Glass speaks to British actor Michael Ward


Glass talks to actor Michael Ward about Top Boy, future co-stars and winning that Rising Star award

MICHAEL Ward is “That Guy”. Hell, catch the right teenager on the right day and they might even say he’s ‘THE Guy’. I can imagine no higher testament to his singular Guy-ness than the wide-eyed awe Michael Ward’s name elicited from my 17-year-old cousin. This is a boy whose range of optical expression had, since the morning of his 13th birthday, been limited to side-eyes, eye-rolls and stink-eyes – the holy trinity of adolescent indifference. “Michael Ward,” he said, for once, stupefied, “… he is an absolute guy.”

The ascension to It-Guy happened fast for Ward. In 2016 he was a schoolboy modelling for JD Sports, where he drew enough admiring glances to move onto acting roles in music videos. Soon glances turned to stares, and by 2018 he’d earned a lead role in Blue Story.

If you haven’t seen it, Blue Story is essentially the 21st century answer to West Side Story, but with trigger fingers and gang signs instead of finger snaps and jazz hands. It’s also set in Peckham rather than Manhattan, but let’s not split hairs. Blue Story may not have won 10 Oscars, but the gangland musical already has the feel of a seminal teenage film.

Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Around the same time, Ward was also cast as Jamie in the long-awaited return of Top Boy. In an east London dominated by anti-heroes, Jamie emerged as classically heroic, with the most sympathetic Achilles heel – orphaned younger brothers for whom Jamie is forced to be mother, father, sketchy uncle, maths tutor, sexual health educator, and, every once in a while, big bro. It went well.

For all his flaws, everyone loved Jamie. They loved Ward. Twelve months on, the former JD model is now the face of Louis Vuitton’s AW20 campaign, and star of forthcoming Steve McQueen feature for the BBC, Lover’s Rock. “Beautiful,” he tells me, “It’s going beautiful.”

glass man michael ward issue 44Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Ward’s just returned home from an acting class, smiling a smile of a thousand teeth – he’s a big smiler, in both size and frequency. We’re talking about Ashley Walters, one of The Guys of my generation, and Top Boy’s reigning toppest boy. “I wasn’t too familiar with So Solid [Crew, Ashley Walters’ early 2000s band] to be honest, that’s not really my era,” Ward says, as if the song 21 Seconds was the Magna Carta. “What I find most impactful about Ashley is the fact that he went to America to make Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005) and is still doing something like Top Boy. For me, that’s beautiful.”

Behind Ward, hanging from the wall of his Romford home, is a picture of New York. It’s one of those images that represents the idea of a place as much as it depicts anything in particular, the kind you see on T-shirts, pencil sharpeners, or shaved into a Yankee fan’s skin fade. It’s a picture of a bridge.

“That’s what’s always touched me about Ashley. A lot of people get these opportunities and become completely immersed in the States. Good for them if that’s what they want to do, nothing wrong with it.” Except for the obvious national betrayal. But Ward’s in forgiving mood. “If I make it over there? You already know I’m going to have to show some sort of love to the UK for giving me that big break and allowing me to become whatever it is I’m going to become.”

glass man michael ward issue 44Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Generally Zoom conference background art tells you nothing except how the owner would like to be perceived, never who they actually are. And yet in the current climate it’s become impossible to ignore, hence my inability to take my eyes off Ward’s in-other-circumstances-unspectacular picture of a bridge. It is, though, oddly comforting. There’s no cynical masquerade, just what feels like a genuine insight into one of his guiding principles – ‘You have to be the bridge’.

“For me, having done Top Boy and Blue Story, I’m OK not telling those stories for a while because I feel that those opportunities can be passed on to someone else now.” Correction: by all means cross the bridge to the other side, just don’t pull up the bridge behind you. Either that or Ward just likes bridges. Psychobabble aside, Michael Ward has thought a lot about that next step, about crossing over. He’s even compiled a modest list of potential future co-workers. “You know, Denzel [Washington], Leo [DiCaprio], Christopher Nolan […Christopher Nolan] …”

The barefaced ambition! The complete absence of self-doubt! There’s not a whiff of arrogance or even naivety, just a sense of ‘why not?’ and I feel exhilarated by association. He pauses, racking his brain for the name of another jobbing stiff you may or may not have heard of, then pivots. “To be honest, more than anyone I would love to collaborate with the British actor and writer Daniel Kaluuya.”

Among all the stardust, it’s the fourth name that matters most to Ward, the others suddenly just names on a list. “That’s one person I love – his journey, what he stands for. I’ve studied him for years, you know? So, to then meet him … the way he spoke to me … I just thought ‘this is The Guy’.”

glass man michael ward issue 44Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Back in 2019 when he was first experiencing red carpets and tuxedos, it was Ward who wore my cousin’s expression of wide-eyed awe upon hearing the words “Michael Ward” as they came out the mouths of reporters and photographers. Remove his cuff links and roll up his sleeves, and his arms were likely puckered and pinched from disbelief. He was green: all of it felt remarkable.

Ward would smile and say, “It didn’t have to be like this”,  keen to remain humble, but also as if forgetting his past life would provoke some malevolent spectre to pull that big red rug from under him, snatch the tux off his back and laugh “you didn’t think any of that was actually real, did you?” But it was, and it is.

This year he walked down another big red rug all the way into the Royal Albert Hall, where he would eventually hear the words “Michael Ward” come out of Kaluuya’s mouth. Kaluuya was presenting the Bafta Rising Star Award, an award he himself had won two years prior. This year Ward had won. He cried. His mum wailed. He confirms: “It was beautiful.”

Ward’s ascent has been so whiplashingly swift, what happens if you skip the years of rejection (which most actors face) and go straight to the good bit? “Listen, I’m always just hopeful for a wonderful and fruitful career. And that’s the truth.”

glass man michael ward issue 44

Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

And I believe him. “The thing is, like life didn’t have to be this way. We didn’t have to be speaking right now. There are so many little decisions that your parents made and that you’ve made subconsciously that have allowed you to be in this position. I know that’s definitely true for me. I was born in Jamaica and I still have family there. Sometimes I’ll speak to them and think ‘that could have been me’. That literally could be me sitting in Jamaica, talking to my cousin in England that’s doing so well. When I think about that, I think ‘yeah, I’m in a good position’ and I’m grateful for all of it.”

glass man michael ward issue 44

Michael Ward. Photograph: Nick Thompson

Next up is Steve McQueen passion project, Lover’s Rock, not a bad final stop before crossing over to the other side. It’s a shift in direction for Ward. For one, he smiles more in the 30-second trailer than in his 10 episodes of Top Boy. “It’s funny, people tend to be a bit disappointed that I’m Michael and not Jamie, that I’m not on what he’s on … that I’m so happy.”


by Charlie Navin-Holder

Photographer NICK THOMPSON




Styling assistant THOMAS BRACKLEY

Post production NADIA SELANDER





All clothing and accessories LOUIS VUITTON Pre-Spring 2021