Later this year, Divian Ladwa will be playing John in the cinema release of Mr. Malcolm’s List, which is based on the novel by Suzanne Allain, and another recent project for him is new TV series The Baby, where Divian plays Fooze, which can currently be seen in the US on HBO and is due for a summer release in the UK. Further screen work for Divian has included filming for the last episode of Series 5 of Two Doors Down, working on Horrible Histories, and last year, he appeared in Silent Witness. Divian played PC Drakes in Wild Bill, Hugh across all three series of Detectorists, and he portrayed Mantosh Brierley in feature film Lion. Alongside screen, Divian has appeared in many stage projects and, this month, his new audio series RadioMan will be released on Audible. We caught up with Divian about the upcoming release of Mr. Malcolm’s List, playing Mantosh Brierley in Lion and his time as Hugh in Detectorists.
What can you tell us about your upcoming project Mr. Malcolm’s List in which you will be playing John?
Mr. Malcolm’s List is a beautiful and fun period romance that will be in cinemas later this year. Based on a novel of the same name by Suzanne Allain, the feature takes our director, Emma Holly Jones’ vision of the book and gives it a real cinematic treatment with full-on period costume, candle lighting, big ballroom scenes, swooping shots and an incredible score by Amelia Warner. I’ve managed to see bits of it and it looks stunning. I play a rather work-shy footman who would rather flirt with the maid than help Zawe Ashton’s Julia Thistlewaite get revenge on the bachelor who rejected her.
You appear in the new TV series The Baby as Fooze, what was this like to work on?
Crazy but fun. I had never worked with a baby before and I had never worked with a dog before. And therefore, I had never worked with a baby and a dog at the same time before. I say crazy, because I actually used to have a phobia of dogs. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of them. Over the last five years, whenever a friend got a puppy, I’d visit them and kept spending time with them and their dogs. Over the last few years, I have grown to be quite fond of dogs and I now see them as happy, warm and cuddly beings. However, The Baby is an amazing comedy horror that may make people scared of babies. It’s out on HBO in the US and should be here on Sky over the summer.
How was the experience filming as Iqbal in Series 5 of Two Doors Down?
This was a really lovely experience. Glasgow in the summer is beautiful and the city is more vibrant than any time I’ve been before. The cast and crew are really welcoming and the actors on that show are so funny. I sat with Elaine C. Smith for all our scenes and she would crack us up. I feature in the last episode of Series 5 and I can’t wait to see it.
Can you say about working on Horrible Histories and do you have a favourite aspect of being part of the show?
I had never done a sketch show before and I never really thought about it. Although, back in school, I spent most of my geography lessons talking about The Fast Show and Harry Enfield and Chums. It was quite surreal having very different costumes and wigs every day. One day you were a Demon Slayer sporting a bald cap and the next day you were Krampus, dressed in a big fur onesie, incredible makeup and horns on top of your head that were so long, I kept getting stuck inside the short corridor between the main exit and the sound stage entrance. It was a lot of fun and the regular cast are incredible. The number of characters they play in that series with such a quick turnaround is really impressive.
Last year, you appeared as Leon Tovey in Silent Witness, what was the character like to play and how was it working with the cast?
I was lucky enough to land the role of a prisoner in Silent Witness in early 2020. I had gone six months without a job and I was getting quite nervous. Sometimes as an actor, you think you may have fallen off the radar or something wasn’t happening. And just when something came along, so did COVID lockdowns. Another six months passed and finally they were allowed to start filming. The script had continued to go through the drafting process during that time and the role I was offered was no longer in the script. Luckily, they asked me if I’d play a prison kitchen manager which turned out to be a more prominent role. So, I said “thank you very much” and I got to do some lovely scenes with Kevin Eldon who has a very calming voice and was a joy to work with.
In the TV series Wild Bill, you played PC Drakes, was there anything that drew you to the show and can you tell us about your character?
PC Drakes is a cheeky chappy, young policeman who likes to throw in the odd quip here and there when he can. I remember auditioning for the part and thinking that I could really have some fun with this character. The series covered some serious themes but it also had its lighter moments which is usually where PC Drakes came in.
Do you have any favourite memories from playing Hugh in Detectorists?
Every day on set provided a lovely memory. There are so many with a cast like that. I was so happy to get that job. I had mostly been doing small-scale theatre and touring prisons and schools. All good work but, of course, very hard work and not exactly well paid. Well, at least not back when I did it. I remember telling a friend that if we got into one BBC or ITV show we’d be in. Perhaps that is a naive way of thinking but I do believe that Detectorists helped me get seen for more TV and film roles. All three seasons are now one big happy sunny day in the countryside memory.
What was Lion like to be part of and how was it playing Mantosh Brierley?
