The much anticipated adaptation of book one of Malorie Blackman’s award-winning young adult series Noughts + Crosses premieres on 5 March on BBC One, here star Jack Rowan talks about the series.
Did you feel a connection with your character, Callum McGregor?
Callum is so complex, I connected to him on many levels. He’s ambitious to better his life and is desperate to do some good in the world rather than sitting and simply hating authority.
He’s such a complex character, but one thing about Callum that remains true, even when he turns dark, is that there is a good and innocent boy in there. Life can throw things at you but you fight to remain true to yourself. Callum always wants to try to make a difference and it is constantly being thrown back in his face. Throughout the story he is this good guy who also has the influence of his more radical brother and his father’s politically active past weighing on his mind.
When you pick up our story Callum has made it into the final round of cadets who are hoping to join Mercy Point, a military organisation run by the Crosses, the ruling race. Callum is a Nought. This has never before been allowed so it is an incredible moment, although some Noughts are against it. Callum feels like he has a purpose, and depending on how well he performs maybe next year there will be more Noughts joining – and slowly and surely the world might change and he will have been a part of that, which is his driving force.
Can you describe the moment Callum sets eyes on Sephy, after many years?
One night Callum steps in as a waiter to help out his mother, Meggie (Helen Baxendale) at an extravagant party at the Hadley House, where she is the housekeeper. It is there that he sees this beautiful girl who turns out to be his old childhood friend, Sephy (Masali Baduza).
However Sephy happens to be not just a Cross, but the Home Secretary’s daughter. There is a lot of chemistry between these two, and soon enough they begin their forbidden relationship. A lot happens in this story but it always comes back to Callum and Sephy’s beautiful but dangerous love story.
What was it like working with Masali Baduza?
I got the part and then I read with a few final actresses for the role of Sephy, but there was one actress they were flying over from South Africa so I was very intrigued. Then we read together and there was undeniable chemistry.
Masali and I get along great and I did my best to make her feel welcome in my home, in London. So when we came to South Africa it was the first time we were meeting everyone else, but because we had each other it helped us to not feel completely alien. It was nice for us both to have a friend and someone we knew by our side, especially as this is my first time away for a job and my first time in Africa, and I hadn’t realised how much I would miss my family and friends.
In terms of the work, we bounce off of each other well and embrace each other’s ideas and so anything can happen and it will never be wrong. I really enjoy working with her.
Noughts + Crosses presents an alternate version of London, where 800 years ago history was changed dramatically from how we know it and Apricans ruled Albion. What was it like inhabiting this world?
I enjoyed wearing Callum’s wardrobe. I want it all for myself. It’s great in these crazy high temperatures as it’s a lot of loose, thin shirts.
As Callum has nothing against the Crosses he wears African prints and colourful shoes, because that is the fashion that would be in the high street shops, and being a Nought boy wearing that clothing would help him stick out less. Some young Noughts want to make a statement and decide to wear all black, like his older brother Jude (Josh Dylan), who wears gothic-style boots and only wears black and grey.
When you’re walking down the street in this world you realise you stick out even more if you do that. It is a rarity to find, to buy and to wear the plain, grey clothing worn by people like the members of the Liberation Militia, a radical organisation fighting for Nought rights, who are clearly trying to make a statement.
What is the relationship like between Callum, and his older brother Jude, who is more radicalised?
Even though Jude is older, he acts at times like the younger brother. Callum has his head screwed on a little more and is able to think with his brain more than his heart. Callum is strategic and smart where Jude just decides that hate and anger are the right way to go.
The cast of the McGregor family all came from different parts of the UK – although we were all part of this fictional family, all with different stories, we flowed as a family – we have real chemistry. I really enjoyed filming in the McGregor house – that’s more like where I’m from in real life, I like the rough and ready stuff, it feels true to who I am.
Were there any stand-out moments from the shoot?
In Cape Town there’s a place called the Chrysalis Academy, which is where we did the military training before we starting filming. There was me and 100 other guys chanting and doing something that looks similar to a Haka, a war cry or dance, and we are staring at the mountains with the sun shining and all of a sudden a family of baboons turned up and we had to stop and run inside. I liked to think they were curious about what we were chanting and came to have a look. It was that moment I realised I was a long way from London. That was a stand-out moment and was an experience to tell my family.
Within the story, Callum is one of the very few Noughts to make it into Mercy Point, but when we were actually doing the military training I was also one of the very few white people there, and it ended up being about four white people and around 100 black people. Our stunt co-ordinator called us by our character names and had the actors come forward to explain their roles – it was quite method in the approach. Everyone was informed that in the story they would not like these Noughts and everyone fully embraced that within the training, so we, the actors playing Noughts, were isolated deliberately and it was good for me to take away that experience.
Being from London and being white, it was the first time I have ever experienced that feeling of isolation, of feeling alien, and it was an important experience to take forward. It was also really hard on a physical level as I am not used to running in that heat or on sand, so it all helped immerse me in that word.
Tell us about taking on a character who negotiates topics like injustice and racism.
I like the fact that I am able to play a part that is impactful and important. I relish doing meaningful work that makes people think, that gets a reaction. I enjoy the thrill and the buzz of being involved in something controversial. I am very proud to be a part of this story – it’s a unique take on something that is still relevant in some parts of the UK and in the world now.
I’m happy to be involved in something that will resonate with people and perhaps cause a conversation. We are presenting a modern-day Britain that has been colonised by Africa – it’s fascinating.