Bulletproof Season 1 Q&A with Ashley Walters
Ashley Walters is a UK legend you may not be familiar with if you live in the US. First on the scene as Asher D in the early 2000’s garage group “So Solid”, he then moved on to acting. He is probably most notable for his role as Dushane in the acclaimed UK series “Top Boy, “which will be back this fall on Netflix for its long-awaited third season. I got to catch up with him recently to talk about his latest project “Bulletproof”. Not only does he portray the lead role Pike, but he and co-lead actor Noel Clarke are also co-creators. This action packed cop drama was inspired by the 90’s US 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 premieres August 7th in the US on the CW network. Stay tuned for next Wednesday for my Q&A with Noel Clarke!
Q: Talk about how this project came about and why you wanted to put it out on your own with Noel Clarke?
Ashley Walters: Me and Noel, as Black men. have been pioneering individually all these years. We knew each other but we never worked together. There was a moment together where we ended up sitting together at an awards dinner or something like that and kind of confronted each other, not in an angry way, but just confronted each other about why we never worked together and how powerful it would be if we did . So at that point, we decided to have a meeting and we met up I think the next week. I came to the table with this idea. In the U.K., cop shows, up until this point, are quite detective driven, quite tame, not to be offensive. We never had shows in the U.K. like Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys. Our examples were more like Twilo, Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. So we just felt like growing up on shows like that (Bad Boys, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon), it would be nice to offer the U.K. something like that. At the same time it was also a double whammy with obviously two Black male lead actors. The industry over here in the U.K. had been quite closed to diversity on the screen. It’s changing a lot now and things are happening, but from when we had this idea, it took us eight years to get it on the screen and that was pretty much because people couldn’t see a world where there would be two Black male leads on the show. I know it sounds very funny and weird and different, as that was the attitude over here from all the large production companies and all the people that we were trying to have buy the show and weren’t interested for that reason. We were told consistently to change one of the characters and make one of them white and we said we would never do that and we would take the script to our grave if no one was going to make it. Luckily we met Ann at Sky. Now she’s at Netflix Europe and she just believed in the idea and she thought it would be amazing and here we are!
Q: As a creator, talk about the fine line between patience and persistence as you talk about it taking eight years before the show finally went into production? Was there a point in time that you may have looked into other projects in the UK or come to the US like other actors have, such as Idris Elba or Daniel Kaluuya?
AW: I was lucky that I have always been working. My work has been consistent in the UK especially. I never went into creating this show because I needed to create work for myself. Maybe in the sense I wanted to create the right roles for myself. Just having work in general, which is quite rare, you find a lot of actors kind of struggle between roles, but mine was quite consistent. This show was born out of me personally making a step on what was next and realizing, as an actor in the creative process, you are sometimes at the bottom of the pole when it comes to the whole production process. Most of the creativity comes before and after you have done your performance, and I just wanted to be a part of that. So it was more a labor of love. I will say it was frustrating. Noel has produced I think fifteen feature independent films by himself, so he was quite used to being a producer and this was my first experience. It was difficult really understanding that you have to be patient. You can’t just walk into a boardroom and shake people up (laughes). You have to give people time to come around to things. It was difficult. Noel will tell you himself, I used to call him sometimes at three in the morning. I would wake up in a cold sweat asking why our show isn’t being made. We’d argue and go through things and, you know, I was angry about it and I didn’t understand the process. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was the best way for it to be, especially for me, because I was just thrown in the deep end. Now on the back end of it and now going into season two, I was more prepared for what it’s all about and understood my role a lot more than in the beginning. For anyone that is trying to make a movie to raise finances or to just write a script or just get people to read, it is the hardest thing in the world. Persistence and consistency is the key!
Q: Tell me how similar or different you are from your character Pike?
