Elliot Edusah might only have left drama school in 2018, but the young actor has already picked up some mightily impressive credits. In the last few years, he’s had a small role in Sam Mendes’ award-winning war film 1917, starred alongside Anthony Mackie in Netflix actioner Outside the Wire and played a part in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films on BBC One.
Now, he’s one of three leads – along with Jordan Peters and Reda Elazouar – in Reggie Yates’s directorial debut Pirates, a joyous ode to the UK garage scene that follows three teenage friends desperately trying to gain access to the hottest Y2K New Year’s Eve party in London.
Edusah plays Cappo, who has just returned from his first semester at university, and he recently spoke to RadioTimes.com about his experience working on the film, reserving particularly effusive praise for his first-time director.
“I loved working with Reggie,” he said. “I told him I had the best time of my life filming this film, I love this film, this film is my baby – it means so much to me. He just created a place where we could hit him up all the time. He was like, ‘WhatsApp me, call me, text me – even if it’s 1 o’clock in the morning or 11 o’clock at night.’ And he never at any point let us feel like we were alone. I think that’s what made Pirates so special and precious to all of us.”
Edusah explained how as part of the process to build chemistry between the three leads, Yates would take them away on weekend trips, including one excursion to the house of a close friend: Richard Curtis.
“He’s one of Reggie’s mentors,” he said. “And he showed us the table that Love Actually was written on, and all the greats that Richard Curtis has done were written on – which is also at the table where Reggie started Pirates. And I think that was a moment for us because we kind of were like, ‘Wow, this is going to be big!’
“And it was a time for us to just bond, connect, chill, cook, eat, have banter,” he added. “The highlight of the whole weekend was just eating a vegan curry that Jordan had cooked and watching Trading Places with Reggie. He just wanted to show us all the films that really inspired his comedic essence, or just his inspiration for Pirates. He just wanted us to be as tapped in as possible.”
As it happened, Edusah already had a certain degree of natural chemistry with both Peters and Elazouar prior to filming – he was the year below the former at drama school and had met the latter while working on the aforementioned Outside the Wire – but he said that the trio became very close throughout the process, which came in especially handy when it came to improvisation.
Edusah explained that Yates gave them lots of leeway to “bend and flip the lines”, and although he says that all three stars are accomplished improvisers, this aspect of the film did come with challenges as well.
“The tricky thing with improvisation in 1999 is you can’t use 2021 slang,” he said. “So you kind of have to understand the lingo and slang and the culture, and what the pop culture was so that when you do throw in improvisation, it’s relevant to the time, and to the pop culture at the time as well.”
Fortunately, Edusah was already fairly well versed in the world of UK garage – his dad was a big fan and he remembers his older brother and sister listening to the music of Ms Dynamite and So Solid Crew when he was growing up. His research, then, wasn’t so much concerned with the music itself but about the clubbing scene at the time – but he explained that he was delighted to have the chance to pay tribute to a music genre that doesn’t always get its dues.
“I’ve always loved the music and it’s always been a part of my life,” he said. “It just reminds me of my childhood and summer days whenever I listen to garage and it was such a time in London and in the music culture – because the thing about garage that’s different to a lot of the different genres now is that garage is all about love.
“You don’t hear a garage song about hate or killing somebody or violence or anything. It was all about love. And people connecting and people spending time together and people enjoying each other’s company. And I think that’s what made garage so beautiful and that era so beautiful.”
This taps into another aspect about the film that Edusah reckons is so exciting – the chance to tell an entirely positive story set in London, especially one focusing on three people of colour.
“When you watch TV shows, there’s very much the stereotypes that you see all the time,” he said. “And I think it’s important that people see a London that is true, and that they can relate to and recognise, because this is the first time I’ve seen a story about three ethnic boys of colour in London that doesn’t involve, drugs, extreme violence, knives, or anything of that sort.
“So it’s like, I think it’s revolutionary. I think it’s important that people see a London that is real but also a London that you know, people can connect with. Because that is a part of London, don’t get me wrong, all the other stuff. But there is a community that’s full of loving people that just want to crack jokes and have fun. And there are also boys from that community that aren’t the bad boys, aren’t the gangsters.
“Because us three, we’re just three boys who think we’re cool. So I think it’s important to kind of highlight those kids, because they often go forgotten, because they’re not the most extreme or crazy. it’s important to highlight those kids and make them kids feel like they’re special, because they are the majority of kids in London.”