Susan Wokoma

By Jaclyn Bethany

 

Jaclyn Bethany: Hey, Susan! Where you originally from, and where are you based now?
Susan Wokoma: I'm from Elephant & Castle and currently live in West Dulwich…. My parents are Nigerian, but I’m currently awaiting results from “Ancestry DNA” to see what else I'm made up of!

JB: When did you discover acting/performing? What is your fondest childhood memory?
SW:
I discovered acting at National Youth Theatre. I applied on the suggestion of my English teacher when I was 13, and got in on a whim. [Prior to that], I didn't know acting could be a career.

JB: What was your training at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art like?  
SW: RADA was hard work, but I played equally hard, too. My entire year did. We were a very young year (I was 19 at the start) and no two students were the same. There was a tremendous sense of vitality right from the start. The success of my year has not surprised me in the slightest—it felt like a special year at the time.

JB: A lack of strong roles for women, and particularly for women of color, remains a serious problem in this industry. How do you defy those limitations in your work?
SW: I never pigeon-holed myself. I knew the industry would probably do that, but as an actor, I knew I had to truly believe that I could play any role. What I've found is that as a WOC, there are so many restrictions to what we can be or be seen as doing [onscreen/onstage]. For me, even as a kid before I caught the acting bug, those restrictions never applied to me. It meant that not a lot of people “got” me, which could be tough, but it's served me well. I've played a variety of parts onstage and screen—strong, vulnerable, goofy, boring, plain, charismatic, silly, defiant. I'm very lucky.

JB: You’ve worked on an array of theater projects at some of the most prestigious theaters across the UK. I’m interested in your role in Three Birds. What was it like to develop that project and bond with the other girls to bring that story to life?
SW: Three Birds was a very special experience, as I had to play a character who frightened me on paper. Tanika was a nine-year-old dealing with the death of her mother. I was, at the time, a 25-year-old dealing with the death of her father. There were overlaps and alien challenges, but I think I managed to pull it off because director Sarah Frankcom is one of the best directors around right now. I had a ball on that show and gained a lot of confidence.

JB: How did your role on the E4 TV series Chewing Gum (currently streaming on Netflix!) come about?
SW:
I auditioned for Chewing Gum like everyone else—quite a boring story! I had played Michaela [Coel]’s younger sister in Three Birds, so I guess it made sense to someone that I play her younger sister in Chewing Gum, too! I think shows like Insecure, Fleabag, and Crashing (which I was also in a bit) are changing the TV landscape, because they are allowing previously unrepresented women to come to the forefront and create their own pieces. They're not just creating opportunities for themselves, but paving the way for others in the process—allowing diverse voices to become the new normal.

Susan Wokoma, with Michaela Coel (left) in a production still from Chewing Gum. Courtesy of E4. 

Susan Wokoma, with Michaela Coel (left) in a production still from Chewing Gum. Courtesy of E4. 

JB: You also appear in the television series Crazyhead. Can you tell me a little bit about your character and the series?
SW: Crazyhead is about two women (myself and Cara Theobold) who can see demons hiding in the bodies of humans. These dudes are bad news, and it's up to us to get rid of them. Except we don't really know what we're doing! Raquel is a self-proclaimed demon hunter, but isn't very good at it. She's strange, sweet, funny, brave and desperate for a friend in Cara's “Amy.” It's a comedy horror show that puts the budding friendship of these two women front and center.

JB: What do you love about living in London? Would you ever live anywhere else?
SW: Its multiculturalism, hands down. I've never known anything else other than racially mixed spaces. I didn't realize how special London was in that regard until I started traveling. I'd totally live in New York—I've worked there twice and fell in love with it, but then there are huge similarities to London.

JB: What does 2017 look like for you?
SW: I'm writing a lot. I've been commissioned to write a comedy pilot, but I'm also writing a feature film—a passion project very close to my heart. That, and protesting. That's what I plan to do. No more time for hashtag activism. I think we've all been scared into activism. Doing my bit politically, a lot of self-care, and seeking out great creative challenges: that's my 2017. ★


Credits: Three Birds, (Bush Theatre, 2013), Horrible Science (Television, 2015), Burn Burn Burn (Feature, 2015), Game (Almeida Theatre, 2015), Crazyhead (Television, 2016), Henry VI and Julius Caesar (2013, Donmar Warehouse/St. Ann’s) Chewing Gum (Television, 2017)