Actor Kadiff Kirwan has literally come a long way after being forced to leave his Caribbean homeland due to natural disasters. Also, figuratively in four short years, Kirwan has moved from playing a bit-part in Call The Midwife to starring alongside Ryan Reynolds in a Hollywood blockbuster. Andrew Peters talked to Kadiff – an actor going places.
Photographer: Eric Frideen
Stylist: Sabina Emrit
Grooming: Luke Benson
Q Kadiff, I should think you will be in tune with any current talk of natural disasters following your early life experience escaping from the volcanic eruption on Montserrat. Can you tell us more about how that affected your life?
A Ha ha! Yeah, I’ve had more than a few close calls with natural disasters over the years. In 1995, my family and I were living on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a tiny island (about 35 square miles) which had a population of 12,000 people. One sunny day around lunchtime, I was about six-years-old and at school, we went back in to class and suddenly the ground started to shake and we heard a large bang, kind of like the sound of thunder. We looked outside and minutes later it was pitch black. Obviously, none of us knew what was happening and we were kids, so we all started screaming.
Within minutes, my two older brothers came bursting into my classroom looking for me. All the students and staff were led to the school buses and told to cover our faces and try not to breathe anything in as there was stuff floating in the air. It was so strange because it was the middle of the day and dark. We were driven to the north side of the island where we could see this crazy black puff of smoke coming from down the side of a mountain. Eventually, once the smoke cleared and the panic subsided, we learnt that it was an earthquake and eruption from the once dormant volcano on the island.
My family and I moved not long after and went to live on the island of Antigua which was just next door. Later that year our house in Antigua was destroyed by a hurricane. I know, right? Just no luck! At night, in Montserrat, depending on where you were on the island, you could still see lava flowing down the side of the mountain. It’s crazy that we moved when we did as many people understandably didn’t want to leave their homes, resulting in a series of deaths, including two of my aunts and other family friends.
Q Montserrat to Preston was presumably a bit of a culture and climate shock?
A You’re telling me. I remember thinking, oh my God, this place is so cold and why is it raining all the time? Like ALL THE TIME. I remember seeing people eating fish and chips out of newspapers... that blew my mind because ain’t no way my mother would let us eat out of newspapers, it was a plate or nothing. At primary school, kids would ask me to repeat certain words because I had a full-blown Caribbean accent and they thought it was so cool. I remember having to concentrate on peoples’ mouths because I couldn’t make out what they were saying... I do love it, but the Preston accent can be rather strong the first time you hear it.
Q A keen basketball player at school, how did acting introduce itself to you – did you have any desire to become an actor at a young age?
A I wouldn’t say I always knew I wanted to be an actor. When I was a kid, I used to want to walk the tightrope in the circus, so I guess there was a level of wanting to be a showman from a young age. Sport was something I excelled in and was good at growing up, so it made sense to be on the basketball or running team. I became more difficult in my teens and ended up suspended from school a few times. I think, looking back, it was me trying to adjust to new surroundings and to fit in, but there was a drama teacher at school called Mrs Pamela Haywood-Connor who hounded me to attend after-school drama club, hoping it would calm me down. I finally gave in and went along, and that was it. Everything started to make sense: I knew I always wanted to feel that free, silly and excited about something. I have that teacher to thank for exposing me to that environment as such a crucial age.
Q You worked hard to put yourself through drama school, do you now think this was money well spent?
A After joining the after-school drama club at secondary school, my grades in other subjects started to improve and I ended up doing way better than I thought in my GCSEs. I went on to sixth form and studied drama, but my parents (my dad in particular) wanted me to do something more practical with my life, like become an accountant. I know... an accountant? No offence to any accountants out there, but that just ain’t me. Anyways, I decided that wasn’t the life for me, so at the age of 18 I decided to move to London and take a gap year, saving as much as I could to go to drama school. I ended up auditioning and getting into the Central School of Speech and Drama whilst on my gap year, so I spent the rest of the year working and saving so I could pay for as much of the first year of training as I could. And, yes, I completely think it was money well spent, though I’m deffo still paying off my student loan.
Quick fiveFavourite musical? Hmm… gotta be either Hair or West Side Story.
Dog or cat? Dog all the way.
What do you use for telling the time? My sundial that I carry with me everywhere in my backpack. Or my watch.
Main inspiration? My mum, her name is Matilda and she’s an absolute diamond.
Can’t leave home without? My contact lenses. No, really, I wouldn’t be able to see a thing.
Q Your (comic) talents are perhaps best known through playing Jason in the two series of Bafta-nominated Timewasters. It’s a four man, all black, lead (working title Black to the Future). Do you hope that the series can inspire young black actors and musicians?
A I remember when I first read the pilot script for Timewasters, I just couldn’t put it down, I was laughing at every other line. I knew I had to be a part of that show and thankfully it worked out. I do hope that series inspires more people like myself, or people from black and working-class backgrounds, to take a punt and start to create their own material. Growing up, it was always like America was leaps and bounds ahead of the UK in its TV programmes that featured black actors, thankfully now it’s changing. I hope that 20 more shows like Timewasters get made to show the range of cultures and stories that Britain has to offer.
Q Do you think that differences in society are celebrated, or just accepted?
