TIFF 2018 Exclusive: Gugu Mbatha-Raw Talks Director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s ‘Farming’

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TIFF 2018 Exclusive: Gugu Mbatha-Raw Talks Director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s ‘Farming’
Posted by Wilson Morales

September 10, 2018

Making its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival recently was Nigerian-British writer and director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s “Farming,” which is based on his autobiographical story.

The film stars Damson Idris, Kate Beckinsale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Genevieve Nnaji.

The script was developed in the Sundance Film Institute and chronicles Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s own coming-of-age story growing up fostered by a white working class family in the U.K.

Enitan (Amissah/Idris) is a young boy “farmed out” by his parents to a white British family in the hope of giving him a better future. Caught between two worlds and belonging to neither, Enitan’s need for love and acceptance is exploited by the adults in his life, transforming a sweet boy into a teenage menace.

Driven by themes of identity, power, love and betrayal, FARMING is rich with compelling characters: complex and dubious foster mother Ingrid (Beckinsale), Levi (Dagleish) the charismatic gang leader whom Enitan must overcome, and at its heart our flawed hero, Enitan, a lost soul desperately searching for a mother’s love as he struggles to find himself in a brutal world. When all seems lost and Enitan spirals into self-destruction, a benevolent teacher (Mbatha-Raw) offers him one last chance at redemption.

Blackfilm.com spoke with Mbatha-Raw regarding her role in the film and working with Adewale and Damson.

With this being Adewale’s life story how did you come on to the project?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: I met with Adewale, who sent me the script about three years ago. So I think I was probably the first person of the cast to sort of talk with him about it. I was aware of him as an actor and we both had roles in Concussion with Will Smith a couple of years ago, and I’ve seen the article that he had in the Guardian that sort of generated a lot of this story about six years ago. So I was aware of him in the industry.

Then I read the script and I was like, “Whew. This is intense and powerful and this is his real story.” I almost couldn’t believe it, it was such a unique point of view. I felt like it was a period of British history that we’ve never seen through this perspective. The idea of this identity story and this idea of culture clash really and losing yourself and losing your culture and your sense of self worth. I thought it was a very hard hitting and powerful story.

When I spoke to Adewale about it and just hearing that this was something that he wanted to do for so long and that … he confided in me that he felt like part of him would never feel complete until he told this story. I thought, “Wow.” We’re always talking about telling our stories and what that means and I think it’s so empowering to tell such a difficult story that’s so personal, the courage and the vulnerability that it takes to find self awareness to step back from your own life and also tell the world, this is what happened. We can learn from it and heal from it and not do it again.

Can you describe the character you play. Is she a real person or a composite of a number of teachers in his life?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Ms Dapo is my character, she’s teacher at his school. In reality I think that there were several people in Adewali’s life that inspired Ms Dapo, from a teacher, or girlfriend, I think somebody else that taught him. Yeah, she’s somewhat of a mixture of these characters that showed him compassion and patience and sort of set him on the path of education and self belief. I think also one of the other great messages of the film is the power of eduction and how that can really give you and identity in itself and a sense of confidence and this idea of a young boy looking for father figures, parental figures a sense of brotherhood.

Why does anyone join a gang? So, I think she’s a mixture of characters, but I like to think she’s sort of grounded and compassionate and can relate. Can relate to and maybe see something in him.

How was working along with Damson Idris in that one brutal scene which your character goes through, but you also have a couple of scenes with him.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Damson gives an incredible performance in this film. He is so charismatic when you meet him. He’s sort of liked, cheeky and quick witted and in this film he goes to some very dark deep places. He’s amazing, I’m really excited for his career because this is definitely a huge break for him.

Can you talk about working with Adewale behind the scenes and this is his first directorial debut? How was that feeling like?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Oh, amazing! I think it’s so interesting working with actor/directors. There’s always a short hand there. I think they understand literally understand what you’re going through and that process. He’s so grounded and calm. There was a lot of chaos on the set that we had created in those scenes and I think having an actor/director just brings a more intimate and a collaborative sense to the other actors.

What’s next for you?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: I’m about to start shooting a couple of projects. One’s called Come Away also starring David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie. That’s in the UK. Also a film called Summerland which is the directorial debut of director Jessica Swale, who wrote the play Nell Gwynn which I was in at the Globe a couple of years ago. She won a Laurence Olivier Award for it. So that film starts shooting in a couple of weeks, With myself and Gemma Arterton.


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