She (MUM) always supported me, even though back in the 80’s, a mixed-race boy from an estate at the age of 7 saying ‘I want to be an actor’, was rather unfathomable and unattainable. Not only from our own personal circumstances, but there were simply no role models for someone like me. Fraser Ayres
English actor Fraser Stuart Ayres is best known for his role as Clint in the BBC comedy series The Smoking Room.
Ayres first joined the youth core at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester. Since his television credits include: Bella and The Boys, Unconditional Love, London’s Burning, The Vice and Trail Of Guilt. His stage work brought him Best Actor awards for his performance in The People Next Door and he has also starred in Ramayana, Telling Tales, Four and Bluebird, Workers Writes, Vurt, Sandman, and the world premiere of Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur. His film work includes Revenger’s Tragedy, Intimacy, It Was An Accident, Speak Like A Child, Dinner For Two, Rage, and Kevin & Perry Go Large. He played “Ray” in the BBC Three drama pilot West 10 LDN (also known as W10 LDN). In 2007, Ayres appeared in Little Miss Jocelyn and in 2011, he starred in the one off BBC Christmas show, Lapland. In 2015 Ayres appeared as Theo Bainbridge in the ITV series Midsomer Murders episode 17.2 “Murder by Magic”.
In 2016, Ayres joined the cast of the Talawa Theatre Company and Royal Exchange Manchester co-production of King Lear. The Daily Telegraph praised “Fraser Ayres’s chillingly sociopathic Edmund, the amoral face of an emerging, modern calculating politics”, while The Guardian said “Ayres is one of the most dangerously unstable Edmunds of recent times”,
During 2017 he was cast in the part of Rich Collis, a menacing drug dealer and money launderer, in the long-running ITV continuing drama Coronation Street. He is currently writing several projects including a CBBC show, an original comedy for UKTV based on his own life experiences and several radio dramas focusing on the hidden history of Jazz. Fraser also created Sorry, I Didn’t Know – an all-inclusive, comedy panel show, focusing on Black History. His writing credits also include Sky One’s In the Long Run. ( Main image credit: The People Next Door l-r Fraser Ayres, Eileen McCallum – photo by Douglas Robertson)
- How has lockdown affected you professionally?
When things emerged last year and our industry shut down for 3 months, it created a very uncertain time for many people, including myself. We’re used to uncertainty as creatives, but this was on a whole different scale.
- Did you come from a creative family, what made you decide to become an actor?
I was raised in a single parent family by my dear mum who knew nothing about the creative industries. She was always a grafter and did everything to make ends meet to give me the opportunities that were not available coming from an estate in Leicester. She always supported me, even though back in the 80’s, a mixed-race boy from an estate at the age of 7 saying ‘I want to be an actor’, was rather unfathomable and unattainable. Not only from our own personal circumstances, but there were simply no role models for someone like me. That never changed her support, and she went to incredible lengths to make my dreams a reality. It all started after writing a story about an apple in Primary School. It got turned into a play and I was cast as ‘Apple’. Well, that was it, I almost didn’t have a choice after having my tiny child mind blown like that!
- How different do you feel it is to act on TV and to act in stage play? And which one do you prefer?
They’re entirely different disciplines that give you different relationships with your audience and both require their own skillsets. TV requires a much more internalised performance due to the close proximity of your audience I.e., right in your face, seeing every twitch and expression close up. Theatre is much more immediate and once you’ve committed, there is no ‘2nd take’. That difficulty is also its greatest joy as it creates an incredibly live and engaging experience for audiences. Although we’re all well served with the plethora of choice from our broadcasters and streaming platforms, I think there are many of us who are looking forward to our theatres being reopened, and the stories we will be needing to hear once they do.
- What is the first thing you do to research and approach a new role?
Read the script! I learnt a long time ago that before ‘doing your own thing’, try and understand the writer’s intentions, their vision and go from there. I’ve had the amazing pleasure of portraying real people, often with sensitivity required due to the subject matter, and in those circumstances, I find that your responsibilities to be authentic are even greater and that understanding as much as you can about a person or the world, they lived in can be invaluable in honouring them and their life.
- Tell us a bit about TriForce, what do you see its role now in terms of pushing the diversity message with the current magnification of the inequalities we have seen in the last year?
The TriForce Creative Network has now been operating for 18 years, addressing the issues around inclusion, diversity, and access in our industry. We’ve built a firm reputation and seen 1000’s of life trajectory altering outcomes and are proud of our contribution through such things as MonologueSlam to the on-screen change we’ve witnessed over that time. Many of the issues that have come to the forefront right now are what we have been addressing and highlighting for a long time and in truth, the rhetoric for ‘change’ in our industry has very rarely matched the reality. The tragic murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests were felt keenly by our industry and once it ‘reopened’, we saw an incredible receptivity to the work we do, and we’ve seen an uptake in engagement from our industry on a very tangible level. With dandi.org.uk we are now working with over 50 production companies to crew inclusively having put out over 200 roles, across 24 productions since January alone. It’s certainly not the only answer but for the first time, this conversation hasn’t been forgotten a week after comments of ‘watershed moments’ have passed, and this has enabled us to put more people at senior and decision-making levels than ever before.
