In the fast lane with O-T Fagbenle

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O-T Fagbenle is a man on the move. Currently performing in the BBC One crime drama The Interceptor  where he plays Special Agent Marcus “Ash” Ashton, a customs officer recruited into a secret branch of undercover detectives to hunt down criminals. It’s a role where he can’t sit still for long in a relentless quest for justice. I chat to O-T in a rare moment of downtime, he’s off duty and driving from one end of the country to another to visit family. The story goes that O-T was spotted after being hired to play Saxophone in a Shakespeare production. He ended up playing a starring role, which led to RADA, LA and beyond. We talk about movies, writing, music and behavioural biology …

 When did you finish filming The Interceptor?
We actually finished at the end of last year. We filmed for sixth months. We got to shoot some iconic London landmarks.

The character is intense and brooding. But he is very likeable because sometimes he gets things wrong. Have you enjoyed playing him?
I think Ash is ultimately quite a flawed, passionate character, sometimes too invested. There are these really amazing detectives who have this kind of Columbo-esque dispassionate view of the world, but I think what was compelling about playing Ash is that he has very little self control. He does contradict himself sometimes and barrels through emotion towards justice and making things right. It was challenging to play that, to try and find the diversity and emotions within a man who feels so intensely.

So there was lots of material for you to work with?
He lives in a binary world, of right and wrong and good and evil, he is someone who is going to take a stand come hell or high water.

You seem to have juggled a strong theatrical background with a burgeoning Hollywood career – how have you managed that?
Oh – if there was management to it, I’d love to thank those who were pulling the strings. (He laughs and then considers.) I find It hard to do anything that I’m not in love with  – as I get older I get more particular about that.

Backstage magazine named you one of the top 30 actors to watch in 2014. How does it feel when you read and hear such things?
It’s weird. To some extent these things are not really things – they aren’t real – you can’t think too much about other peoples idea of who you are or indeed your own idea of yourself. That way madness lies. So I try as much as possible not to allow myself to dwell on such surface things in terms of my career. I try to connect myself to the arts and telling stories – those are things I can always do, things I have control over – but if someone picks me out as the one to watch well, these things I have no control over.

And as well as being an actor you are also a musician?
The small success I’ve had in music comes from being at the right time right place, rather than any overwhelming talent, I did spend six months writing songs and then it so happens that those songs got picked up by NBC Quarterlife for a show called Looking that I got involved with. (He also starred as Frank in the show.) Music has always been part of my life but not necessarily in a professional way, it helps me deals with reality.

Tell me about your work as writer and director?
I’ve always been interested in comedy – but there is amazing institution called the Theatre Royal Stratford East that was the home of Nigeria for the 2012 Olympics, they had a fund to support actors from the diaspora and I applied and I managed to get some money. I think a lot of artists used the money to help them whilst they were writing. I said I’m going to put every single penny into making this short film and along with my brother Dapo, we sketched out an idea over a week or so and we were really excited about the results – we are currently looking at doing a television show.

Have you always written?
More recently I started fleshing out ideas of stories I wanted to tell and so my second film – Moth, which won best horror sci-fi movie at the London Film Festival this year is a story about children who grew up with addict parents, or mentally ill parents, I wanted to tell that story, so I guess I’ve always written.

I have seen a teaser for your film called Big Bad Blood online. It’s very funny. Do you have any comedic references when writing and directing?
I have always been a fan of Back To The Future, Ghostbusters, the Goonies, there was a genre in the ‘80s of a kind of film that was cheeky and fun. I loved those films and miss them so Big Bad Blood is my take on that.

And what plans are in the pipeline for the future?
I’m filming for Sky at the moment, I can’t say any more, but its something I’m really proud of…

O-T trails off, he is bidden to secrecy over the project and can’t say any more just now. Digging a little deeper with my research I am struck by the sheer volume and variety of work O-T has generated and been involved in. It’s clear that he is a man of myriad interests and has the energy to make them happen. And he’s still got hours in the car before he reaches his destination.

What will you do to pass the time?
I’m a real geek,  I’ve downloaded a lecture series to listen to … Behavioural Biology …

Enough said…

by Gabriella Crewe-Read

All photographs: Justin van Vliet

The Interceptor is broadcast on Wednesday BBC 1, 9.00pm

You can also find O-T on twitter and instagram