Ashley Walters has revealed he had no idea that Top Boy writer Ronan Bennett was white when he first read the script for the Channel 4 series, but said signing up was a “no brainer”.
Walters plays Dushane in the British crime series, which centres around a group of drug dealers who live in the fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney, East London.
“When that script came to my table it was a no brainer, because it dealt with [serious issues in low-income communities in London]. Especially at that time,” he told RadioTimes.com. “There was a so-called spate in knife crime and gun crime and it was so prevalent in the media, it was like, this script talked about why people were doing what they were doing.
“I didn’t know [Bennett] was white. I didn’t know what he looked like.”
Walters said Belfast-born Bennett, whose previous credits include BBC dramas Gunpowder and Hidden, was “the best person for the job”.
“One brilliant thing about him that you have to respect is that he lives right in the centre of [Hackney] where this whole show is set, so he knows the community, he knows what’s happening there, he knows how people feel,” Walters said.
Top Boy was cancelled by Channel 4 in 2013 after two seasons, but has been picked up for a 10-episode third run by Netflix. Walters praised the streaming giant for bringing in black talent behind the scenes, including Monsters and Men director Reinaldo Marcus Green.
“I think it’s an issue that is being dealt with,” he said of representation. “I don’t want to force anyone to give me a job. I want to be the right person for the part.
“One of the brilliant things Netflix has done with this show is, not only have they brought on a lot of up and coming young black directors, but they’ve also had other assistant directors shadowing those. So we’re actually preparing the next gen, so if there was a Top Boy season six possibly those people could be working on it as well.”
He continued: “I feel like providing opportunities like that and keeping those sort of doors open for writers and directors and people to tell their own stories is more important than just putting more black people in a TV show or more Indian people in a TV show, actually teaching people how to create their own work, produce their own shows is the way forward. And that’s what’s going to make the diversity rapid.”
Top Boy launches on Netflix on Friday 13th September