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I TALK TO Vincent Jerome

"Because he's not the most flashy, funny, flamboyant character, my concern was that there would be no growth and that's not interesting to watch. As an actor, that's not interesting to play."

Following a revival on BBC iPlayer during the first lockdown, Waterloo Road returned to our screens a year ago and after an eight-year absence, became the BBC’s second biggest drama title with 16-34-year-olds of the year, behind Happy Valley.

As the latest series (series thirteen) of Waterloo Road reaches its midway point - although of course, all episodes have been available since launch on BBC iPlayer - on Tuesday (episode 4) it's Culture Day at the school and Deputy Heads Lindon and Joe are left in charge, whilst Kim takes a personal day.

And it's a big day for Kelly Jo as she endeavours to discover who she is and where she’s going, whilst presenting her work to the whole school.

Known for its hard-hitting storylines and relatable characters, Waterloo Road reflects modern society with its portrayal of issues including the cost of living crisis, teen homelessness, racism, sexism, being LGBTQ+, mental health, and everything else facing young teens today. But amongst the chaos, the students, faculty, and parents still make time for friendships, fun, and a few romances.

As the latest series of Waterloo Road reaches its midway point this week - although of course, all episodes have been available since launch on BBC iPlayer - on Tuesday (episode 4) it's Culture Day at the school and Deputy Heads Lindon and Joe are left in charge, whilst Kim takes a personal day.

And it's a big day for Kelly Jo as she endeavours to discover who she is and where she’s going, whilst presenting her work to the whole school.

I recently caught up with Vincent Jerome, who plays Deputy Head Lindon King, to talk about the importance of crafting his character’s backstory, the impact Danny’s death has had on Lindon, why it was important for Lindon and Kelly Jo to share scenes in this series and so much more.

Remind us who Lindon King is and where he comes from, because I know from the last time we spoke, that you put a lot of work into that.

Yeah, that was something that we were trying to nail down, and we did. I've always known that Lindon comes from a working-class background. A single-parent family. Rough area. That kind of stuff. And that was the foundation. But when we started to flesh it out, the producers were really generous in letting me craft that backstory.

Because I'm not doing an accent in the show, Lindon had to be from London. In my head and because I grew up in North West London, I thought, “right, Lindon is going to be born and raised on the Stonebridge Estate. He's from Harlesden.” If certain people hear he's from Stonebridge, they'll be like "OK, cool." And know what that means.

It would be easier to say "He's from Hackney" because it's an idea of London that people are familiar with, even if you're not from London. From watching Top Boy or whatever. Or even somewhere like Brixton. There's an idea of those places already. But being from North West London, I wanted something specific to that area. If you know Harlesden and you know he’s from Stonebridge, it brings a level of authenticity.

In the previous series, Lindon always had a definite understanding of Danny, didn't he?

Yeah, absolutely. Lindon's from where Danny's from. Not geographically but Lindon could have been Danny and vice versa. Lindon has friends who were just like Danny, so he's seen where that road could have gone. Which is why he was so tough on Danny to do better.

Danny's death at the end of series 12 was a huge moment for the show. How did you feel when you first read that in the script?

I was actually told by Adam Abbou - who's amazing by the way - when he told me, I was like "Oh, OK." because in some ways, he was the heartbeat of our first two series.

So, it got to the point where Danny was going and there was closure between Danny and Lindon. One of the things that myself and Adam Abbou tried to do and I'm very grateful to our producers for understanding, because suddenly these new scenes would appear.

I'm so grateful to Adam Abbou for really insisting on there being a moment of closure between Danny and Lindon. He really pushed for it and the director, Mustapha (Kseibati) agreed that the best way to do it, because of their relationship, was to have this very classic, stoic, silence. Just a smile and a nod of the head.

It's beautiful, but it's also massively tragic, because it's an insight into a relationship we never got to see. When we did our last scene, where they're taking Danny into the ambulance, I was bawling my eyes out. It felt right because that moment broke Lindon, in a way.

And how does Danny's death carry through into this series?

There were more references to Danny, specifically in regards to Lindon, but sadly a lot of it had to be cut or trimmed down for time.

We open this series with the memorial to Danny and it's very important that Lindon didn't become a different character, because we only ever see him at school, so he has to maintain that facade, but over the three series that has taken a toll on him.

