CHARLEY JAI INTERVIEW WITH CHUCKY VENN
Many of us are fed up with seeing stereotypes on both stage and screen; poor representations of all types of people, but just when some may have given up all hope of being presented with a non token young, Black or Asian character (in TV/Film), EastEnders go and introduce Ray Dixon on 10th January 2012! Suffice to say, there are indeed a few stereotypical aspects to Ray however, these are far from negative.
As Ray Dixon on set of EastEndersPlayed by the (easy on every pair of eyes) and very charismatic Chucky Venn, Ray Dixon is a black man who discovers a son he never knew existed and upon this realisation, he immediately decides he is going to be there for his child. More typically, viewers may be use to seeing the absent ‘black’ father having left his family/partner/pregnant girlfriend/wife by choice, with it being suggested that he simply doesn’t want to know or isn’t ready for such a responsibility. But not Ray. He is a man, first and foremost, who just so happens to be black. A (black) man who is clearly determined to be a good dad to his son, Morgan, whom he had with Bianca Jackson, as well as his daughter who has a different mother to his son.
As Ray Dixon with daughter Sasha and son Morgan
(characters, Patrick Trueman and Kimberley Fox also in frame)This strong and genuine portrayal of the character delivered by Venn, I feel, has arrived at the right time. It has been a while since a positive, truthful representation of the black/Asian community has been seen on screen or, perhaps the good in such characters screened/staged have simply not remained good, as it were, for long enough. Here, I speak with actor Chucky Venn to get his take on the stereotypes presented by the media/entertainment industry and his thoughts about his role in EastEnders. Chucky talks to me as he juggles a few other things…. He states. “I only multi-task when I’m forced to! Usually I focus on one task then the next”….
Chucky, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, as you are now silly-busy! How are you settling in at EastEnders?
I settled in almost seamlessly. Previous experiences working within TV kind of prepared me for what was to come. I understand the need to prepare, the schedules, the potential time restraints… I don’t think I would have adapted so quickly if I didn’t have that experience, I’m thankful that I could achieve that. It’s 100% family oriented too. Despite what may be said/written, there is no rivalry. Everyone is all about the common goal – to have EastEnders continue to be the number 1 soap.
(From L – R) Actors: Ricky Norwood (Fatboy), Diane Parish (Denise Fox), Tony Discipline (Tyler Moon), Shona McGarty (Whitney Dean) and Chucky Venn (Ray Dixon) at the TV Choice Awards 2012 where EastEnders won ‘Best Soap’
Where were you when you got the call to tell you that you had been cast and how did you feel?
I was in South Bromley. I knew the call was coming that day following previous discussions with my agent and I knew that EastEnders were very interested in me. I had just finished a matinee performance of a play called Keeler (about *Christine Keeler). My agent called and said, “Hello, am I speaking to Ray Dixon?” I was elated, it was an emotional time and I was very happy. It was unreal. When I took my agents call I was backstage and my mic was still on so everyone in the dressing rooms could hear me yelping and giving thanks to God. The cast were happy for me.
Many people remember you for your role in Footballers Wives. While filming for the programme did you ever think you would graduate, as it were, to one of the countries best-loved soaps?
Yes, well, not necessarily EastEnders… It’s always about elevating, for me. I didn’t have EastEnders in mind while I was on Footballers Wives but, when it came along I was very happy! I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me that I would end up on EastEnders, a programme I had watched for years; the nations best loved soap but, I’ve always been ambitious. I hope to be the first black Bond. There’s talks of the role being played by Idris Elba but, the producers haven’t met me yet.
How did your career as an actor begin?
I didn’t always want to be an actor. I wanted to be a stuntman as a child and I was very much an action-man type kid. Then I wanted to be an athlete – 100 meters runner but, I also loved basketball and boxing. I went on to study athletics as I believed I’d go on to work in that field. At the age of 17/18 I was in Queens Park with friends one day. We had a video camera and we randomly filmed some improvised scenes. I didn’t take it seriously but went along with it and my friend rated my natural flare in front of the camera. He said, “Chucky, you should think about being an actor because you have a natural ability”. I hadn’t thought about acting before. I would have a joke about in class (as you do) making friends laugh and that but, I never thought about entertaining seriously. But, with acting as the new goal, I went to Hammersmith and West London College where I studied BTEC Performing Arts. The lessons taught came very naturally to me and I felt comfortable performing in front of people. I received a distinction and a merit and my tutor encouraged me to pursue a career in acting. Thereafter, I continued studying drama for 3 years. I never went to drama school but, I worked as a model, an extra (background/supporting artist) etc to do what I could to develop my skills and also establish myself. I also wanted to be famous and TV was the chase. I would look in the stage newspaper and I subscribed to their newsletter. One day, I received their newsletter and came across a casting opportunity for a new TV programme called The Dream Team. I sent my CV and a photo and they called me for an audition. I remember that Spice Girls were big at the time and I couldn’t believe it when (at the re-call auditions) I saw Danielle Brown, the younger sister of Spice Girl Mel B! I was really excited at the prospect of being on TV but I was told I didn’t get the part. I was devastated especially as it was made known to me that the producers were very interested in me and it seemed they would offer me the role. A year or so later while I was working on an independent film my director called me to say that the casting director for The Dream Team wanted to see me again for another role. I went up against Robbie Gee for the role of Linton Alexander – couldn’t believe it!! But, then I was asked to also read for another role – Curtis Alexander, the younger brother of Linton. I was eventually cast as Curtis and I wasn’t too pleased because I thought this was more of a supporting role, although I was glad to have been cast. In actual fact, I was about to be proven wrong! The character Curtis went on to be a key role in significant story lines and I was so happy; it was amazing! Some months later I was offered a regular role on the programme. Of course, I had to audition again but I was successful. I ended up doing 3 years on the show which helped me to establish myself as an actor. Following my time with The Dream Team (2002 – 2005), I did a bit on Holby City ,The Bill and a few films too.
