David Harewood Praises 'Undercover' Black Leads, Says 'Shocking It's Taken This Long'

Star of 'The Night Manager' and 'Homeland' talks about black actors on screen.

'The Night Manager' star David Harewood is shocked it's taken until now for two black stars to lead the cast in a BBC primetime drama.

Millions tuned in last night for the debut of 'Undercover', the channel's brand new political thriller starring Sophie Okonedo as a high-profile lawyer, and Adrian Lester as her husband, with a secret past he will go to extremes to keep hidden.

David, previously the star of 'Homeland' and also of 'The Night Manager' which triumphed in the same slot in the weekend schedule, tells HuffPostUK the casting of two black actors in the lead roles isn't "a big sea change, but it is a sea change. Let's just hope it's not a one-off".

Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester co-star in 'Undercover'
Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester co-star in 'Undercover'

He tells us: "It’s shocking really that it’s taken so long. This kind of thing happens all the time in America – black actors lead shows constantly over there and I think we’d be very good at making it the norm here because we haven’t been brought up in the same sort of racial cauldron as they have in America. I think we have an ability to look at race in a different way and a much more objective way than they can in the States.

"We should take the lead on that but I think both places have much to learn from each other. There’s things they do better in America and there’s things we do better here when it comes to race. We should get on with investigating it and get on with defining who we are as modern urban Britons."

David, who has previously spoken frankly about why he moved to the US as a younger actor to take advantage of the better opportunities for black actors, is also circumspect about the significance of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy around this year's Academy Awards, revealing there's been quite a reaction in the offices of TV executives on the other side of the Atlantic.

"There has been some reaction in America," says David, "particularly this pilot season where it’s almost impossible to get a lead role if you aren’t black.

David Harewood with Tom Hiddleston in 'The Night Manager'
David Harewood with Tom Hiddleston in 'The Night Manager'

"Let’s just hope it’s not too much of a reaction, let’s just hope it’s a sign that people are becoming more open to casting actors of colour in leading, substantial roles and that it has an effect worldwide, particularly in the UK industry, and that it continues to do so in the American industry."

David can't complain himself with a catalogue of recent roles in highly-regarded shows, including the much-celebrated 'The Night Manager', adapted for the BBC from John Le Carre's spy novel.

David's character, CIA agent Joel Steadman is one of the few noble establishment figures in the story, and with talk of a second series, the actor would like to see him take a more central part in the action.

"He was very much on the periphery of this one. He was very much a liaison in the first series so I’d like to see him maybe taking more of a front seat, but I’d be happy just being involved in it to be honest."

After this series and 'Homeland', David has had more than his fair share of espionage drama under his belt, which has meant doing research into the real-life agents on whom his characters are based.

"From all the research I’ve done the thing that most surprised me is the amount of humour they have. Also it’s quite a dangerous field and there are certain people in that field who relish putting themselves in those dangerous situations," he reflects. "It’s like walking out on stage and becoming another character and I was surprised at how many of them really, really enjoy their jobs."

Meanwhile, it hasn't escaped David's notice the attention being garnered by his co-star Tom Hiddleston, with his fans now pushing him for James Bond. Who gets David's vote for the next 007?

"I’m voting for myself, even though I’m a bit old. I’ve got an outside chance," he chuckles. "But I think Tom’s a great actor and good luck to him."

The Night Manager is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.


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