A I think it’s a mixture of the two. Chances are, no matter where you are in the world, you have more in common with a stranger than you may think. Britain has such a rich history and DNA that makes it what it is. I think we as a nation could benefit from looking at each other’s daily lives and seeing that deep down we’re all the same, and we want the same things, happiness, health, joy and compassion. I think if society were to approach things in a similar manner, we’d get along just great.
Q Timewasters follows four jazz musicians who travel back in time, do you like jazz?
A I wouldn’t say I am a jazz expert, but I can absolutely appreciate it. Having said that, I adore Gregory Porter, his 2015 album Liquid Spirit is one of the things I listen to when I wanna zone out and chill.
Q Tell us about your part in the second series of Fleabag. I understand you met Phoebe Waller-Bridge during the first series of Timewasters as she was originally cast as your girlfriend, Victoria?
A Yeah! PWB, what a legend! She was in the reading of Timewasters that eventually led to it being commissioned. We played lovers in that reading, I’d say we were pretty well cast. She wasn’t able to do the series as she was writing a little show you may have heard of called Fleabag. She was damn funny in the role of Victoria as you can imagine and we’ve been pals since then, with the same agents, so we keep running into each other. When she offered me the role of Anthony in series two of Fleabag, I obviously said: “YES, YES, YES, of course I’ll do it! I mean, for free, if you want!” Naturally, I was paid, but it was a complete no-brainer. At the last minute, due to scheduling changes, it looked as if I may not be able to do it, but it all worked out. We had such a blast shooting that scene in the hairdressers. There’s really nothing better than working with your pals, I think that may be the key to a happy life.
Q Your career appears on a roll at the moment, is that how it feels to you?
A That’s nice of you to say. I mean it’s acting, so you never really know where the next job is coming from until it happens, so there’s always a level of angst that goes with it, but right now, yes, it’s going great and I’m having an absolute blast. I just wanna keep doing work that makes people smile.
Profile: Kadiff KirwanKadiff Kirwan graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 2011 after moving to London to pursue a career in acting. He is perhaps best known for his lead role in the award-winning ITV comedy Timewasters. This year, Kadiff was seen in guest starring roles in Aisling Bea’s critically acclaimed This Way Up, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Emmy-winning series Fleabag S2, the dark comedy Inside No. 9 and Flack. He has recently wrapped filming a lead role in Netflix’s new original series The Stranger. His further TV credits include BAFTA Award-winning show Chewing Gum, Black Mirror: Nosedive, Strike, Crims, Call The Midwife, Informer and Drunk History. Feature films include Mary Queen of Scots and Pokémon Detective Pikachu. For theatre, he starred in the National Theatre’s production of Home and Home: The Revival alongside Michaela Coel and Antonia Thomas, the monologue series Queers at the Old Vic, as well as Teddy Ferrara, The Vote and Donmar Warehouse’s production of City of Angels.
Q Who were your icons growing up?
A Still to this day, Eddie Murphy, Regina King and The Wayans Brothers. They are truly masters of their craft and absolutely hilarious!
Q How different is it performing on television to film or theatre?
A Well, I’d say the major difference is that in theatre you know instantly if what you’re doing is having the desired effect on the audience. You know if the joke is funny because you hear the audience laugh, and if they don’t, you can adjust what you’re doing. With TV and film, the chances are you find out the same time the audience at home or in the cinema does, which is usually months, sometimes years, later, and by then it’s too late to change anything. I love acting in all three mediums and I’m grateful that I get to jump from one to the other frequently.
Q What’s the question you never get asked, but would like to be?
A Would you like to pay by cheque, sir? No, because I don’t have a cheque book.
Q You’re at the Sheffield Crucible in December starring in the musical Guys and Dolls – are musicals something you would like to do more of?
A I love a musical! I mean who doesn’t? If you don’t like musicals you’re dead inside! I would love to do more in the future, yeah, but only if the part and show is right, and the creative team putting it on is top notch.
Q You’ve sampled Hollywood playing Mayor (with Ryan Reynolds) in Detective Pikachu. Has this whet your appetite for exposure to more Hollywood films?
A Of course! But it has to be said it was freezing when we shot Detective Pikachu! I love watching movies, so getting to make them is a dream come true for a boy from a tiny Caribbean island.
Q Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond comes to an end shortly. You certainly look the part so would you consider the role if asked?
A I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t give their left leg to play James Bond. I do look decent in a tux and speedos and I am very particular about what I like to drink, so yeah, it makes complete sense that I should be the next 007.
Q Early in 2020 you have a lead role in Netflix’s Stranger – can you tell us more about this?
A The Stranger is an eight-part psychological thriller filled with intrigue, secrets, corruption and many twists and turns. It’s got a host of wonderful British actors in it and I’m so excited for the world to see it. I play DC Wesley Ross alongside DS Joanna Griffin played by the luminous Siobhan Finneran. We’re the two coppers trying to solve what on the outside seems to be a rather strange set of crimes. But with secrets being revealed from an unknown stranger, it throws into action a chain of events that no one can truly be prepared for.
Q And what will the rest of 2020 bring for you?
A There’s a bunch of TV projects I have in the works that I’m acting in. But more so, I’m very excited to be creating and writing two TV projects based on my life in the Caribbean and in Preston for British TV.
Harlan Coben’s The Stranger is coming to Netflix in January 2020.