The story of Saroo Brierley is incredibly moving and emotional, I was really lucky to be part of it. I actually met the real family as well as Mantosh. He was very calm and laid-back. It’s tricky to play a real person especially when the events are through the lens of someone else and not the person you are playing. Then there is the writer’s take and the director’s take and what you bring to the table. You want to respect the family and their story and do them justice. I’m still in touch with Sue Brierley, the mum. We send birthday wishes and updates to each other over social media.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from working on this film?
Working with Nicole Kidman. Lion was a dream come true experience. In all my time dreaming and persisting in being an actor, I never thought I’d get to be in a film with someone like Nicole Kidman.
Having worked on a number of other shows including Zapped, Avenue 5 and In the Long Run, can you say about some of them?
These are types of shows where, as an actor, you go in for maybe a day or two. Sometimes you worry you’ll be cut so you may not tell everyone about it. Also, just to point out, earlier I said that Detectorists may have helped me get seen for more TV. These are the types of jobs I managed to secure following Detectorists that I was never able to book before. Even though the roles can be small, these were all great parts to have and play and shows to be part of. Zapped, a medieval fantasy comedy, was so much fun and it felt really, really rewarding. Avenue 5 was by Armando Ianucci and Simon Blackwell for HBO. Set in space, the TV set was a giant spaceship of an incredible scale. I had a couple of very short, fun little scenes for Sky’s In the Long Run. It was the first time a character I played had a wife. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that chapter in my on-screen world. I think I’ve had a couple of wives since.
This month, you have a new audio series for Audible released called RadioMan, what is the show about and how was it to work on?
RadioMan is by a company called Ill Kippers. At the helm is our writer/director, Joe Derrick and our lead Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. They created this company to make their own projects. They have a film on Netflix called Against The Ice. I became involved when the producer of RadioMan, Emme Hearne got in touch. I had worked with her before in some radio plays and I was really happy to work with her again. RadioMan follows Nikolaj’s character, a radio DJ in a small town that has a very strong community feel to it. I play Manny, who falls into a very thick plot that Joe has written. I believe it comes out in May and, if you do get to listen, please use really good headphones. The soundscape and original music by Benbrick is phenomenal and will really stir your emotions.
Your theatre work includes A Fine Balance, Wuthering Heights and When Chaplin Met Gandhi, do you have a favourite aspect of working on stage?
It’s less intense than a film or TV set. And you’ve rehearsed your scenes multiple times with those you are playing with. It’s really reassuring when everyone is on the same page. Having said that, the butterflies in the tummy still flap around. That little bit of nervous energy always gives you a bit of excitement before stepping in front of a crowd. Playing with another actor on stage is great fun. You have a little more freedom than you have on set.
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you start?
I’ve wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. Possibly from the age of four. I’d love to give a fancy smart answer about how I went to see Shakespeare or Chekhov, but the truth is, I loved watching movies. Old black and white ones, my dad’s westerns or the TV premieres of the big Hollywood movies like Alien. I just wanted to be in movies super bad. I didn’t grow up in a position for my mum to take me to acting classes so I had to wait till I started doing GCSE drama to get into it. My friends and I started to make devised plays when we were doing A-Levels and I think it was my teacher Mrs Burke who told me about the City Lit. When I left school, I started doing classes there. I was trying to get into drama school but it wasn’t happening. At the City Lit, I had an improv tutor Mark Phoenix, who was part of an improv group called Fluxx. They did their own classes and shows. He asked them if they’d let me come along and it wasn’t long until I did my first show with them. I also met someone else at the City Lit who told me about classes at The Precinct Theatre. This place was run by a lovely woman called Reima Baker. After doing drop-ins there for a few months, she got me my first professional acting job for a stage play with Tamasha theatre company. That was the beginning of a very long journey of up and downs, roundabouts, stop signs and occasionally some green lights.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch?
This could be an incredibly long list so I’ll try to keep it short. The movies that have really left an impact on the heart include the films that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have made for Studio Ghibli as well as the works of Akira Kurosawa that I’ve seen. I have also enjoyed Korean TV dramas in the last few years, notably Kingdom and Stranger are two of my many favourites. The Korean film A Taxi Driver is really worth seeing. It’s sometimes on All4, so have a look.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I used to be very active. Climbing and doing martial arts were some of my main activities. I’ve had to listen to my body and let go of these interests which wasn’t an easy thing to do. I first tried fixing and working on the problem areas with osteo, yoga, physio, until finally surrendering these more youthful activities. Reflecting on a poem by Max Hermann made it easier to let go. He mentions to enjoy achievements, your plans and your career however humble. I have very different hobbies now. I carve avocado seeds into pendants and ornaments and occasionally I’ll carve wooden toys or spoons. Recently, I needed to package some up for a few friends but I couldn’t find a way to keep them safe and present them well so I used my old cinema festival brochures and made some origami boxes. The film stills from the magazines make for a very pretty presentation. I actually ended up making loads of little boxes. Some are smaller than others and so like Matryoshka dolls, you can put one in another, and that one in another and so on.
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