Archie Madekwe enjoys a challenge. The London-based actor first turned heads when he starred alongside Sophie Okonedo and Damian Lewis in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, a provocative play about a man romancing a goat. The trajectory built to roles in Ari Aster’s holiday-horror Midsommar and, more recently, as Kofun in the bleak Apple TV+ series See. Set in a dystopia where humans can’t use their eyes, See reveals that Kofun is one of two people who possess the power of sight. In other words, Madekwe is an actor whose magnetic screen presence can become a plot point in itself.
“I would love to be included in the long list of people changing perceptions on screen and in theatres, and paving the way for other people of colour,” Madekwe says. So far, so good: the actor’s eclectic CV will soon include co-starring in the sci-fi thriller Voyagers with Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp, as well as season two of See. More enticingly, he insists he’s just getting started on a wider mission.
“I want to show histories people never knew existed, and help people understand the many faces and realities of what it means to be black or brown,” Madekwe says of using his platform to express something of his beliefs. “If I can be a part of the movement, I’ll be happy.”
How is your work unique to you, or informed by your perspective, experiences, or identity?
Archie Madekwe: At drama school, there was an illusion of who people thought I was, or should be, based on the colour of my skin. ‘Too urban’ and ‘too street’ were comments I heard frequently. These weren’t accurate depictions but comments on my ethnicity. The word ‘urban’, in their eyes, had a long list of negative connotations. I was told I probably wouldn’t do Chekhov because I wasn’t white, and probably wouldn’t be in a period drama because of the ‘street’ way that I held myself. My career so far has proved these statements to be false, and I’m continually working towards proving two years of microaggressions and generations of stereotypes wrong.
“I want to show histories people never knew existed, and help people understand the many faces and realities of what it means to be black or brown” – Archie Madekwe
What issues or causes are you passionate about and why?
Archie Madekwe: The list is extensive: from diversity and representation, to climate change and the planet, to mental health and toxic masculinity. For a while, I worked closely with the Southwark Council and their Youth Offending Service. Going in as a young mixed-raced male from South London, talking to them about their stories, and letting them know mine – we developed a trust and understanding. So many of those kids are in situations they never anticipated. Through circumstances, sometimes no fault of their own, they have ended up there. Drama, or simple conversation, can create a pathway for these young people to share their stories. Anger and resentment can hold us still when we don’t feel seen or heard. Drama and storytelling can unlock that.
What creative or philanthropic project would you work on with a grant from the Dazed 100 Ideas Fund?
Archie Madekwe: I’d set up workshops and classes with Southwark Youth Offending Service around drama, storytelling and writing. I already know of actors, directors and writers who would love to speak to these kids about their journeys and open up a new world to them. When I was working with Southwark YOS, barely any of the kids in my sessions had ever considered a career in the arts, but then they came alive – they learned of plays that told stories that they knew, and could see themselves in. An education in the arts changed my life, and hopefully, it could change theirs.