Thursday, December 2

Omari Douglas: ‘After It’s a Sin, I realized that they always supported me for who I was’ | Cabaret

ORmari Douglas is a natural performer in the truest sense. We meet in the rehearsal room, where he prepares for a new production of Cabaret with Jessie Buckley and Eddie Redmayne at the Playhouse Theater in London. Although we’re cutting his lunch break, the 27-year-old actor, and current favorite to be the next Doctor Who star, gestures enthusiastically as if he’s used to being permanently on stage. “I have always admired how television and cinema can bring audiences together,” he says beaming.

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The Playhouse’s Cabaret is the latest in a long line: John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 1966 musical was inspired by John Van Druten’s 1951 classic I Am a Camera, which was itself an adaptation of the novel Goodbye. Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 to Berlin. These facts are transmitted to me by Douglas at breakneck speed; the actor has seen Cabaret three or four times. Now he takes on the lead role of Clifford Bradshaw, a lost American novelist who arrives at the seedy Kit Kat Club in Berlin. “I had never imagined myself as a cliff,” he says. “But we are being given the space to find something new.”

Director Rebecca Frecknall has chosen to portray Cliff, usually written as bisexual, as a person who identifies as queer. As a black actor taking on the role, also a rarity, Douglas isn’t flustered by such changes. “We’ve had these conversations about the nuances that I, as a black actor, will bring to the role, but it doesn’t seem like I have to work too hard to make sense of it,” he says. “Cliff is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was and still is a predominantly African-American community; It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that there might have been a black man who came from America to Berlin to find himself and his identity. “

Douglas’s enthusiasm makes sense in tracing his roots as a performer. Although theater is where he began, appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie Get Your Gun, most viewers can recognize Douglas from Channel 4’s It’s a Sin, playing the energetic Roscoe Babatunde in Russell T Davies’ drama. She went on to appear alongside Russell Tovey in a gender-reversed production of Constellations. After we talk, it turns out that he has become the bookies’ favorite to be cast as the next Doctor (not bad for someone whose television debut was in January). Douglas is officially a rising star, a fact he humbly laughs at.

Part of your appeal may be your willingness to take on roles related to race and sexuality. It’s not necessarily intentional, he says, but he’s satisfied with the conversations his characters have opened up. “It feels like a happy by-product. I am very grateful that being in these pieces allows things to come to light in a different way. If the opportunities are there, I won’t say no, because it changes the game for people. “

Douglas is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Wolverhampton with his mother, his father lives in the United States. Although he was an only child, he grew up with numerous older cousins ​​who lived nearby. Much of his childhood was spent “trying to entertain them,” watching soap operas and going to the movies with his extended family, a tradition that endures. He caught the acting mistake before he could understand what the setting was: “I have seen a video of me at a nativity scene as one of the wise men. I remember my family found it funny because I literally lead others. “Another early performance was a performance of Britney Spears’… Baby One More Time at an elementary school talent show.” It’s quite a traumatic memory. He says, “But I always loved acting.”

Omari Douglas in rehearsals for Cabaret.
‘It could have been a black man who came from America to Berlin’: Omari Douglas at Cabaret rehearsals. Photography: Marc Brenner

He did well academically, but his mother had always supported his love of acting. It also encouraged conversations about her sexuality and identity. “After It’s a Sin came out, I realized that they always supported me for who I was. Growing up black, gay, and knowing so young, there’s always this stigma of ‘Does this work in my world?’ And, in fact, it did: the support had always been there. “

He found himself torn at A-level between applying to college and drama school, but chose the latter after being encouraged by his performing arts teachers. Ambitions for an acting career had been accelerated thoroughly in his teens; A historic moment was being “consciously moved” after watching a production of Once on This Island when I was 14 years old. “Sharon D Clarke was in it and there’s a predominantly black-led cast,” he says. “I remember going to the stage door afterwards and meeting some of the actors. At the time, he didn’t necessarily have the language to articulate what visibility meant at the time. But, looking back, this is how I felt. I wanted to be there because what I saw made the possibilities seem more tangible and accessible. ” Although he enjoyed his time at drama school, he often felt typecast. “’Oh, you’re in the musical theater and you’re black. Then you’ll be in The Lion King, ‘”he says. “And it’s like: well, yeah, maybe, but I can also do everything else that everyone else does.” He made it aware of the differences between black and queer actors in the media world, and speaks passionately of the need to mix traditions in casting and production that keep underrepresented groups off our stages.

“Marianne Jean-Baptiste is known to be one of our greats, she should stand alongside her white contemporaries here. But she is someone who went to the United States and I observed that trajectory, ”he says. “Someone could be as talented as another person, but not necessarily in the same sense in the UK, because this person is white and that person is black.”

“[We need] more producers who don’t consider queer or predominantly black stories to be ‘risky’. Because time and time again, we show that they are not risks. It is a sin was considered a risk by many guardians. It is remarkable that people were still unsure how a Russell T Davies show would be received. But still, over and over again, there are a lot of people up there who don’t have a wide enough mind. “

He expects “less of the same old stuff” and is eager to see changes not only in the way the works are adapted, but also in what is adapted: “They are great, but there are also many other people that we can adapt from. “. And in your own future? For what could be the first time today, the actor takes a long hiatus. “I love my job. I always want to be the best,” he says. “I’ve never seen myself as the best. I want to be good at what I do. And having a platform to do it is an advantage and a great thing.”

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club is in the playhouse Theater, London, until May 14.

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