IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL WARD
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Micheal Ward is a Jamaican-British Actor best known for his role as Jamie in Netflix’s highly acclaimed drama ‘Top Boy’. Most recently, Micheal was seen starring opposite Olivia Coleman and Colin Firth in the highly anticipated ‘Empire of Light’, which received a nomination for Best Cinematography at the 95th Academy Awards. For his role in ‘Empire of Light’, Micheal has been nominated for his second BAFTA award and in the best supporting actor category for the 76th British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.
Micheal, the viewers know you best from your role as Jamie in Netflix’s series ‘Top Boy’, which was your breakout role. For this role you have won the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2020. How has ‘Top Boy’ changed your life and your career?
‘Top Boy’ was my breakout role and I think what it’s done by changing my life and career is to give me the opportunity to be put in front of amazing filmmakers, build a fan base and just have people that really support me and champion me. That support doesn’t go unnoticed. I learnt so much whilst filming ‘Top Boy’ because it was my first leading role and everything I learnt then, I implement into my work now. ‘Top Boy’ was big gamechanger in terms of life and career for sure.
Just recently, you’ve starred alongside Olivia Coleman and Colin Firth in Sam Mendes’ ‘Empire of Light’, a romantic drama set in an English coastal town in the early 1980s. The film is about the power of human connection during turbulent times. How would you sum up this film and it’s story, as it’s dealing with some very pressuring topics?
I’d describe this film as like you guys said. The importance of human connection, but also just a love story between people that are lonely. And I think that is what makes it special, because I don’t think Hilary and Stephen would have connected had they not been lonely. I think ultimately it’s just a great story about how race, age and all those things don’t matter once you connect with someone and I think that’s what’s special about this story. I think the topics need to be spoken about and addressed to allow people to have a conversation, which is the most beautiful part about telling stories.
For your role as Stephen in ‘Empire of Light’, your performance has been appraised as “one of the best of 2022” and has earned you the nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the 2023 BAFTA Awards. What contributed so much to such a powerful and incredible performance?
That is very flattering, I truly appreciate it. I think what was special about this process of building the character of Stephen was the time I had. By the time I knew I had the role, I’d just finished shooting a movie in Italy and I had time to sit down with Sam, really ask those questions and sit down with my voice coach Miriam Lucia to make sure I found something else that differed from me, but still resonated in terms of my vocal range and stuff like that. A lot of the time was spent working with my acting coach Gary Nurse. Everyday we were doing the scenes in different ways, just to have fun, but also as Gary is older than me, he’d take me to events where there were lots of people around the same age as Hilary’s character, with music playing that’s within the screenplay and just vibing and watching them be lost in that for me was really helpful as well. Just doing a lot of work with Gary and being able to get rehearsal time with Sam made it an amazing process.
How honored does it make you feel to receive such appraisal and recognition for your work? And how does such reward fire you up in your career?
For me to receive honors like being nominated, it allows me to know that we’re doing something right. Me and my team and the people that represent me, it means we’re moving in the right direction in terms of just getting the stories that we want made and telling the stories that we want to tell. Being recognised in that way is just a special feeling. Ultimately, I just feel blessed and I want to make sure that every time I’m being championed, more and more opportunities are being created for my people.
You were born in Jamaica and then moved to the UK at the age of four. How hard would you say it was for you to accomodate to a new, foreign country? How does your heritage play a role in your personality and also in your career?
I was so young, so I didn’t really know any different. I just had to adapt to where my mum was going and that was fine for me I guess. I think what it’s allowed for me to do, because I’ve always felt a bit displaced as we moved around a lot in the UK as well, is to connect with people faster. I don’t really have a guard up when I meet people, you just connect on a real level, which for me I think has been beneficial because when I go into rooms where there’s loads of people who could be influential to my future career, I can do that without nerves taking over. Even though I do still feel that sometimes, I think it’s much less than someone that might not have grown up in my circumstances.
Before your breakthrough role in TV, you also did some modeling. What makes you passionate about fashion?
I used to do modeling because I just really used to love taking pictures and looking good. And for me that’s really what fashion is all about, just having your own kind of personality through the way you dress. When I see some of my friends, I know that what suits one of them might not suit the other. Everyone has their own sort of style and that’s what I love about fashion, that you can identify yourself through clothes. I just like looking good, because I feel like when you look good, you feel good and when you feel good, you look good. It all just goes hand in hand.
Which moment would you describe as your most daring fashion moment to date, either at a fashion show or on the red carpet?
I’d say my most daring fashion moment to date would be the BET Hip Hop Awards, where I wore a bright pink denim on denim outfit and I just really loved it. It was very much me, but to wear bright pink in a place I’d never been before felt quite daring. I had a back up outfit just in case I changed my mind at the last minute, but when I put it on, I felt good so I wore it.
It was recently announced that we’ll be seeing you soon in ‘The Book of Clarence’, opposite James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch. What can you share with us about this film? How excited were you to be cast on a film with such an epic cast?
‘The Book of Clarence’ is just an exciting opportunity to be cast on such an expansive cast list as that, with so many people I love and respect. It’s just truly amazing. I can’t wait for people to see it. I’m not going to say too much on the film, but I’ve wrapped now and I’m super excited for people to see what I’ve done with this character and also just to see the story and the impact that it has on people.
Soon you’ll also star in Netflix’s ‘The Beautiful Game’, a film that follows a football team as they travel from London to Rome for the Homeless World Cup. In the film, you portray The talented striker Vinny, who the team decides to bring with them at the last minute. What is the most powerful message of this upcoming film?
I’d say the most powerful message of the film is about inclusivity. And no spoilers, but we can’t just save ourselves, we have to save each other. We all need someone to help us in our time of need and I think that’s what the most important message is. Like ‘The Book of Clarence’, I can’t wait for people to see it, as I think Thea has done an incredible job at bringing amazing people together and I’m so proud of it.
We’ve heard that you are quite the football fan. In what ways would you say football and acting are similar?
I feel like I’ve been getting into football a lot more since the EURO in 2021. I’d say the similarities are that you’ve got to be dedicated and focused to reach the levels that you want to reach. Neither profession is easy and I love the impact you have on people. Obviously I haven’t done theatre yet, but I feel the reason why stadiums like Old Trafford feel like the theatre of dreams is because people get live reactions and entertained. It’s all entertainment that you can get lost in.
- Talent: Micheal Ward @michealward
- Photo: Kosmas Pavlos @kosmaspavlos
- Stylist: Emily Tighe @emilysusantighe
- Groomer: Eyesha Yates @eyeshayates
- Photo assistants: Luke Johnson & Grant Hammilton @lukejohnsonphotographic
- Digital imaging: Alexandra Heindl @dienachbarin
- Fashion assistants: Alfred Humphries, Abi Robins, Zoha Khan @alfredhumphries @abirobins_ @zohaak
- Editor: Timi Telonja @timiletonja
- Cover design: Arthur Roeloffzen @arthurroeloffzen
- Special Thanks to Public Eye Communications, Georgia Cooke, Ellie Norton @publiceyecomms @georgiacooke.x @esnorton93