It’s A Sin is definitely the sensation of this year. The multi-BAFTA Award-winning writer Russell T Davies’ gave this world as a present a brand new 5-part drama which follows the story of the 1980s, the story of AIDS, and charts the joy and heartbreak of a group of friends across a decade in which everything changed. YASS Magazine met Omari Douglas who plays Roscoe Babatunde in the series and this is what he shared.
Tell us a little about your character, Roscoe, and how he fits within the group.
At the beginning of the story, and he’s reached that point in his life where he just wants to start living life in the way that he wants to. This is at odds with his family and their value, so he chooses to fly the nest – and in some style! And that’s how he winds up with the group. Once he leaves his family, it means that he can live freely and really boldly. He’s got such a wild self-expression because of that. He thinks that nothing can stand in his way, really. Finding the group means that he’s found his own family unit, as well. But interestingly, he still wanders off and does his own thing. He is a bit of a maverick, which is what I really love about him. He’s just full of dreams and ambitions. And he just really wants to make something of himself.
Can you see any of yourself in your character?
I think what I identified with initially was that I was also 18 when I moved to London, that feeling of wanting some independence in your life, wanting to start exploring the world for yourself, and just going out and living your life. And I think that is exactly what Roscoe is doing. I think if there is one thing that I felt like I understood immediately, it was the independence thing and wanting to stand really firmly on your own two feet.
What has it been like working with Russell T Davies? This is your first on-screen acting role isn’t it?
Oh, my god. Wow. I think for anyone who hasn’t really done a telly gig before, you expect to take some little steps into that world. But that’s definitely not what happened. In this case, I’ve been thrust into it. Russell is obviously an icon. When I was in my last year of drama school, I remember when Cucumber came out, it was like an event in our flat, we’d just all cuddle together and watch it. What was just so amazing about the whole experience was that Russell made himself available to us, and you don’t always expect that on such a big project like this. He’s really nurtured us as a group, and I feel that he’s invested in us with his time. He is just so generous and giving. It just made it a really warm experience for me, and for everyone. I just really, really, really value him in that sense, because it’s a pretty daunting thing. I will be indebted to him forever and ever and ever.
Were you already familiar with the period and events at the time? If not did you do much research and/or learn much from the project?
I felt like I had a general knowledge of the decade and what was going on politically. But I did do a lot of reading. And it was interesting learning what Britain was like at the turn of the 80s, economically and politically. In the show, there’s a domestic feel, almost a drabness at the beginning. What makes the show so amazing is seeing that and then seeing the life that suffuses the show coming from our energy as a group of young people living their lives. Also, despite the landscape being quite bleak, at the time, all these young people were finding their way, enjoying life. And then, of course, looking into the disease itself, I think, we’ve been so used to seeing an American narrative of how the epidemic played out, it was really fascinating just learning about how it developed in the UK.
Why do you think this is an important story to tell?
There was so much stigma and shame and prejudice attached to the disease. With the generations of people that we have lost to AIDS, I think this stigma became the precedent in how people have remembered it. I think it is really important that we remember that these were just normal people who had so much to offer to the world. What’s so amazing about what Russell has done is that is that even though at the forefront of the story is the epidemic, at the same time it is really about a group of young people living their lives, being ambitious, having dreams and expressing themselves. And I think that is probably the best way to honour those people. And also it will open up, hopefully, some sort of intergenerational conversations about the gay experience. For younger generations, it’s going to be really important for them to know how we got to where we are now.
You share some scenes with Stephen Fry – how was it working with him?
He is just so generous, and warm, and kind. I met him the day before we started shooting and we had a really, really, really lovely chat. And I learned so much from Stephen in terms of the period. He’s the most amazing storyteller. He’s such a fascinating man, as everyone knows already. He also made it so fun. He’s so lovely. Without giving anything away, in an episode my character goes to an event with Stephen’s character. This is the first thing that we shot together too. My character goes up to Stephen’s and is supposed to whisper something rude in his ear. And Peter [Hoar, the director] said to me a few days before, “just be on your A game and just make sure that you have got some ammo”. And I think we did that take about eight or 10 times! I will never ever be able to repeat the things that I said that day…!
There’s a real “gang” at the heart of the drama – did you become as tight-knit a gang with your co-stars off-camera too?
The bottom line is that we made friends for life. I can’t really put it any more plainly than that. It was insane that there were no chemistry reads when we were being cast, and yet we all got on so brilliantly from the off. And I’m just so, so grateful for it.
How did you find immersing yourself in the 80s during filming? How did you get into the 80s vibe – music/films etc?
I just completely immersed myself in music. I actually have a Spotify playlist that I’m still adding to this day. So, so much music. I also watched a lot of old episodes of Top of the Pops. I just find it really fascinating how people back in the 80s were consuming that kind of thing. Today we have Spotify and YouTube, and we can just go and look for things. Whereas I imagine that people were just waiting for Top of the Pops to come on for their favourite band or waiting for a song that they love to come on the radio. Everything is hyper-accessible to us now, but back then you were waiting for the stuff you loved. And I just love that, that people were living for music in that way. I watched lots of clips of telly and comedy from the time. Because, again, interestingly, it’s seeing what was accepted in forms of comedy and laughter at the time, that was really eye opening for me…
OK, some 80s questions now…
Who’s your favourite 80s band?
I’ve got loads, like The Pointer Sisters, Grace Jones, Janet Jackson, Prince, Imagination…but I think I will go with Grace Jones because of the music and also she’s an icon of the time. A lot of people look at Grace Jones and they just see her as this amazing figure that everyone’s in love with. But actually, her music is amazing. And I love the Nightclubbing album. Roscoe has a massive poster of her on his bedroom wall too!
Your favourite 80s fashion trend?
And finally, favourite 80s TV show?
When I was reading the scripts, there’s a Larry Grayson reference. I went off and YouTubed loads of his stuff. He’s just so funny and naughty! He’s pretty brilliant.