Bulletproof Season 1 Q&A with Noel Clarke
Noel Clarke is a UK legend with whom Americans may not be so familiar. He has over twenty years holding down roles in “Doctor Who”; winning awards like the Olivier and a BAFTA; writing, directing and producing the trilogy of Kidulthood, Adulthood, and Brotherhood, to name a few accomplishments. I got to catch up with him recently to talk about his latest project, "Bulletproof." Not only does he portray the lead role of Bishop, whom we all will live vicariously through, but he and co-lead actor Ashley Walters are also co-creators. This action-packed cop drama was inspired by the 90's American movies like Bad Boys, Lethal Weapon, and Beverly Hills Cop. Buckle up for a great summer show with action, drama, and comedy set on the streets of London! Bulletproof premiered August 7th in the US on the CW network. So catch up on the CW site, app or on-demand with Episode 1! Episode 2 airs tonight, August 14th
Q: Ashley had mentioned in his interview that you both decided to write the roles to be opposite of what each of your lives was like at the time. Talk to me about what was the most fun part about playing Bishop and what was the most challenging part?
Noel Clarke: It's interesting because when we first came up with the concept (of the show) the whole point was he (Ashley) was considered at the time (8 years ago) quite an "edgy" prospect by the media - different kids, different women, etc. and I, of course, was in Doctor Who and other British shows and was probably seen (as) more of the goody-goody type guy. In the time it took to get going, I had two more children (all with the same person), but I also became a lot more confident and outspoken in my work and in my movies. By the time we got going, we weren't that far apart, in terms of, being seen as sort of disruptors in a weird kind of way. Not troublemakers but people who want to stand up for what we believe in. We actually ended up being nearer than when we initially thought of the idea. Being someone who's married (in real life) with the same woman for twenty years plus and having three kids with the same person; to play a character that is a bit free and wild and a bit crazy and has no one to depend on is interesting because to see what makes the character work much like what makes Mel Gibson work in Lethal Weapon and what makes Will Smith's character in Bad Boys. It's kind of like they can do the crazy irrational things because they don't really have anyone to go home to or care about. But what happens with Ashley's character (Pike) - he can't bump through the window, and he can't do the crazy stuff because he has to think about his kids, his wife - and Bishop (my character) just doesn't have that which gives him that edge which allows him to things that the audience members go "man this criminal is so bad if I were the cop I would do that; I wish he would do that" but then my character does it, and the audience will be "I can't believe he did that!" That's kind of where we wanted to take that character.
Q: So what did you tap into to take your performance there? Was it freeing and gratifying to be able to push things?
NC: Yeah, I tapped into my thought process. I'm one of those people, without spoiling too much, there's an episode where we catch a criminal, and my character has a crowbar, and this criminal has done some pretty bad stuff. I am the guy at home that would go "Man I wish you could just hit him with a crowbar, I would love to see a cop just hit him with a crowbar because he's such a bad criminal". So I just tapped into that and so the character does it! So Bishop looks at this criminal, and he hits him with a crowbar, and the audience goes, "Oh my god! that’s what I wanted!” That’s what I had to tap into that inner voice that I think everyone has and it separates the kind of people who are sane and the people that are slightly not. Everyone has that inner voice when your boss is talking down to you or a colleague at work is so patronizing and you (think) I would love to slap the gold teeth out your mouth, but you kind of will go, “I will never do that, I'll take the insult, I'll go home complain to my partner, I'll sit on the couch eat a tub of ice cream and go back to work the next day,” but Bishop will do it, and that's what we wanted - to tap into the freeing part of the character and just knowing that he will do those sorts of crazy things. He's the voice in your head that wishes you could, and that's a good thing to play!
Q: What's the most gratifying for you with getting this project off the ground and now almost finished filming season two? Looking back, what were some standout moments for you with filming season one between storylines you addressed, etc.?
NC: I think the proudest thing for us (Ashley and I) is the show broke real ground; we didn’t really ever have a show over here in the (UK) with two Black male leads where, number one, it’s not an issue that they’re Black - it’s never mentioned - and two, that they were both positive; one wasn't a drug dealer or a criminal and that they were both cops and weren't crooked cops. They were straight down the line cops, yeah they do what they can to catch the bad guys and I think that was something groundbreaking here, and for it to be the number one show on the UK network and for a prestigious network like the CW to pick it up I think that's the proudest thing really. I've done a lot of shows, as has Ashley, and he's about to have Top Boy on Netflix, but even that's recent. It's taken us both twenty years to have something like that, and I've been creating for a long time, and my films have been sold to America. CW is a main channel, like a proper station, so I think considering we came up with this in a coffee shop in London, we should do this together and it's taken all these years to get on screen, then it got made, was the number one show over here, and everyone was surprised and we were kind of like we're not surprised because we thought people would like it and this is why we did it and then we hear that an American network has picked it up and (will) actually play our show - I think for two guys (in what you would call projects) in London council estates that grew up in that environment and who didn't go to drama school or writing school, I think it's like a massive achievement! The fact that those two guys - a lot of their friends are in jail, etc. - have a show where they’re playing cops, selling it to America, getting played on the CW, that’s the pride right there!
