There’s a new face in ‘Lewis’ tonight with Babou Ceesay collecting the sidekick baton from Laurence Fox, in Episode 3 of the seventh and final series of ITV’s crime drama (9pm).
“I’ll probably have to go behind the sofa a couple of times,” confides Ceesay, of watching himself in what is undoubtedly his biggest role to date.
“But Kevin Whately’s seen my first episode and sent me a lovely text, so I’m not worrying too much. A bit.”
Babou Ceesay with his 'Lewis' co-star Kevin Whately
According to Ceesay, his co-star, who knows all too well the perils of stepping into a pair of acting shoes made comfy by someone else (those of John Thaw’s Morse being particularly familiar and distinctive), could not have been more welcoming...
“He’s such a lovely man,” muses Ceesay. “Laurence Fox joked a lot about my being Kevin’s bit on the side, but Kevin always made it clear, if I was there it was because I was good enough.
“And there’s a saying in Gambia, which I kept remembering - ‘never look back.’”
Ceesay spent much of his childhood both in Gambia and Mali, before returning to his native UK as a teenager, and eagle-eyed viewers will spot that ITV have defied 'Midsomer Murders’ former chief Brian True-May’s controversial fears with their new hiring.
Not long before he parted company with his longrunning production, True-May was reported fearing hiring black actors would mean turning the leafy burbs of middle England into “Slough. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” So does Ceesay think his hiring by ITV is political?
“I haven’t taken it as an insult, let me put it that way,” he answers diplomatically. “This industry is over-subscribed in every possible category of human representation. I’m just lucky to be in employment.”
Previously, David Harewood - “who now follows me on Twitter, that’s the biggest change to my career so far” says Ceesay - waded into the debate, with his claim that his big role in ‘Homeland’ would never have happened in the UK.
And Idris Elba just keeps quiet and lets his talent speak for him, with roles in ‘Prometheus’, ‘Thor’, and on British TV with his lead role of ‘Luther’.
So, I ask Babou, am I being unhelpful and backward even in asking him about this aspect of his career?
The charming Mr Ceesay, who was working as a risk consultant for Deloitte until he decided to try his hand at acting, can handle this line of enquiry easily and makes a good point as he replies...
“I had a cushty job in the city. And when I told a lot of shocked people I was leaving it, all anyone had to tell me was about the 95% unemployment rate in acting, and the fact that those working are the same ones over and over again.
“The industry is challenging. Sometimes women have it tougher than men. I knew what I was taking on. And my role models aren’t just black ones. I’m more likely to say Marlon Brando than Jamie Foxx. So the whole thing is about working hard and crossing your fingers, whatever colour you are.”
Babou Ceesay makes his debut appearance in tonight’s Lewis at 9pm on ITV.