It’s hard to make surveillance sexy. But if anyone can, O-T Fagbenle is your man. The star of The Interceptor – BBC1’s new Spooks-style caper set in the shadow-world of criminal surveillance – helps to invest techno-crime drama with the kind of old-fashioned punch last seen in cop shows such as The Sweeney.
Fagbenle, 35, plays Special Agent Marcus (Ash) Ashton, a former Customs officer co-opted into the top-secret Unit (Undercover Narcotics Intelligence Team). “Ash is the boots-on-the-ground man,” he explains. “His colleagues do the technologically advanced stuff – listening in on phone calls, intercepting emails – but it’s Ash who handles the physical execution of the ‘hit’.”
The son of a British mother and Nigerian father (O-T is short for Olatunde), Fagbenle is best known in the US for Looking – HBO’s series about gay friends in San Francisco. Here, he’s been in Doctor Who and Hollyoaks and starred in Walter’s War, about the British Army’s first mixed-race commissioned officer.
The Interceptor, however, is his first action-hero role and he’s loving it. “I play basketball, so that kept me running, and I did as many stunts as the insurers would allow. I’ve been doing a lot of my own stunt-driving, fights in vats of liquid, getting smashed out of windows – everything I dreamt of when I was 11 years old!”
Fagbenle had a “nomadic” childhood, moving from London to Nigeria and Spain: “We moved back to Britain for my secondary education. My family are quite academic and I was set to study economics and politics at university. Then, when I was working for my A-levels, I couldn’t perform in the school play because I was studying, but they asked if I’d help out with the lighting. And that first night, I came home and said, ‘I love everything about the theatre and I’m going to audition for drama schools.’
“My mum was amazing – she’s great at big things like that. She said, ‘All right, but we’ve only got money to audition for two.’ So I auditioned for two schools, got into both, and chose Rada. I’m always grateful to my mum for letting me go with my heart.”
And now he’s a star on primetime TV. “As a younger man, I thought the best thing art could do was to challenge people’s mindsets, and I still do, but I’ve come round to the value of entertainment. A show like The Interceptor, which gives the audience that release, after a hard day, of just sitting down and enjoying themselves – that adds value to lives, too.”
The Interceptor begins on BBC1 tonight (Wednesday 10th June) at 9:00pm