Fans of Bridgerton, you have a new obsession. May I introduce you to Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù who plays the dashing Jeremiah Malcolm in Emma Holly Jones’ Mr. Malcolm’s List. You may already know him from Remi Weekes’ His House or perhaps from Sky’s Gangs of London.
The actor’s star is certainly on the rise so what better time to chat to him about the original Mr. Malcolm’s List short film, masculinity and diverse casting.
How did you get involved with the original Mr. Malcolm’s List short film?
I was sitting on my chair at home, waiting for the phone to ring, not knowing what was gonna come next. And then I was really fortunate that Tamara-Lee Notcutt, the casting director, and Emma Holly Jones, the director, thought of me to bring their character to life. And I just got a phone call from the agency being like, ‘Hey, are you interested in this?’ I was like, yes, definitely. Not because I had nothing else that I was doing, but because I really believed in what they were trying to achieve. And I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to bring it to fruition.
When you shot the short, were you already talking about making a feature out of it?
100 per cent. I think if Emma could have, she would have made the feature straight away. But I think for loads of reasons, it was the right decision. It gave us time to understand the world that we were trying to do, as a proof of concept, not just for the industry and our audiences, but for ourselves, so that we could believe that we could go on to create this feature, which we now have done. I look back on the process and think that every step that we took was the right step to take.
Were there elements of Mr. Malcolm that you were excited to expand upon?
Very personally, I think we have this idea of masculinity, this really rigid thing, like super powerful, super dominant… But we don’t talk about the self-doubt that comes with that. I think only recently, in conversations about masculinity, we started to deconstruct it. That insecurity that he had, that someone might exploit him or exploit his position, or what he could offer somebody and not truly know or love him. I think that was the thing that I was most interested in in the character. There is lots of wonderful comedy and great romance but I think that was one of the things that I was really desperate to exercise for myself, and explore on screen.
I went into it, kind of ready to hate Mr. Malcolm, because it sounds quite crude, that you’d have this list of qualities that you want in a partner. How did you work on making him such a likeable character?
I suppose whenever you’re playing any character, be that someone really heinous or someone really angelic, you have to be able to empathise with them and know what it is that drives them, what they care about, and why they care about things in order to be able to represent them properly.
But when it comes to Jeremiah, he’s not a bad guy. I don’t think he’s ever cruel or mean. I think he can be misunderstood and like you said, the concept of having this list can be really abrasive, but he doesn’t need to reduce anybody by having this list. I don’t think I was as concerned about people hating him over the course of the whole film.
I think it’s a very parallel journey to Mr. Darcy in that he comes across as really studge and doesn’t want to chat to anyone, but actually, you understand, he’s really soft centred by the middle and end of the story. I think he was always charming, and he’s always accessible. But then there was this list. And it was the thing that everyone hates as a concept as opposed to him.
I’m glad you brought up Mr. Darcy. He feels like a very obvious reference, were there any other characters or maybe performances that you looked at?
I watched basically all of the Jane Austen adaptations for film and television. And I think that I do do that in terms of getting an atmospheric feel for a period. But I don’t believe that I was intending to copy or mimic anybody else’s performances or necessarily be inspired by them. Because I think that whilst the archetype is quite similar, they’re still very different characters. So once I saw everything, I hope I didn’t draw too much from any one thing.
You and Freida Pinto have great chemistry in the film, how did you develop that?
I’m glad you said that because it was always a concern. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked together in each other’s company. I think we had a couple of dance rehearsals and we did a read through as a company. And I think Frieda and I went on a couple of walks by ourselves.
But unfortunately, because we were shooting it in lockdown as well, we didn’t have such freedom of access to each other. So it really is a lot of what you got on the day. We both did our individual preparations and then we just opened to one another. And I found Freida to be such a wonderful, talented, and specifically open actress, that we were able to create a lot of chemistry on set.
Zawe Ashton is a new recruit for this. How was it working with her? What did she bring to the role that was different from what Gemma Chan did with the role in the short?
Unfortunately, Gemma wasn’t able to be a part of the film. I think it was a scheduling issue. But it’s a different film with Zawe than without her. She brought this like indescribable energy to the part of Julia and therefore the part of the whole film. I really think she is like the driving force of our little film and I’m so glad that I got to work with her.
I’ve been wondering if I should ask you about the casting of the film, because it’s very diverse. And the film is all the better for it, but I don’t want to reduce the film to just that because it has so many other merits. Is that something that you want people to talk about and ask you about?
It’s interesting. I was just like, I think it’s sick that you haven’t asked about it because it shouldn’t be important. But I think some people need to be told that it’s not important so next time they encounter inclusive casting, they’re just like, it’s not important. This is the story, this is how it’s presented, those people are talented, and they were the right people for the role, regardless of what they look like, their ability, disability or gender.
Hopefully, in 20 years time, there isn’t even a question of whether or not we should ask the question, there is no question. But I appreciate that we’ve still got a way to go and just glad to be part of the change.
Mr Malcolm’s List will open in cinemas nationwide from Friday 26th August