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Britain’s black actors must be given a better choice of roles, says star of Spielberg series

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Treva Etienne: 'We will be destroying a
generation of actors if we give these
opportunities to one kind of kid at Eton.'
Photograph: Blinkit Photography

A London actor who has won a lead role in
Steven Spielberg’s television sci-fi series
Falling Skies has joined calls to increase
opportunities for aspiring black and mixed-
race British actors.
A future generation of screen and stage
talent is being wasted, says Treva Etienne,
who is the latest in a line of black British
actors to thrive in America – following Idris
Elba in The Wire , David Oyelowo in The
Butler, Marianne Jean-Baptiste in Without a
Trace , David Harewood in Homeland, and
Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film 12 Years a Slave .
Speaking to the Observer this weekend from
Hollywood, Etienne called for a better
balance of parts for black newcomers at
home.
In recent years a number of actors who went
to top public schools have become household
names, such as Damian Lewis, Dominic West,
Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, the
Downton Abbey actor Julian Ovenden and
Harry Lloyd – who has made the forthcoming
film about Stephen Hawking’s life with a
fellow Old Etonian, Eddie Redmayne.
Etienne believes these talented actors are
there because they had more chances as
teenagers. Actors should be drawn from as
wide a pool as possible, he said.
“We will be destroying a generation of actors
if we give these opportunities just to one
kind of kid at Eton and not to others,” he
said. “And these two kinds of kids are going
to meet each other in later life and they are
going to see the difference. Acting should not
just work for one class of kids. It should work
for all kids.”
Etienne, 49, who plays the role of Dingaan
Botha in Falling Skies , is the son of a bus
driver and learned his acting craft by joining
youth drama schemes in the capital,
including the National Youth Theatre, the
Anna Scher Theatre, the Royal Court and the
Black Theatre Co-operative’s season at the
Riverside theatre in Hammersmith. Although
some of these groups are still going, many
have lost funding, and Etienne argues that
all Britain’s bigger cities should have projects
like these.
“Young people need a place to go to create
something. It develops your confidence,
whether you are going to be an actor or not.
It helps you build up your personality.”
Before leaving for LA, Etienne worked with
the former film council to increase diversity
in British cinema and he believes there have
been improvements. “You have got to keep
pushing open the doors. Every new idea has
to keep knocking until somebody listens. At
some point it will change.”
As well as criticising the lack of opportunity
for black youths, Etienne urged British TV
producers to take more risks. Echoing the
recent comments of black actors and writers,
such as Kwame Kwei-Armah , who have
found more scope in America, he feels that a
greater mix of drama is needed: “There
should be more diversity to the projects – not
just the same tried and tested, familiar
things. Otherwise we will get an even
greater domination of American television
drama.”
He would love to come back to Britain to
produce or star in a series that tackled life in
Britain in the 1980s, he said. “I was at school
in Kensal Rise [in north London] then and
we had punk rockers, skinheads and reggae
boys. There was such a mix of cultures and
so much going on. Everybody had their own
style based on the music they liked.”
The greater opportunities in Hollywood are a
reflection of the size of the entertainment
industry there, Etienne admits: “It is just a
bigger place, so there is more of everything
going on. But they always want to try
something different out here.”
The actor, who starred in Black Hawk Down
and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the
Black Pearl, grew up in continue reading.

The Guardian.

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