Everything that he thought he was at the beginning of series 11 has been stripped away from him. In a sense, he's having a midlife crisis. In series 11, Lindon was very assured. In series 12, he was regrouping after everything fell to shit at the end of series 11 and now, following the death of Danny, he's lost. He's a bit broken. But because of who Lindon is, he needs to keep it together. He's always on show.

What's it like playing someone who has to keep up that facade?

That's the challenge, but also the fun, of playing the character, because I'm always trying to find moments where that mask slips. Let's be real. There's not a lot of Black teachers in the UK, in senior positions, which is why it's so important to have Kim as the Head and Lindon as Deputy Head, because in real life, it doesn't happen often.

As a Black man of a certain age, from a working-class background, he's had to work his way up to that position. In a field where there aren't many of him, there are certain things that you can't do. You have to maintain a certain veneer because you want to be taken seriously and can't have your integrity undermined in any way, shape, or form.

But it is a drama, so you can't be a robot, and for me, there is a joy in finding those moments where the mask slips slightly. Because he is in such a delicate place in this series, it's about where he feeds that in.

How much of the journey Lindon was going to go on did you know when you took on the role?

None. And that's something I had a hand in, with the help of Cameron Roach and Lindsay Williams, the producers. Because he's not the most flashy, funny, flamboyant character, my concern was that there would be no growth and that's not interesting to watch. As an actor, that's not interesting to play.

So throughout the series, that was something that myself and the producers crafted to make Lindon human. For example, I was at an event at the BFI a few months ago, and I'm not going to say who it was, but I was approached by a filmmaker, someone I've known for many years, and we got chatting and he was like "I've been watching the show" and I was like "Oh, OK" because I wasn't sure if Waterloo Road would be his kind of vibe. And he went on to say how much he enjoyed my performance and how important it was for him to see himself in that show. Lindon is the Black adult male representation in that show and that matters.

It was really important to craft something that represents people that I know; family members, friends, colleagues etc. It affects real people and it's important for people to see. I know Waterloo Road is a lot about the kids, but for someone, Lindon might be a hook to watch because of who he represents.

And it's not just a race thing, because I've had people of all colours and creeds and genders, tell me he's their favourite character. So it is important to get him right as a human being.

What's the dynamic like between Lindon and Joe, the two Deputy Heads, in this series?

They're still the odd couple. With Joe and Lindon, you meet them in a certain place in series 11 but then in series 12 you have that beautiful scene where Joe's dealing with turmoil and Lindon does what he always does and swoops in and picks him up. He did it with Preston. He tried to do it with Danny. And he did it with Joe. He swoops in because that's who he has to be.

I see Lindon as one of those people who needs to be needed. He needs to be of service. With him and Joe, in episode four (of series 13) there's a point where Lindon is being of service to the kids more than we've ever seen him.

But when it doesn't go the way he plans, who's there to lift the person who's always trying to save everybody? Joe, being Head of Pastoral, sees that there's a need to help him, although admittedly, he doesn't see it until the eleventh hour, until Lindon's veneer breaks.

There's a line in the script that actually came from a conversation I'd had with Lindsay Williams, where Lindon tells Joe that he’s trying. He's really trying. He's put his heart into something and can't catch a break.

It's great to see Lindon outside of school and over for dinner at Joe's. Was that a nice scene to film?

It was. When I play a character, I don't want to play me. I'm not interested in that. I'm not Lindon. Sure, there's crossover, but I don't want to play me. However, in the scene at the dinner party, I think that version of Lindon is the closest to me we've ever seen.

Because we don't see him outside of the school, there are a lot of things we don't see or know about him. I remember early on there were conversations around what Lindon was going to wear. How casual we wanted him to be. And then the question came in as to whether Lindon would wear shoes or trainers, and it was decided that he would wear trainers.

So I was like "Cool" and they then asked me "What trainers?" - and in a millisecond I said "Jordan 1s". When people would see me on set and ask "Why is Lindon wearing Jordans?" - I'm like "Listen. You don't know Lindon." One, he's a man of a certain age and used to play basketball. He's gotta be wearing Js. Lindon's a cool guy, but you just don't ever see that side of him.