- When did you start writing and what do you like about it?
I began writing about 16 years ago. My first project was called ‘Maynard’ and was about a young man inheriting his mother’s pattie shop in Brixton and the beautiful community that surrounded it. Interestingly, Maynard finally got made in the form of Radio and was aired last year. Writing gives you a level of input that you simply don’t get as an actor, and there’s nothing quite like seeing your idea that started off as a small seed at 3am in the morning, become a fully-fledged production! I also feel that as a writer, you can have more of an impact on our society be it through how you tackle the subjects in the shows that are loved by millions, or like in Sorry, I Didn’t Know, where I was able to bring Black history to the forefront in a way that was enjoyed by all demographics and added to the conversation about Black representation and the rich history that is unfortunately not understood by all.
- What was it like working with Idris Elba on “In the Long Run” how involved were you as a writer?
Idris is great. I knew him pre ‘Springer’ days and it’s incredible to see his journey unfold as it has. One of the fantastic things about Idris, as that seeing as he’s literally the most famous Brother on the planet, is that he’s still so warm, unaffected, and supportive of talent. My work on In the long Run began with a script commission and by the time we had finished, I’d written four episodes, including the finale of the 3rd series. Let’s just hope it’s not the final, final episode and we get the pleasure of making more.
- How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Imison Award?
It’s a real honour to be recognised like that and especially with it being for Maynard which has had a remarkable history. Over the past 15 years, we’ve done many readings in front of 100’s of people and although it always received an incredible response, unfortunately the broadcasters never saw the need for it. For it to finally get made and for it to also be recognised feels like a great end of its crazy journey.
- What makes a good writer, what tips can you give to anyone starting out?
Authenticity. It’s a bit of a buzz word but it’s true. Only YOU can write what YOU write. Nobody else, and that is also why you are so valuable! Don’t try and write things that don’t speak to you as there will be someone, who it does speak to, that can write it better. I tried for many years to write what I thought people wanted for me. When I wrote what was important to me and from the world’s I knew, that’s when people started to pay attention. Also, sign up to our mailing list at www.TheTCN.com! We have so many opportunities coming through and we’re proud of the work we’ve done to bring unheard talent into the mainstream. We’ve seen many of those we’ve highlighted and supported now become an integral part of our industry and that’s due to our work in this field always culminating in tangible outcomes. We’ve never done ‘schemes’ as we believe that unless talent is being paid, or making giant steps, then there’s very little use to these things. We’ve just launched a ground-breaking program with UKTV – We’re taking 6 writers straight into paid development, then filming them in Autumn to be shown on Dave in 2022. It’s literally ‘Bedroom to Broadcast’ and to get your original on screen in such a compressed time is unprecedented.
- Do you think Black and brown people in the creative industries will be hit the hardest by the pandemic?
Absolutely. Black and Brown people are feeling the brunt of this pandemic. Those across under-represented groups are having to face challenges that many can’t understand let alone, appreciate. The inequalities and divides of not just in the UK but our global society have been highlighted and this incident itself, has then widened them.
The systemic racism that exists has become even more prevalent and coupled with our country’s lurch to the right, means it is indeed a difficult time to be Black and Brown. At a time like this of so many external pressures, being able to get those most impacted at least some work, means a lot to us.
. What has 2020 taught you that you may not have acknowledged before?
It’s the ‘little’ things isn’t it? We’ve all been placed on ‘enforced meditation’ and it can only make us reflect on who we are and where we are in our journeys. I think many people have come to realise the importance of friends, family and that a cuddle is possibly the most valuable thing on the planet right now.
- Tell us about what you’re working on now?
I’ve recently written on several projects including a new CBBC show based on a group of young gamers, as well as getting to achieve one of my life’s ‘bucket list’ moments in writing for EastEnders. I’ve just delivered my first original based on my own life experiences and have again started writing Sorry, I Didn’t Know in anticipation of show running the 2nd Series. I’ll also be Exec Producing the amazing shows we find through our work with UKTV which will be another great opportunity to hire inclusively from top to bottom, and make sure that as many people as possible can weather this storm. More about Fraser and TriForce: http://www.TheTCN.com
The Imison Award is administered by the Society of Authors and was founded in memory of BBC script editor and producer Richard Imison. Previous winners include Vicky Foster, Lulu Raczka, Adam Usden, Mike Bartlett, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Lee Hall and Nell Leyshon. We would like to thank all producers, writers and agents who have entered the awards