As Tremaine in Footballers Wives with actress Phina Oruche as Liberty Baker.What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
It’s so important to have faith because it will be tested. Take stock of everything you learn. Listen to those in the business who are experienced and take notes. Never let the work stop – keep learning. I still attend classes when I can. If the greats like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino can continue to study, then so too should I. I want to be great as an actor so I will keep trying and that means continuing to learn. Actors need to stay focused and need to be prepared for negativity. You have to look past it. It’s important you know how good you are and to be ready to work hard for what you want to achieve. You must know yourself or at least have a fairly good idea of who you are. Also, you have to go out and gain as much experience and information as possible.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in the industry, in particular within British TV/film?
Clarity within roles – fair portrayal of society today on TV. I think there’s a need to bring more quality and reality to the stories being told. We live in a multicultural society but that is rarely represented clearly and realistically on screen. It’s a struggle for actors of all backgrounds to get a foot in the door, as it were, but if I had a choice, I would have there be more positive stories told of what it is to be a black man/woman – Scholars, Lawyers, Doctors – portray that side too.
You play the lead role in Brixton Hill Cop*, how does this character differ to Ray in EastEnders?
Ray is not a stereotype, not entirely and that’s why I was attracted to the role. I take my hat off to EastEnders for having a character like Ray on the programme. Dean Walker, who I play in Brixton Hill Cop, is a true representative of someone who is disillusioned with the political aspect of their job. He starts taking matters of the law into his own hands in trying to rid the streets of so-called scum. He chooses to seek out a promotion in order to do this. So, essentially, what he represents is positive even though his choices may not be right all the time. But, again, he is a non stereotypical character. He is trying to do good – risks his own safety to better society – he wants to make a (positive) difference.
*Brixton Hill Cop was written by Jason Barrett and is produced by Triple Threat Media. It is a twelve part series directed by Mo Ali, director of Shank and also stars (former EastEnders actors) Petra Letang and Mo George. The pilot is expected to hit UK screens in summer 2013. (The trailer is on youtube).
How do you feel about the general way in which certain culture’s or ethnic groups are portrayed on stage or screen?
I think it’s a slow creep towards a better change but its still static. TV wise, there are no ground-breaking shows that I know of. Luther is great! it shows a man who wants to do good but yet he is still fragile and is not without his issue’s and of course he is black – he is intriguing/interesting as oppose to completely stereotypical. So, I think it is getting better – the way certain cultures or ethnic groups are portrayed however….. we still need things that are fresh and actually I think Luther has that element to it.
Does Ray Dixon and Luther represent the average black man or are they just one example?
One example, definitely. More so Ray because he is a good representation of a black man. He may be a product of a broken home – in the sense that he is no longer with the women of his 2 children – but, he isn’t neglecting his kids. He wants and is trying to be there for them. There are very good dads about who are not with the mother of their kids. Sometimes that goes unreported or isn’t mentioned because of the perception of a young black man. You have to depict the reality on stage and screen – the drama, violence, poor housing conditions etc but that’s just one side. The issue is the fact that those representations are often seen as the only ones! But you can make films or plays about positive black men – Graduates, Doctors and Business owners etc but perhaps there’s no appeal in that to an audience. Maybe what is seen as intriguing is about what happens on the street or the “hood” as it were, with guns, knives etc. The shock factor is what sells.
What is the ultimate goal, career wise? Above all I’m working towards greatness. I want to leave behind a great legacy. I want to be remembered as a quality actor and a good director. I’ve worked on small projects as a co-director and i’d like to direct some more productions. But, I love acting, I doubt I will get tired of it. I see myself as a Morgan Freeman or Samuel L Jackson – to have the passion for acting for a long time to come.
Chucky on Daybreak
Chucky on This Morning
As always Chucky, you’ve been an open book and a source of inspiration. Thank-you. Don’t forget the agreement we made some months ago…. When you’re ready to release a calendar make sure you call me to direct the shoot, ok? As you know, I’ve directed a few best sellers, ahem!!
Oh for sure babe. I wouldn’t holla at any other director! Haha..
Thanks for reading folks!
YOU CAN WATCH CHUCKY IN EASTENDERS WEEK NIGHTS ON BBC1
Follow her on twitter: www.twitter.com/msCJ80