AW: Originally, we set up the characters, Pike and Bishop. Noel, in the media personally, was seen as the family guy. Kids, the normal, so to speak. I, via the media, have always been viewed as the bad boy coming from So Solid and [with] some of the press I’ve had. So we decided straight off the bat to swap roles. Let’s do the opposite of what people think we’re going to be. My character Pike is like the family guy, well to do organized man, kids. Bishop is coming from the wrong side of the tracks, grown up in [foster] care, etc. We tried to set it up in the beginning to be opposite, but what has happened is we’ve ended up being more like our characters than we actually thought since we had the idea! I’ve got married, I’ve had two kids with my wife, I already had kids before. There’s a lot of me in the character at the moment. It was always, if you’re trying to create a world [with] three dimensional characters that people are going to try to buy into, you should always try and put parts of yourself in that character. The best actors do. Leshana Lynch, in this season, plays my wife. In picking her for the role, [it] was important to us [that] we felt representation. Black couples shown on screen was pretty poor, so we wanted to show a marriage that wasn’t falling apart, very strong, and [with] two people supporting each other. We thought that was really important to portray. It went down really well and people really appreciated that. In our industry, on the surface over here in the U.K., it’s a lot different than the States. So…power moves like that especially in London [are] a really huge thing.
Q: Talk about what story lines we may see this season and what you want the U.S. viewers to get out of the show? How is it going to be fresh and new for us in the States?
AW: I think what’s fresh and exciting about Bulletproof is it’s set in London and [that’s] a big character in the show. We really pushed that a lot. A lot of it was filmed though in Liverpool, not in London (laughs), but made to look like London. Story-wise, it’s a big character. As cops, we are still two Black guys from London. The comedy and camaraderie between us is what the show hinges on, we’re buddies. We’re huge fans of Bad Boys, so that [what] the show is similar to. For a show coming out of London, it’s going to be nothing like you’ve seen before. The levels are really high for us, outing the time and effort from us to making sure our international viewers can appreciate it. I hope people take to it well. If there ever is a time for it to do well in the States, I think it’s now…I hope everyone enjoys it.
Q: In London productions, the seasons are shorter than here in the US, with this first season there are six episodes. You are shooting season two now. Will there be more episodes?
AW: We are shooing eight episodes for season two at the moment. Two of which have been written by Noel and I’ve written one as well. It’s a bigger season, it’s two extra episodes. It’s a tradition in the UK to have really short one-off dramas. When they are written, they’re meant to be one off. Top Boy was the same, it was only meant to be a one-off drama but the popularity demanded it came back for a second season. Depending on how it goes down, Sky will be buying into making more episodes if there is a third season. But the process, that’s pretty much how it works over here.
Q: What’s been the most fun part about working with Noel and are there any tidbits or story lines that you can share with us before we start watching this season?
AW: There’s a powerful story line that runs through the whole season: the story between me and Clarke Peters (Lester Freeman of The Wire fame) who plays my dad in the show. First and foremost, him accepting the offer that we gave him to do the show was amazing; and just finding out his connections to the U.K. which I didn’t know in the beginning. Working with him, that was amazing, one of the best parts of the job for me. On Bulletproof, every day is fun. I know a lot of actors will say this, but for me there is no other set I’ve been on that’s more fun. It’s all about jokes, fun and everyone enjoying their job. Me and Noel are kind of the focal point of that and we kind of want to be a part of it as much as possible. There is hierarchy, as you need in order to get the job don,e but we work as a team. It’s refreshing to wake up every day and go into work. As much as I love all the other shows I worked on and was a part of, they were a lot more intense and emotionally draining than on Bulletproof where we just seem to have fun!
Q: How did the deal with the CW come about? Was that always a goal of yours and Noel’s to bring it internationally?
AW: That was mainly the adults (laughs) when I say that I mean the upper executives. For us, it was always a big thing to have a presence with the show in the States and we were always tentative about it. We don’t want to make a show that is catered just for the US. I don’t think that would be the right thing to do. But in trying to capture London life in its realest form, you can sometimes isolate people. It’s a worry when trying to sell a product overseas, but I think CW just had faith in our product and what we were trying to do.They’re taking a risk in certain respects, which we really appreciate because it’s nothing like what they program. So we’re really thankful that they made a home for us and fingers crossed that [viewers] like it, and we think they will. We really appreciate CW’s support.
Check out the trailer above and tune in August 7th for the US premiere of Bulletproof on The CW network. Drop me a comment about the show or hit me up on Twitter or Instagram.