Many months have passed since the release of the independent British crime film Brash Young Turks, released earlier in the year. The film has gone on to be screened across the UK and is now available on home entertainment. Back in July, we spoke to the director, Naeem Mahmood and now, after he recently won the Best UK Movie award at the 10th Annual Movie Video & Screen Awards, we got the chance to speak with Paul Chiedozie who won the Best Emerging Talent award for his leading role as Terrell Mackintosh.
So how’s life been treating you since the release of Brash Young Turks?
It’s moving fast. After the film’s release you want to crack on to something different, and move on to something bigger and better. But the thing about films is they kind of last forever, especially Brash Young Turks. It’s been growing and growing, it’s almost become haunting to some degree, but in a good way! For me I’m just trying to move onto better things. Hopefully I can top my last performance, and do something else in that vein, something that can break the stereotype, as well as change up the local business in my area of London.
Have there been many new opportunities since the film’s release?
Well it’s interesting because the opportunities are kind of… similar! (laughs). But it’s just a matter of how I approach the role. As an aspiring actor you kind of need to have something to offer, or have some sort of formula that would help the film grow. For me it’s the exact same situation, but now I’ve got a bit more of a backing. I have more of a following, now I have an award that says I can do this.
When it comes to work. A couple of short films have hit my way. I’m working with Naeem again… that’s gonna be interesting. And I’m working on a few productions myself.
You mentioned you had won the award for Best Emerging Talent. How did it feel to win the award?
Winning the award was a surprise, but it wasn’t a surprise that the film as a whole won some acclaim. I remember saying to everyone that it’s just a matter of time before Brash Young Turks gets awarded for the hard work, and the team effort we put into making this film. The film deserved something at the end of the tunnel.
Many people have come and quit their day job and bled for the film. So even if it wasn’t me winning the Best Emerging Talent award, or the film itself winning Best UK film, I felt that something was gonna happen. And a lot has happened in terms of getting the film distributed to different platforms.
Myself winning the award? I just took it as a testament for what I have done for the film and how the film paid me back.
You founded a media company called ZEMS Entertainment, what led you to found the company?
Being a ethnic UK actor is very, very difficult. You’re facing so many different restrictions and barriers. The roles are very few and far between, in terms of getting the characters that you want to play, getting the stories that you want to be in, and also having some sort of calibre, or a role that stands the test of time. A lot of movies come and go, and as an actor it’s like getting stuck in a lift, where I’m not able to make films and doing something that really takes you somewhere. I had to make ZEMS, it wasn’t just to give myself a better opportunity in this field, but to make sure people who are coming up the way I’m coming up, don’t struggle the way I struggled.
Hopefully we’ve started to do that. Opening the doors to certain productions that don’t just always apply to the industry standard and letting the A-listers get those roles. There’s like a formula that they follow and ZEMS is the complete opposite to that.
Let’s talk a bit about the standard of character roles for actors of different ethnicities. Are many of those roles basically just going to be gangster, East London type roles?
Pretty much, pretty much. I don’t want to add more injury to the wound, but it has evolved. There are characters within these stereotypical films that have a bit more substance. The problem is the overall message of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind playing a gangster or being in a gangster movie. For me it’s about the overall message of the film. “Why am I playing this character? Why is this character even in the film? Is your message just gangsters exist, well we already know that. What are you trying to say about this film?”
For me, I would honestly love to play a ‘Scarface’, you know a role on that scale, or Denzel Washington in Training Day, or American Gangster. It all comes down to what you are trying to tell. In the films I just mentioned – the kinds of stories in these films – they’re talking about real people, or rather fictional characters that have an underlying message that tries to teach people something. Brash Young Turks gave me that, the film opened my mind up to, “Oh wow! There’s people like Terrell Mackintosh!” Where, even in a fictional sense, you can come up and aim higher. Now, I played that character, I had to live that life, so I got a better insight now, and the industry doesn’t do enough roles like that.
You started off doing small uncredited roles in some independent and big studio films, could you talk about the progression of your acting career?
My journey has been very unorthodox because I’ve acted a lot, but I haven’t acted professionally as much as most actors, especially for my age group. I’ve done a lot of stuff and I like to call it training. It may not have been a lot of professional training, but to me, this business is about being practical and being in the field, no matter what level of the industry you are in.
I’ve done a lot, not just big studio films like Wild Bill, or Attack the Block, or Harry Potter. As well as the independent films I’ve done, one of the most valuable films I did was in 2009; a film called Stick With Me. What I learnt from that film has kept me in this business! While the other films have more glamour to them, “wow! I wanna be in Harry Potter!” or whatever, these films make you want to dream more, rather than slap you into reality, and make you say, “I gotta put my head down and I gotta do this, and do that”. I’m a big believer in – you have to fail and get things wrong to succeed. I’ve done a lot of training where I have failed a lot. I started in theatre, I did loads of it, I’ve done a lot of dance and performing arts in many different aspects and failed in it.
