In new ITV1, York based drama, Eternal Law, Ukweli takes on the role of Tom Greening, an eager newcomer on earth for the first time, working with fellow angel Zak Gist (Samuel West) as lawyers for a local legal firm.
Rising star Ukweli Roach trained at RADA before finding fame through Streetdance 3D and appearing in Shakespeare’s Globe: Romeo and Juliet as Tybalt. He also stars in feature film, One Day with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Ukweli is currently filming Starlings for Sky One, written by Matt King and Steve Edge and produced by Baby Cow.
Here Ukweli explains why he’s nothing like his character, what it was like wearing wings and his encounter with a possible guardian angel when he was a boy.
How would you describe Eternal Law?
Eternal Law is an exciting blend between the legal and the supernatural, action and relationships. It’s about reconciliation and redemption and trying to find the good in every person in every situation.
Tell us about your character, Tom?
Tom is a rookie. It’s his first time on Earth; he’s never been sent on a mission and he’s never been in a position of this kind of responsibility or power. So there’s a lot for him to still discover when he comes to this planet. He’s very pure, he’s very innocent and he’s very good-hearted and good-natured. But at the same time he’s got a lot to learn about himself and about human beings.
Do you share any similarities with him, or are you quite different?
We don’t share many similarities, which is one reason why it was so fun for me to play. Although Tom is quite a lot different from me as a person it was really nice to play someone that innocent. I like his openness, the fact he jumps into everything head first because he’s so inexperienced, whereas a more experienced person would have a more cautious nature, or be more wary. Tom has no barriers, which can often get him into trouble, but it’s a real rare quality that you don’t see a lot other than in children.
What attracted you to the drama?
When I read the script I thought it was a really interesting premise and an interesting story. I wanted to know what happened next to the characters, especially Tom. His innocence, his openness and his potential interested me. He’s a bit of a bumbling buffoon at the beginning, making mistakes in a very sweet-natured way, but his potential and talent suddenly appear out of nowhere. I think that makes him much more of a three dimensional character.
What is Tom’s relationship with Zak and Mrs Sheringham?
Tom looks up to Zak immensely. To him, Zak is the cool, hardened, grizzled veteran who knows everything. Tom sees Zak as his dictionary on the world. We know that Zak may not be the best person to get advice from all the time but to Tom, he is.
Mrs Sheringham is very much a mother figure to Tom. Tom has a very childlike quality and obviously being an angel and not having a mother, Mrs Sheringham fills the void. When things aren’t going so well with Zak, or if both are misbehaving, Mrs Sheringham is there to put her foot down. Plus, she also has an insight into their world. Mrs Sheringham is there for guidance and to be the bridge between the heavenly imperial world and the human world.
What was it like wearing the wings for filming?
When I first saw them I was so excited. I think they will look incredible on screen. Putting them on made it easy to feel majestic and grand. They are not as heavy as you would think, for the size of them they are actually quite light. After a while if you’re doing a lot of movement, such as in one scene when I had to run through a field wearing them, they start to get uncomfortable, but that’s to be expected.
Do you believe in guardian angels and have you ever had an experience?
An angel is a messenger, someone who tells you something. I do believe in angels, if we can call them that, but as to whether they come in that form, with fluffy wings, who knows?
I don’t know if I can say I’ve ever had an experience with angels but there have been times where things have happened I can’t explain. Once when I was a child I was lost at the Notting Hill Carnival and it was very late. I didn’t know what to do until a man appeared from nowhere from the crowd. There was no way he could have known I was lost and didn’t have a way to get home, but he asked if I needed a Travelcard. It was the exact Travelcard I needed. It’s one of those things that could have been an extreme coincidence but he approached me in a crowded place when he couldn’t have known I was lost and had to get home. It was very strange..!
We learn Tom is a chorister, do you sing in the drama? Or use your dancing talents?
I didn’t have to do any real singing but there are a few moments where I hum and sing to myself, nothing that demanded any technical training! I do a little bit of dancing in the drama, which they thought would be fun to throw in.
Did you consider a career in law before you began acting?
It’s a strange coincidence but just after I finished my A Levels I applied to study law at Queen Mary’s University. I didn’t do it because I decided I wanted to be an actor and moved on.
Part of the reason I wanted to be an actor was because I could never decide what I wanted to be. I’ve wanted to be everything at some point. As an actor I’m able to become, for a short while, each of those things and experience them.
I always enjoyed acting at school but it was only when I was 17 that I decided I wanted to be an actor. When I was 18 I applied to RADA and got in. My parents fully support me with my acting. My dad is a preacher and he also tutors, and my mum is a social worker.
What was it like filming in York?
York is a perfect depiction of the drama. It’s a very modern city but is very rich in history and culture with its cobbled streets, old buildings, and cathedral. Gradually over the three months we shot almost everywhere. When we weren’t filming we got to explore. I walked around the city walls and went on a boat ride down the river, the York Dungeons and the Jorvik Viking Centre.
The series will be screened from 5th January 2012 on ITV1.