"You don't often see shows that have two Black leads on primetime BBC One. I can't even remember the last time that happened. So I feel like this is a huge moment."
Set to be one of the funniest new comedies of 2023, Black Ops, co-created by Gbemisola Ikumelo and Akemnji Ndifornyen starts Friday on BBC One and stars Gbemisola and Hammed Animashaun as Dom and Kay, two Police Community Support Officers who join the Met Police in the hope of cleaning up their community.
However, they quickly find themselves unwittingly thrust into the murky world of deep-cover infiltration and when they meet one of the leaders of the infamous Brightmarsh Gang, Tevin, played by Akemnji, their lives become more of a fiasco than Donnie Brasco.
I recently caught up with Black Ops star Hammed Animashaun, who I truly believe is a future star that you'll soon be seeing in everything, to talk about the unusual way he discovered he'd got the part, the significance of being on primetime BBC One, working with Gbemisola Ikumelo and Akemnji Ndifornyen and so much more!
I was at the special screening you had in London for the series, what was it like watching it on the big screen and hearing such a positive reaction in the room?
It was such a relief. Personally, as an actor, shooting the show I don't really think about what happens afterwards. I had such a great time during filming, I met some amazing people, I worked with great people and it was one of those things where I was just having a great time with people I admired. Then the job's finished and you just move on.
I didn't really think about the show coming out and people who I don't know, watching it. I was really nervous on that Monday of the screening. I couldn't really figure out why because I've been an actor for nearly 15 years but had never been that nervous before.
But when the laughs came. It really alleviated a lot of pressure and nerves that I had going into that night.
An actor for almost 15 years, but this is your first major television role. How did your journey into acting and where you are today, begin?
I say 15 years, that's probably a stretch, but I've been acting for a while. I started off loving to perform. Loving to make my friends laugh. I was a really bad class clown. Really disruptive. So apologies to all my teachers. They know who they are.
I'd perform for my mum and make her laugh in the living room. That transferred into school and then my drama teacher at the time said I should really think about this as a career and really pushed me and supported me. I never thought it could happen to someone like me. Coming from a working-class background. A person of colour.
I'd not really seen many people like myself on screen and on stage so I thought it was a stretch that I'd even make it, let alone leading a TV show. So it was the support of my friends, family and my drama teacher Fran Cervi who really pushed me.
How would you best describe Black Ops then?
Black Ops is a comedy thriller set around these two Black PCSO officers who are thrust into an undercover job to infiltrate this criminal gang, but everything is not as it seems. It goes from bad, to worse, to even worse, to terrifying, to life-threatening. There are a lot of twists and turns.
How did approach the balance between comedy and thriller in your performance?
I think that's done with the writing, you know. The writing was key. When you've got amazing creators like AK (Akemnji Ndifornyen) and Gbemi (Ikumelo) and the co-creators, Joe (Tucker) and Lloyd (Woolf) who were just masters in their craft. They created this world where you can buy the fact that these two hapless characters can walk in this world of really life-threatening situations and still make it really light and funny. I think it's down to the writing. Absolutely.
And you play Kay. Who is he and how does he fit into the story?
Kay is a man who lives in optimism. A god-fearing man who sees the good in every single person he meets. There's always a reason for everything. There's a reason why everyone does something. He believes that no one is born bad or anything like that.
This makes him slightly gullible and naive which puts him in a lot of trouble because he feels he can be safe in any scenario or situation that he might be put in. But he finds out during the series that that's not always the case.
He's just a really nice guy. Too nice though.
Kay's relationship with Dom, played by Gbemi, is so key to the story. How would you best describe their relationship? Because despite initial resistance, they really need each other, don't they?
They do. They really do. Kay needs Dom to keep him grounded so that he doesn't float too high and get lost. And Dom needs Kay to attempt to see the good in people. Not everything is particularly black and white and those two characteristics marry really well.
They behave like siblings. They don't get on. But they know that the only way to get out of the situation that they're in is if they stick together. There's no way one can survive without the other.
That's what I think is really great about the show. It's not just a buddy cop comedy, I think people will be familiar with the characteristics of Dom and Kay and see that as siblings or cousins or members of family or friends, just because you don't get on all the time, it doesn't mean that there's not a connection there.
They realise that really quickly. In episode two they realise that they can't do this without each other.
What was it like working with Gbemi?
That's been a dream come true for me. I've been the biggest fan of Gbemi for the longest time. I've seen her on stage. I've seen her on screen. So for me, working with her was a tick off the bucket list. The same with AK as well. I've admired these two for most of my career. Having the opportunity to work with them, has honestly been a dream come true.
I met AK a few years ago at an event, but I've admired him from afar and I feel like that might have been reciprocated so we exchanged numbers. And then he sent me the script for Black Ops for me to read and we went from there.
Speaking of AK sending you the script, is it true you didn't know it's because he wanted you to play Kay?
