Michael Ajao has performed at London’s Royal Court, the Almeida, and in a blockbuster film alongside John Boyega, but this year marks his debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Ajao tells Giverny Masso about his role in a stage adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s novel The Fishermen…
Are you excited to make your fringe debut?
I have never been to Edinburgh before. One of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this is because I’m quite young – I’m 21, and I’ve been acting since I was 12. My motto is that when I look back on my career I want to be able to go ‘I have done everything’. I’m excited to be in a city that is going to be so creative.
What is your Edinburgh show about?
The Fishermen is a story about a positive redemption. It’s about two brothers coming together and trying to remember all the things that happened in their lives that led to one incident that has turned their lives around. It’s been an interesting process, because the play felt like a novel up until the first preview, and we had to keep thinking: ‘How can we take this beautiful idea and make it theatre?’
How did you get into acting?
I got introduced on the film side. My story is quite a humble one – as a black male, what’s usually put in front of you is sport and music. Drama was something I was introduced to by my teacher, who was friends with casting director Nina Gold. She put me forward for the film Attack the Block, which I had a part in.
That film showed us there’s more to life than sitting on your council estate, where no one else gets to see your expressiveness. When I was 14, I was signed by United Agents.
My mum would say: “Just go to these things, you never know what you are going to get.” She was such an inspiration, I lost her when I was 16. She knew she was passing, and she would say to people such as my agent: “Look after my boy.” When I got older I realised she was trying to make sure I was ready for this industry. I was introduced to theatre aged 17. I’ve done Our Town at the Almeida and Liberian Girl at the Royal Court.
How have you faced the challenges of the acting industry?
My Christianity has made me realise that acting is great, but it’s a job, that does not define me. That’s what helped me gain the sanity to go from job to job. It’s subjective. If someone says the wrong thing, you can take it to heart, but having that spiritual side means I can brush it away.
What are your future career ambitions?
I’m quite into dramas. I’d love to do a bio of one of the greatest sporting athletes – someone like Chris Eubank. I love boxing. I’m also into projects showing the youth of today and black role models. Black Panther was a huge thing. I never had that growing up. I’m calling for the UK to make its own equivalent.
Training: Pimlico Academy (2008-13), Brit School (2013-15)
First professional role: Mayhem in Attack the Block (2011)
Agent: Lisa Toogood, United Agents
The Fishermen runs at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 2 to 27