Even though you never really see them in the show, because I don't think we have full body shots of Lindon, he's wearing 1s and that's important because it’s a clue as to who Lindon King really is when he’s not in work mode.

How are things between Kim and Lindon in this series. Obviously, she's now with Andrew but do you think he still holds a little something for Kim?

Oh yeah. 100 per cent. Obviously, Kim's a gorgeous person but Lindon's affection for her was born out of respect, so regardless of whether they are together or not, that's not going to change.

When Lindon and Kim leave the school to go to The Academy to meet Andrew and Serena Michelle, he's only there to back Kim up, myself and Angela (Griffin) spoke about it. Even though they're not together and he knows that they'll never be together because things just ended so spectacularly bad in that situation.

Lindon still respects Kim and that's one of the things that made him soften to her, the way she holds herself. This is why, whenever there's an opportunity for Lindon to support Kim, he'll do it in a heartbeat.

There was a moment in the script where they're gearing up to do this meeting and she's nervous as hell, and Lindon goes "You've got this and I've got you." - and she smiles and acknowledges the nice gesture.

Since the end of series 11, Lindon's tried to show Kim that he's got her back. He even says it at the start of series 12. It's not like a soap where he's going to try and get her back or get between her and Andrew, it's actually a very mature response.

One of the things I spoke about with Angela, was that when Lindon sees Kim flustered, he knows that something's up because that's not “his” Kim and knows that something's up. I said that to Angela and then went "Does that sound a bit possessive?" and she said "No, that's perfect."

Speaking of the wonderful Angela Griffin, I know she's directed some episodes of this series, what was it like having her direct and be behind the camera?

It was wonderful. She's wonderful. She directed the episode where we go to The Academy and what I selfishly call the Lindon and Kelly Jo episode (episode four). Angela was instrumental in that episode and it was great.

I was really grateful to be directed by Ange, and I told her one time over lunch, if you're directing something in the future, I'd work with you in a heartbeat.

I remember from the get-go, when I started working on Waterloo Road and building up a rapport with her, I'd always be like "Oh, it's national treasure Angela Griffin" because in my household, she is.

Let's talk about episode four actually, because Lindon forms a close bond with Kelly Jo who's seeking to find out more about her heritage, doesn't he?

Yeah, that's massively important. Lindon has three kids, Verity, Joshua, and Gabriel, but you never see them. There's a reference to them earlier on in Series 11, but you never see the boys because they're not High School age.

The way I've always seen it is; Danny and Preston were surrogates for his boys. I felt from the beginning of our run, in series 11, that we were missing a trick by not exploring the dynamic between Kelly Jo and Lindon. I felt it was so necessary because he has a mixed-race daughter, who's only a few years younger than Kelly Jo, and we weren't factoring that in. We're not factoring in his unconscious bias, in that sense.

So when the opportunity came, it made sense. I love working with Alicia Forde. In the same way that me and Adam Abbou would tag team, me and Alicia had been beating on the producer's door, to work together and have a real Kelly Jo and Lindon moment. You also don't want a situation where the one Black male teacher is hard on the Black students. We ain't doing that. So for him to be so present for one of the students that he found most difficult when she needs him, is beautiful.

That episode took so many different forms. They really wanted to get it right. Lindon does know his Mum’s heritage but he just doesn't know his dad's and there was a version of the script where you see Lindon on the phone to his brother or a family member and drop the Lindon facade that we see all the time and talk a bit more like he would talk with family.

There are a lot of new characters, new pupils in particular, joining Waterloo Road in this series. What do they bring to the show?

A lot of energy because they're supposed to be rambunctious and a bit crazy and I think by the end of the last series, the characters who were a bit mad in the beginning find their groove. So the new cast brings this disruptive energy, which I think you need because you don't have drama without it.

What's next for you? Would you like to do some directing?

I love working in film and TV but I also really want to go back to my roots and do some theatre.

I've directed a couple of short films before but it’s definitely something I'm interested in doing again. There are stories I want to tell but I have to think, would I best serve this as an actor? A writer? A producer? Or a director?

Acting will always be the main thing, but I definitely plan to do more stuff behind the camera in the future. It's important to branch out.

Waterloo Road continues Tuesdays at 8pm on BBC One with all episodes available now on BBC iPlayer


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