Before the pandemic, Taye Matthew had been making his West End debut playing the role of Gavroche in Les Misérables until theatres closed around the world and once they were able to reopen, he returned to the role for the Staged Concert, which once again, was forced to close due to COVID. Taye had his first series regular role playing Danny Dumani in the Sky Original series Gangs of London, working closely with his on-screen mother Pippa Bennett-Warner, who he’d previously worked with for feature film REAL. Short films for Taye have included Nigel, The Bird Game and The Driver’s Seat and he also has experience in commercials and modelling. Talking with Taye, he tells us about playing Danny in Gangs of London, working on feature film REAL and performing as Gavroche in Les Misérables in the West End.
How did it feel booking your first series regular role of Danny Dumani in Gangs of London and what do you remember most from your first day on set?
I was so excited because it was my first TV series and I would get to meet a lot of new people which would mean new opportunities to do what I love. On set it was really thought through from the small things like pictures to bigger things such as the designs on the kitchen tables!
Can you tell us about your character and about working with the rest of the cast including your on-screen family?
Playing Danny was a very good experience. Despite who his family are, he’s very oblivious to what’s happening around him, but becomes fond of Elliot who is dating his mom and they form a friendship. I think that Danny just wants to see his mom Shannon happy and hopes that Elliot could become part of their little family.
Do you have any highlights from playing the role and what was it like seeing the response to the series?
One of the most enjoyable highlights playing Danny was working with my on-screen family, who were all very friendly, especially Pippa Bennett-Warner and Sope Dirisu, that played my mom, and her boyfriend.
I was overwhelmed with the response to the series, as it got closer to the release date I would constantly see positive things about it on social media, I felt really proud to be part of such a great series.
How have you found the experience working on a Sky Original show?
It actually felt like it wasn’t my first time doing this, as the cast and crew, especially the directors, were so welcoming and explained the process in a way I would understand and feel comfortable with. This meant performing my scenes was a lot easier.
You play Felix in the film REAL, can you say more about it and what was it like working on your first feature film?
REAL was amazing, it was my first feature role and I felt accomplished to be a part of this project written and directed by actor Aki Omoshaybi. I self-taped for the role, and was shocked but equally excited to have landed the part. It was actually the first time I met my on-screen mom for Gangs of London, Pippa Bennett-Warner, who plays my on-screen mom, Jamie, in REAL. We shot the film in Portsmouth, over a period of days and in one scene I got to run along a beach in wind and rain which was quite fun despite the cold weather. The pandemic pushed back the release date in cinemas, but it was finally released in cinemas and on DVD, and I got my own copy for Christmas!
Can you tell us about the short films you’ve worked on which has seen you play Nigel in Nigel, Jack in The Bird Game and Jon Jon in The Driver’s Seat?
Nigel was a fun short film to shoot, written and directed by Ben Wicks and Sarah Culverhouse for Rode Reel 2020. It’s about a boy, Nigel, who has a crush on a beautiful girl Eliza and he daydreams of how their relationship would blossom. Shot in the beautiful Ruislip Woods with a small but amazing cast and crew. Nigel is quite shy around Eliza but really wants to make an impression on the girl of his dreams so they hang out, and go on a romantic date. When Nigel is suddenly brought back to reality by his mother who calls for him to leave the woods and return home.
The Driver’s Seat was the first short film I ever performed in. A family friend asked me to play one of the main characters in the film which made me so happy! It was a lot of fun to shoot and took a few hours to finish.
Shooting The Bird Game was a unique experience because it is the darkest and most sinister film I’ve starred in to date. My character dies a cruel death and the birds’ motives were evil – they manipulated the children into committing acts of violence against one another.
On stage, you played Gavroche in Les Misérables and also the Staged Concert, what is the role like to play?
Playing Gavroche in Les Misérables was a great experience and I would love to work in theatre again. Gavroche is quite a cheeky and outgoing character who supports the revolution and is willing to do anything to ensure freedom. He lives in an elephant statue as his parents didn’t want him, that made him quite street smart as he had to live on his own for a long time. He’s friends with the students and helps the revolution as much as possible. In the end, he tries to contribute even more by picking up ammunition to give to his comrades, but unfortunately he gets shot and dies.
Was there anything that drew you to the musical and how much did you know about the storyline before being cast?
I was training for The Lion King but had to stop due to filming Gangs of London, after that I got a casting for Les Misérables and was very excited as I finally got the opportunity to do a musical. I didn’t know much about it at first but seeing the lines I had, I was very intrigued especially as Gavroche played a big role in the revolution. Telling a story through song in front of a live audience is an incredible and emotional experience.
How had your runs been going before COVID closed theatres each time?
From the rehearsals to my performances, I loved every single bit of it. Despite the theatre not being at full capacity, it still felt incredible to perform. When it closed for the first time during the musical it was really sad, as it was such short notice it meant I never got to say goodbye to all my friends.
The second time round was during the Staged Concert, there were only four of us left from the musical, two boys and two girls. We got to perform for just over three weeks before it stopped again. It was hard as some of the new kids never had a chance to perform, and we had to say goodbye again.
How was it being part of each cast and how did you find the experience performing in the West End?
In the concert some of the cast from the musical didn’t change, so it was nice to see all those people again including some new faces too. I got to perform with Matt Lucas, Michael Ball and Carrie Hope Fletcher which was amazing as they were all so nice. In the musical I got to perform more and move around the set whereas in the concert we mainly sat down and sung the songs. That was a massive difference but both still very enjoyable and unforgettable.
Where does your love of acting come from and can you tell us about your training?
I started acting when I was around four or five and since then it stuck with me, my older brother got into Kinky Boots and I wanted to be on stage and perform like him. I also saw a lot of adverts and wondered what it would be like to be in one of them. And since then I’ve just wanted to do more.
What do you enjoy most about working on commercials and modelling and can you say about some of the projects you’ve been involved with?
What I love about commercials is how you can film something as yourself but then have the final edit be something completely different. I shot two very awesome commercials a few years back, one for IKEA and the other for Center Parcs. I spent three days at a Center Parcs resort which was so much fun and we filmed a family advert as humans but the final edit we were transformed into bears which was awesome to see on a TV screen. The IKEA commercial was also lots of fun and I had an entire suit made in the USA that was then shipped over to London. It was a bird.
How do you like to spend your free time and do you have any favourite TV shows and films to watch?
In my free time I spend a lot of time on my phone and watching TV, which I’m trying to do less of, I have two acting classes throughout the week which are very enjoyable and fun. I want to start playing volleyball too! I find it a really interesting and fast-paced sport which is quite intriguing to me. I like a lot of TV shows and films but if I had to choose a top three I would probably say – Black Panther as Chadwick Boseman is quite inspiring, Enola Homes because the plot is interesting, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse because the design of the film is quite unique.
Do you have any plans for 2021 you can tell us about?
In 2021 I don’t have much plans despite most things reopening. I’m looking forward to seeing some of my friends across the summer and trying to get better at skating! I’m also thinking about learning to draw! It’s a really useful skill and something I’m genuinely interested in.
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