A lot of people fail not because of their acting ability, it’s nothing to do with that, it’s more about application. I gained that from my life experience, what I went through, pushing myself out of the box.
When you went into production on Brash Young Turks, what was the overall mood and how did everyone get along?
Initially when we went into production I was fully head over heels, I was dreaming. I felt like Brash Young Turks was going to be the best film ever, which isn’t to say it’s not, but at the time I could just forget about the rest of the world; ‘this is it! This is what the world has been waiting for’.
Obviously it wasn’t as grandiose as that, in the sense that it wasn’t all easy, fun, and glam, it was incredibly hard. We had a team of people on production that was on a very low scale and budget, so there were a lot of restraints and a lot of complications. That’s the business for you, people with their own agendas and their own goals. So I had to mix with that and keep focus on the film itself. That was my experience, learning the way the business works through this film but also ensure I delivered with this character and I didn’t mess up.
A lot of actors came and went, but I was always there with Naeem supporting it to the end. Nothing has ever been easy for me, so the path that we took just made sense and I dealt with it, and kept going. Winning the awards for the film and seeing how Naeem has pushed, like I said, I’m not surprised of what Naeem’s achieving now and what he’s going to achieve.
I guess this has already been answered, but was this film the hardest piece you have ever worked on?
Absolutely! It was challenging on a physical level, on a mental level. I had to change my body weight a lot, I was maturing as an individual. I’ve been doing this since I was about 21, it’s been a long process and I had faced so many trials and tribulations, in life itself. My daughter was born during the film, I moved houses, I was stabbed in East London, so I had to battle that! And make the film at the same time! Pretty much the whole film was a war!
There’s a scene in the movie in which I’m dancing, it was a very physical scene. I was on set, with the stitches and bandages from the stabbing, in that scene. I got stabbed the day before and I ended up re-opening the stitches, so I had to go back and get it done. When you watch the film you’ll look back and go, “Oh that’s why he’s sweating so much!”.
When I think about it, Brash Young Turks was the sweeter version of my life because all that stuff would have happened exactly the same way, but without the prospect of being in a movie. Being in that circumstance was so much better than my life before. It was worthwhile.
The film is about a group of disadvantaged people who have no choice but to resort to dirty dealings that end up gaming the political system. This is a cynical portrayal of London, do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of modern London?
I absolutely think so. In today’s day and age we’re living in a time where there is a lot of people that have inner city psychosis. What that is, in a nutshell is where you have a misconception of how life is. Not just from the people who spawned that concept, but from media, from families, that becomes your reality. Even if people didn’t want to resort to violence and criminality, there’s only so much you can do, if you only believe in those paths. We all have choice, but the question isn’t about choice, but how you box those choices in, why have two choices when you could have ten? Can you even see those other ten paths? That’s what the film is about. Terrell was smart, he could see those other choices, he was also smart enough to see that he didn’t have the freedom to make those decisions and understand the consequences of those decisions.
Film-making is difficult. Is it harder now than ever to make films in the U.K.?
It’s definitely more accessible to make a film, what’s more difficult is in execution. When you have so many distractions, in life, personal stuff, stuff that can stop you making the film you initially wanted to make. All these things can come into play, and I feel that it’s your personal self that stops you, I mean why not shoot a feature on a phone? It’s harder to know what you are doing, and even then that’s still not a big issue because even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can still make a film. Getting to the end of that film, that’s the difficult bit; reaching that end point is an achievement! If there were statistics of how many films got made and how many were being worked on but never finished, you would see a massive difference.
So with technology advancing to an accessible degree, the only problem we have left is motivation?
Drive, motivation, lack of knowledge. I was lucky to even get into acting, I didn’t know where to go or what to do to become an actor. I think it was a friend’s mum who said to me, “you should go to this school, they got good rates and a lot of the people coming out of it become actors”, so I listened to her. But what if I didn’t listen to her? I get asked all the time, “I wanna be a filmmaker, what do I do?”, “I wanna be an actor, where do I go?”, that’s the issue. People don’t know where to go, they don’t know what they’re doing, maybe they can’t afford to go where they want to go. There are facilities and there are organisations that so many of these people don’t know about, it’s hard to know how good these companies are at reaching out to these people.
Making a technically well crafted film is important. But if I saw a young person make a poor film, even that to me is an achievement. Seeing Naeem make Brash Young Turks under the restrictions that he had, that’s bigger than any film in the UK.