Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Naomi. How did you discover acting and performing?
Naomi Ackie: I’m the only one in my family who got into the arts. I started when I was 11in a Christmas show where I had to play a modern angel Gabriel. I wrote a rap (that I still remember to this day),and I just kept going after that! My childhood was happy; a lot of playing imaginary games and singing musicals when no one was listening. My family has always been supportive of my dreams and extremely patient.
JB: As a British actress, what do you love about the British theater tradition?
NA: It’s something you grow up with, especially in London. Theater is everywhere and it’s so rich and varied. It’s definitely something I take pride in being a part of. I love how Britain’s theatrical tradition is constantly evolving and changing, while still maintaining elements that are kept as though in a museum.
JB: Who’s one performer you would drop anything to see?
NA: Can I have two? Cate Blanchett and Viola Davis.
JB: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
NA: “Call your spirit back.” It’s what my mum used to say. Basically, stay in the present; too much time thinking about what has been or what could be is not living at all.
JB: As a young woman in the arts, do you ever feel frustrated due to how you’re treated on the basis of gender?
NA: Of course! Ultimately you have to understand that as an actor, you are a commodity. I consider myself an artist, so that concept rubs me the wrong way. It’s hard and tiresome sometimes to keep coming into contact with glass ceilings, but whenever I get frustrated, I remember that it’s important to keep going, or nothing will change.
JB: You made your film debut in Lady Macbeth (which I am dying to see!), a very low-budget period film with a strong female lead. Can you tell me about how this project came about for you?
NA: Thank you! I got the audition and fell in love with the script. I immediately felt like I understood Anna and felt protective over her, too. So I did the audition with Will (Oldroyd, the director) and Shaheen (the casting director) and in my mind, the audition went so bad. I cried, left, and bought myself an outfit I couldn’t afford. And then about a month later, I received a call while in rehearsals (for a different production) that I got it! I was so overwhelmed, I walked around London for a bit and just took it all in.
JB: How was it working with director Will Oldroyd, whose background was mainly in theater, on his debut feature?
NA: It worked perfectly for me because that’s been the majority of my experience. We were able to build up a really good shorthand of what he wanted and it was such a healthy, collaborative process that I sometimes forgot I was on set; I could’ve been in a rehearsal space in East London.
JB: Tell me a bit about your character, Anna? What is she like?
NA: Anna has strength in her observant nature. She’s as much of a victim to the time the film is set as Katherine is, but because of her place in society, her options are even more limited.
JB: Do you consider this story to be, among other things, a feminist drama?
NA: Yes, absolutely. The protagonist of the film is a woman who is both the victim and the villain. It is healthy to see women in a complex light. But this film also intelligently shines a light on the varied yet limited choices you have as a woman dependent on your class and color, and how that can mean a world of difference when the stakes are high.
JB: The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and went on to win awards and thrive in the festival circuit. What has been a highlight from your festival journey?
NA: Being in San Sebastián (for the San Sebastián International Film Festiva), leaving the film screening, and being applauded by what seemed like hundreds of people in the atrium: I will never forget that. It was like something out of a movie.
JB: What is your theatrical dream role?
NA: I’m not trying to be clever but it’s (the actual!) Lady Macbeth. ★
Credits: Damilola, Our Loved Boy (BBC, 2016), The Five (Sky TV, 2016), Theatre: Plunder, (The Young Vic), Billy the Girl (Soho Theatre), Almost Famous (Short 2015, Film London). Upcoming: Lady Macbeth. Graduate, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Lady Macbeth will be released worldwide this spring. In their review of the film, Screen Daily called Ackie “an impressive first-timer.”