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Talent Spot: David Gyasi, Star Of BBC Drama 'White Heat' And Film 'Cloud Atlas'

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David Gyasi stars in 'White Heat', 'Cloud Atlas' and the small matter of 'The Dark Knight Rises'
David Gyasi stars in 'White Heat', 'Cloud Atlas' and the small matter of 'The Dark Knight Rises'

So, in the first of an occasional series, we spotlight those up-and-comers whose name might not mean anything right now, but give it a year, and anyone reading this will be able to say... "told you so".

Kicking off with David Gyasi, an actor whose star is about to shoot high into the ether, with some high-profile material on both TV and film - a lead role in a new BBC primetime drama, an as-yet unexplained role in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, swiftly followed by a turn in the film Cloud Atlas, alongside Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw.

First, Gyasi is one of the young stars of White Heat, starting this Thursday on BBC2, which tells the story of seven hopeful students who began sharing a house in 1965, and brings their story up to the present day. With a big budget and classy cast, its narrative arc lies somewhere between Our Friends in the North and This Life - lots of relationships, betrayals, job-searches and political protests.

Gyasi plays Victor, a Commonwealth student whose meagre grant allows him to live in London, but not to visit his parents back home, giving him plenty of time instead to gaze stoically at the girl of his dreams while she gets caught up in the arms of the far more dastardly Jack (Sam Clafin).

"The first time I read it, I thought, 'I don't want to play this character'," remembers Gyasi now.

"I sounded weak and found the whole idea of 1960s Britain quite difficult to read as a young black man, with the racism that Victor experienced. He didn't say anything or come back with any retort, which really bothered me."

"I spoke to my dad about how it affected me, and my dad had this wry smile on his face. He actually came to Britain in 1966, the year after my character Victor, and he told me to read it again. He pointed out that, in his silence, there's a dignity and a strength that a lot of the Windrush generation used to maintain their dignity. So I read it again, and found it incredibly strong that time, fell in love with it. So that's why I did it."

Gyasi, an obsessive film-watcher from an early age - "black and white, musicals, Norman Wisdom, I didn't care" - was brought up in London by parents who were insistent that, whatever else he did, he got himself educated.

"My parents were very much of the mind, 'you go the extra mile'," he remembers. "That was because when they arrived they found their qualifications weren't enough, and they had to go back and redo them. So they were always determined I did that little bit more."

Do the characters of White Heat ring true for him?

"I saw my father a lot in Victor. His friend Jack really is his nemesis. I've not really come across a true-life Jack, but you'll watch it and think he's incredibly charming, a great orator, talks a good game and all of that. But when it comes to the real stuff, Victor's got more going on."

As well as his appearance in the much-anticipated finale to Nolan's dark Batman trilogy, Gyasi's other exciting project this year is the big screen adaptation of one of those 'impossible to film' great novels, Cloud Atlas - a prospect that, as ever, was all about timing.

"I was still doing White Heat, and Sam (Clafin) had been telling me about getting one of those audition calls, and I said that was something that had never happened to me.

"And the very next day, the phone rang and I got told to put myself on tape for the project.

"It was quite a challenge, because the story crosses different time zones and dimensions, we're all playing various different characters, I play someone in 1836, 1973 and 2003. It was filming in Majorca, Germany and Scotland with people like Hugh Grant, the lovely Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry... the list goes on."

So, working alongside A-listers on international film sets... is it time for David Gyasi's parents to stop worrying about him? He laughs:

"I performed as Prospero at college when I was 17, and my parents came to see it. My dad gave me a nod afterwards and he said, 'you go on and do your thing.' "

Cloud Atlas will be in UK cinemas later this year. White Heat starts on Thursday 8 March at 9pm, BBC2 - some pictures from the series below:

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