Dushane to be a thinker, but maybe the cracks are starting to show. In season two we can expect him to grow. He wants more and is trying to find a route out of his current lifestyle without losing all the benefits from it. He’s also at a crossroads in his friendship with Sully. Although they have a common goal, they have no intentions of going about it in the same way and that really tests their relationship.
“We’re very different but one characteristic I share with Dushane is his need to finish what he starts. My work ethic has always been a huge part of my success from the start. Dushane never gives up and neither do I. The most important and also challenging aspect of portraying him is making sure I get it right. The first thought in my mind when I step on set is, ‘will the real Dushanes of this world believe it?’ If I can achieve that, the rest seems to follow.”
Little Simz on Shelley…
“We take a deep dive into Shelley’s past and her decision making this time. Last season we saw her in the role of the carer and Dushane’s missus. Now we get to meet Shelley the person, learning what she’s been through and what she’s having to face now. I had a lot more to sink my teeth into as an actor. I’m really excited for everyone to see not only hers, but all the character developments. We’ve really peeled back their layers and are showing more of ourselves this season. The true colours of each character come to play throughout the season.
“It can be intense, but for me it’s about understanding that I’m here to tell a story and once I’m in that space and that environment, I’m completely locked in. I devote my everything to that. The minute I step off, I am myself but I’m always doing the work to understand Shelley better. I know so many people who have experienced similar things to Shelley so having those real-life, open conversations with them about what they have been through has helped me apply that to what I’m doing on-screen. I understand that I am representing someone else’s story and I want to do a good job.
“I care a lot about people and I always want to help people where I can and Shelley is like that also, though sometimes to a fault. Sometimes I think, it just really is not your business, you don’t have to insert yourself in everything, even though she has good intentions.
“Her relationship with Dushane is so genuine. They love each other and they have a better understanding of each other in this season. I think she knows what she can challenge him on and what she should leave alone. She does want that dream life with him but there’s this thing he’s also married and attached to that she’s kind of figuring out if she can live with.”
Jasmine Jobson on Jaq…
“I had to personally go through a massive emotional journey with Jaq. There were days where I actually found myself needing to take five minutes before and after scenes to just hone in on what I was feeling. As a method actor, I take everything really seriously so there were a lot of tears and upset. Her relationship with her sister plays a big part and that’s something I could really relate to. Last season we saw how bad things got between them but Jaq is so family-oriented and I really am too so I felt very connected to the scenes between myself and Saffron Hocking (who plays Jaq’s sister, Lauryn).
“I found it really difficult to separate myself from my character this season. I found myself having to sit down and reflect on all the emotions I had gone through after a day of filming and taking a few deep breaths before I could really move on from it and be myself again. We’re similar in many ways, I love her cheekiness. She’s that annoying little sister that everybody wants. She’s so honest. She’s ruthlessly honest and she’s loyal to a fault. She loves really, really hard too. I think that if somebody was to break her heart or be disloyal that that would really, really affect her and change the way she acts towards others. I feel that because I’m so in touch with my feelings.”
Adwoa Aboah on Becks
“I’ve joined the cast as Becks, Jaq’s love interest. They form such an amazing relationship and I have just been so grateful to have this as my first TV role. Becks doesn’t come from Jaq’s world at all, but she’s a Londoner. She’s street smart and a little bougie. She’s also confident and stands up for what she believes in and really meets Jaq on an emotional level. She’s trying with all her might to bring out some sort of vulnerability in Jaq and to a certain extent, educate her on the idea that vulnerability and being open to love or whatever it might be, carries a lot of strength.
“I go through my own turmoil on the show with the topic of homophobia – something that I can’t necessarily relate to because I’ve never been in a situation like that, but it was a very interesting circumstance to kind of put myself into. I had to really get myself to quite a dark space mentally and that is really emotionally taxing. The movies you watch, the music you listen to, the things that you’re thinking about for the character and the circumstance that you’re trying to embody for that particular moment can be a lot, and you’re doing it over and over again. It was definitely a new form of exhaustion. As a model, I’m used to doing back-to-back shows and that is exhausting, but this felt different. You come home after a day of filming and you’re flat with adrenaline and you feel like you’ve achieved so much during that day. I just feel so lucky for this opportunity. It’s definitely taken me out of my comfort zone and it’s a challenge that I’ve really been looking for.”
Top Boy season 2 arrives on Netflix on March 18