Paterson Joseph Endorses Express Give A Book Campaign
“Can we talk about Peep Show now?” the 58-year-old asks with a relieved baritone laugh, after our lengthy discussion of his experiences as a classically trained black actor in the entertainment industry and the horrors of Bridgerton, more of which to follow.
“Peep show was the most fun you can imagine,” he laughs.
“We just got mad until we could get a usable take. He wasn’t a professional funnyman, so when David Mitchell was sitting across from me on the toilet seat, I couldn’t do anything for 15 takes. And that’s how I spend my days on set, just laughing. I only do it a few days a year, but it’s what most Americans know me for.”
After making a name for himself on the stage at the National Theater and with the RSC, then in the long-running hospital drama Casualty, in which he played nurse Mark Grace for 47 episodes, he was delighted to show audiences that he had a “fun bone.” “.
A successful stage and television actor, he was one step away from mega-fame in 2009 when he competed for the role of the eleventh Doctor Who. The role ended up going to Matt Smith, but Paterson came close enough to winning the part to be called in to audition.
“I was in South Africa, filming the number one female detective agency, and I was woken up by a phone call from my agent saying, ‘Don’t answer the phone; they got you two to one in Paddy Power as the next Doctor Who.’” Looking back on his almost Sliding Doors moment, he quickly finds a silver lining.
“At least I didn’t have to spend nine months filming in Cardiff,” he quips, but you feel he would have loved to be the first black Doctor. That accolade finally went to Ncuti Gatwa, 30, earlier this year.
Paterson Joseph is an actor and novelist.
Paterson, it seems, was too far ahead of his time.
A mainstay on our screens now for three decades, with roles in shows like Green Wing, Survivors, Timeless and Noughts+Crosses, she has also cut a graceful figure on the big screen in films including Danny Boyle’s adventure drama The Beach ( “four months filming in Thailand, very nice,” he smiles), starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Soon, he will be seen in the film Wonka, a prequel to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, alongside Timothee Chalamet and Olivia Colman.
But the kind of mainstream recognition enjoyed by many of his theatrical contemporaries, such as Simon Russell Beale, has eluded Paterson.
“I took the job that I thought was interesting, but the result for me of doing all that theater was not the same as it was for other actors of my generation, like Simon,” he admits. “I wanted to be an actor, not a black actor. The black ‘box’ was something I wanted to avoid.”
And when he went to auditions with companies doing black-directed Shakespeare plays, he felt like he didn’t belong there either. “I felt like a flamingo, like I was an aberration. It didn’t feel like home and I felt like I would be an alien.
“I had metabolized the whole world of classical theater, not just the plays but the culture, I wanted to be in a period drama. I wanted to wear a frock coat, but not as a background figure. I wanted to be the lead.”
Frustrated with the lack of roles for black actors, he decided to write a leading role for himself. In the process, he inadvertently ended up writing a new life for himself.
His one-man play Sancho: An Act of Remembrance, based on the extraordinary life of ex-slave Charles Ignatius Sancho, who became a composer and man of social position in 18th-century London, including painting by Gainsborough, was performed at 2015 with great success. .
Born aboard a slave ship that crossed the Atlantic, Sancho lived in the Spanish colony of New Granada.
When his parents died, the two-year-old orphan was taken to Britain and given to three sisters in Greenwich, south London, where he stayed for 18 years before running away to join the household of the 2nd Duke of Montagu, who encouraged him. . to learn to read
After spending time as a butler in the duke’s household, Sancho opened his own business as a grocer, while also beginning to write and publish essays, music, plays, and books.
As a male owner, he was legally allowed to vote, and in 1774 and 1780, he became the first black Briton known to have voted. A hero of the abolitionist movement, Sancho died at the age of 50 or 51 in 1780.
And Paterson’s obsession with the famous Brit led him to turn his story into a novel. Written like Sancho’s imaginary 18th century diaries, and already praised by Stephen Fry as “an absolutely thrilling and gripping marvel of a historical novel”, it has introduced Paterson to a new world as Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University. He will assume the position of ambassador next year.
Former slave Carlos Ignacio Sancho
“This is the result of researching the life of a slave-turned-composer in 18th-century London,” he says.
“And it happened because of the words. I’m not an actor known for his physical strength or beauty; I’m someone that people remember because of the lines I say. It’s clear that I love words and that they mean something to me.” Talking to him, this is abundantly clear.
In the process of finding a character in the story who could be “the main character in my story”, he discovered how blackness had been “erased” in much of British history.
“British history is blind as snow, like the Truman show. History and history scholars have curated history in a certain way to say, ‘This is what this place looked like’ before Windrush,” he says.
“But when you explore the 18th century, without removing the color, it’s all there and you see the real truth. You find the slaves who built the industrial revolution; cotton workers. I started studying and found huge swaths of history that I didn’t know contained black faces. Even before discovering Sancho, I realized that I had been lied to.
“When you look at the thousands of portraits of the great and good, they are full of black children and servants. My education came through art.”
I wonder what you think of Bridgerton and its alternate historical world, featuring a mixed cast of black and white actors in prominent roles. As it turns out, he finds escapist colorblind fantasy more disturbing than liberating.
“Bridgerton is a confection and a fiction,” he says. “I’m a bit scared [of it] after I toured the United States with my one man show.
“The idea that Britain didn’t have slaves is very common there and now they have the idea that the British scene was all black people blending into society… I understand the caricature, but what infuriates me is that Bridgerton is doing a disservice ”.
Talking to this erudite and educated man, it’s hard to believe his humble beginnings as the son of a cleaner. “As eloquent as I am now, if you had met the gossip at 14 you wouldn’t have recognized me,” he says.
“The Gossip” is his nickname for his younger self, a boy who “had a social stutter when it came to expressing himself,” and was absent for the better part of two years, spending his time at the local library instead of class.
Until the age of three he spoke a Caribbean dialect (his parents were emigrants from Saint Lucia to London, where he was born) and little English. “I would look for the language and I would be wrong. I know how delicate it can be. My shyness came from insecurity.”
His first name didn’t help.
“I would pronounce the ‘T’ in Paterson, and people would call me fancy. She was speaking correctly because she listened to the radio a lot!”
Paterson Joseph’s book The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho
Her love of books was her salvation, which is why she supports the work of Give A Book, with whom the Daily Express has partnered on our Christmas campaign to raise money to get books to the hardest-to-reach places.
“I always liked words,” he continues. “When I was 12 years old, I took The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I was in my little storage room in Kensal Rise and I opened this book and disappeared into it.
“I could feel myself transported through the closet, feel the coats, see the snow, love the lion Aslan and cry when he died. Just for a few hours I was away from all the nonsense.
“It was so pure: the magic of words to make you believe.” From then on, she read constantly.
“Good books or bad books, everything from Oscar Wilde to Mills and Boon. The library was a place to find free magic.”
At the university he entered the youth theater and then trained at the drama school. “I found my future and I found my people. Art is like that.”
Now, all we need is to see it in a film version of his Sancho diaries…
- The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph (Dialogue Books, £16.99) is out now. For free UK P&P visit expressbookshop.com or call 020 3176 3832
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