Yeah, that's true. AK called me one day and said "There's this script I'd like you to read. Give it a read and let me know what you think." So I read it. Love it. And I tell him that. Then, a little while goes by and he asks me if I'm free to do the readthrough and I'm like "Sure." because this is someone I really admire, who I've watched from afar and love their work. Any way I can help someone I admire, I will do that.
Anyway, did the readthrough. So much fun. And then, again, a little while goes by and he reaches out and says "Are you free to shoot the pilot?" and I was like "100%. I'm down. I'm there." Shot the pilot. I think we shot it in six days and then a little while goes by and we were doing some ADR for the pilot, so I meet him again in the studio.
We're just chatting and I ask him "How are things going with the show? I hope it's all going well." he goes "Yeah, it's been picked up" and I go "Bro, I'm so happy for you man. This is great. I'm so happy for you and Gbemi. This is amazing. Finally a show on BBC One, this is going to be crazy,"
Then he was like "Yeah, yeah... so, you're doing it, yeah?" and I was like "What? Me? Yeah yeah. If that's what you want. I'll do it." There was not one moment throughout this whole saga where I thought I was attached to this show and they wanted me to play Kay. I thought I was just helping out friends.
Do you think you're similar to Kay in any way?
Maybe a little bit. Gbemi says I have this unrelenting optimism. I'm always joyful. She tells this story of how when we have to do really early morning calls, I come in like "Let's get the day done!" and she's like "Shut up. It's too early."
So I guess in that sense, I guess I am. But I don't think I have as much optimism as Kay. I think he's a bit extreme.
How well do you think you'd do if you were ever asked to go undercover?
I'd be terrible. Awful. Sweating. Stammering. Terrible. Don't put me undercover!
What were some of your favourite scenes to film?
My favourite scene to film was the start of episode two, without giving anything away. That was actually our last day of the shoot and it was a night shoot. We were in the middle of nowhere in East London, Waltham Forest or somewhere.
That was so much fun because all of us had worked so hard. It was such a busy shoot. So much to do in a short space of time. Then we got to that point where we had the whole night to really go for it.
From what I can remember, everyone's energy was UP. We had such a great time, that night. Me and Gbemi LAUGHED. Me, Gbemi, Ben - the director - I think AK was there, and we just laughed. It was so much fun. Everyone was in such good spirits.
There were many moments where we thought "Oh this could be something special" but that night in particular made me feel like this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
We're not going to spoil the twist at the end of episode one which leads to that scene you've just been talking about. How do you think audiences are going to respond? There were gasps in the room at the screening.
Yeah, there were. I wasn't expecting that. I thought people would clock that. But you know what, I have no idea. I always gauge stuff based on my partner. When she watches the first episode of a show, she's always figuring out how the series is going to end.
Usually, she gets it right. So when she saw it and I saw her reaction, she had no idea. So then I was like, wicked, this is going to be great. So when the gasps happened in the room I realised this is really fun.
There are more twists and turns in the show. That's just twist one. There's another twist in episode two. Then again in three. There's so much more to come that you have no idea where the show's going to go. I love how already, people are thinking this show is one thing, but as soon as they see it, they'll realise it's not that at all.
How important is it that this show is being given a primetime slot on BBC One?
I think it's really important. Especially for the culture. For people who look like me. You don't often see shows that have two Black leads on primetime BBC One. I can't even remember the last time that happened. So I feel like this is a huge moment.
There also haven't been that many great comedies on television. Ghosts has been amazing. It's such a great show but there's always room for more. The fact Black Ops is coming and hopefully people enjoy it. I really hope they do.
I think it's so important for the culture that you see two black leads in a show that can make you laugh, make you think, and start conversations. I think it's super important and a testament to AK and Gbemi's work ethic and how hard they strived to get this off the ground.
How are you finding the move - at the moment - from stage to screen? Are you missing the stage?
I miss the stage every day. It's part of the job. Look, screen, stage, they're two sides of the same coin. I enjoy both of them the same amount. I have been doing a lot of screen lately and I've been very thankful, blessed and grateful for that.
But I was born on the stage. That's where I started. I cannot wait for the day that I go back.
You've also recently been announced as one of two scripted creators in residence for BBC Studios TalentWorks. First of all, congratulations. Second of all, what will that involve?
Thank you. I'm very excited. It's a programme where I work with producers at the BBC, in particular BBC Studios, and we work on scripted content. Comedy, drama, I can't really speak too much on it, but I'm working really hard to try and create something really cool and interesting. Maybe funny. Maybe dramatic.
I've never really thought of myself as a writer before, so this is definitely a new avenue for me when it comes to creating work. I've always been just an actor. So going down this route, I'm learning so much already. I'm really grateful that the BBC, in particular BBC Studios, have taken a chance on me. I'm excited to see where it goes.
What's next for you?
I'm currently filming The Wheel of Time, season two. We're deep in that at the moment so that's been my focus. It's going really well. It's really fun. As for anything else, I can't really talk about it, but it's good stuff.
Black Ops starts Friday 5th May at 9.30pm on BBC One with all episodes available on iPlayer