Q: Looking at all your credits, how did you make the jump from acting to writing, directing, and producing and just learning the business side of things? With whom did you work to make these transitions through the different stages, and what was the process like to make that jump?
NC: I feel like everything happened by necessity; I'm a social learner. I never set out to be all of these things. I'm the kind of person if I feed a dog and he bites me, he's not going to have an opportunity to bite me again because I'm going to learn from that situation. So I only ever wanted to be an actor, and when I realized very early on in my acting career, within weeks of doing a job then not getting an agent for a year, I realized this isn’t going to go the way I wanted it to go unless I make it happen. So I started writing, I wrote a few things then Kidulthood got made, and it was a massive hit, and then I wrote the second one, Adulthood, then the director said "I'm going to LA, I don't want to do it" so there's no film. I said why is my destiny in his hands, this is not going to happen unless I direct it, so someone gave me an opportunity to direct, so I directed the movie then on the next movie I was a name producer and I'm walking around puffing my chest out (laughs) for 4, 3,2,1, and the real producers who were doing the work, they robbed me and I didn’t get paid for that film to this day, so I was like oh now I need to learn how to produce properly so it won’t happen again, and then I learned how to produce. Do you see what I'm saying? Everything happened by necessity, and metaphorically that dog bit me each time or a different dog bit me each time and every time I got bit I said that's not happening again, so I taught myself and learned myself all these different things so that people didn't take advantage of me and that's how you learn. I don't want to be as crass to say that's how you learn in the streets but where I'm from that's how you learn. Say you walk down a dark road and a guy robs your pocket money, you don't walk down that road again or if you do you make sure you give him a slap before he takes your money. So it became like a learned habit if someone wronged you or a dog bit you, you made sure you didn't get bitten again, and that's essentially how I built my writing, directing, producing career to the point where acting-wise I won Olivier's, British Academy awards for movies and I run a company with my business partner, and we produce films and television. That's how it happened!
Q: With this new show, did you put on any new actors or on the music side of things, include any particular UK artists, as it seems that UK music is really having a big moment in the last few years?
NC: There’s a kid called Hope who’s in there for season 2, he’s also going to be in the new Top Boy. But for season one, which is what you are going to see, look at Lashana Lynch! Fast Girls was her first movie, and then we put her in Brotherhood and then in Bulletproof [she was also just announced in the new Bond film & was in Captain Marvel]! She’s now in a place in her career where she is going to be able to pick and choose what she will do! Of course, I'm massively proud of her! Ashley Thomas who just got the lead in new Amazon show he's started in my films, Aml Ameen, David Ajala there's so many guys I've sort of worked within their early years and sort of sent them on their way & their talent takes them where they need to go, but I saw their talent way back when!
Q: I know you are receiving an achievement award in September by the British Urban Film Festival, so congrats in advance on that. Also being a dad of three boys, talk about legacy and what that looks like for you.
NC: For me, I just want to be someone that my boys can look at and can be proud of. I stood up for myself, and I always said and thought what I did was right, and I taught them how to be good people. For me that's the key - acting is flakey and directing is flakey but for me the most important thing is making sure I raised those children to be the best people they can be, and I don't mean to just excel at what they do, but be kind and good to other people. I try to (make sure) all my work always has some sort of message - there is always something about the point if you behave like this, this is what can happen, or just because you did bad things doesn't mean you are a bad person, people make mistakes. The whole Hood trilogy is that sort of change, you can come out of prison and that life and be a better person and so I think I just want to be known as someone that inspired change in people, someone who gave people opportunities from places where they would never get opportunities and set them on their way to becoming the stars and talented people that we always knew we were. Because someone gave me an opportunity and I've been in this career longer than most marriages (laughs) I've been literally working for twenty years at a decent level in this career, and I think that in itself is an achievement. I just want to keep working!
Q: What was the most fun part about working with Ashley on this show? Having not worked together before was it everything you thought it would be?
NC: If I'm being honest I think it's more than we (especially Ashley) thought it would be. Obviously, people see the business side of me, and wow he's succeeded and achieved so much he must be a certain way, and I think even Ashley wasn't sure how I would be. Even when we worked together and conceptualized the show and the document that became the show, he didn't really spend a lot of time with me. I was the one that was out pounding the pavement trying to produce it; he really didn't know much about producing at that time, whereas now he knows a heck of a lot! I think he thought it was going to be a lot more serious than it was, but the truth is we laugh consistently! I have him in tears every day; when he laughs, he sweats so sometimes he's off-camera, and it's on me, and it's on the back of his head - he's trying to keep still and his shoulders are shaking, and he's sweating down the back of his neck, and the whole crew is in tears laughing. We laugh all the time, and I think it was a lot funnier and light-hearted than he ever thought it would be, and myself as well. We got on a lot more than we believed we would have and I think the one regret we have is that we never really paid attention to each other enough to collaborate years earlier. It was kind of one of those things where he's doing so well over there, and I'm doing well over here that we don't really need to get together. We achieved so much more in one project together than individually, and I think that really shined through and that's why we love the show!
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