It’s an uncomfortably hot Sunday afternoon in Brockley, South London as I approach the set for the upcoming Shiro’s Story 3. Originally the brainchild of Rapman, the artist behind the acclaimed series Blue Story trilogy and most recently Shiro’s Story, he has fast become one of the UK’s finest modern storytellers. But today, I’m here to meet Joivan Wade, who dressed in the all black attire of his character Shiro, greets me warmly.
For those who don’t know who he is – which is unlikely given the work rate that has taken him so far already – 25 year old Joivan Wade has been active since 2009 having appeared in shows from Doctor Who and Casualty to films such as The First Purge and The Weekend. When he’s not busy with his projects here in the UK, he’s working on The Wall of Comedy; his company and an online platform that encapsulates the humour and interests of a young generation alongside close friends Dee Kaate and Percelle Ascott [currently starring in the Netflix series The Innocents].
Following our introduction, Joivan grabs a few slices of pizza during a quick break from shooting and I use the term ‘break’ lightly, as he continues to prompt Cadet with tips for his cameo role in the short film. Jovian is clearly brimming with ideas and it should also come as no surprise that he’s very hands on. Taking on the role of director as well as actor, he effortlessly organises most of his collaborators on set, before stepping away to start our interview. I congratulate him straight away for securing the role of Victor Stone/Cyborg in the upcoming Doom Patrol series which is due to air next year and he thanks me with an excited grin wearing the look of a man who can’t quite believe it.
One thing I notice about Joivan immediately is his sharpness. He teaches me how to pronounce his name “like Japan with a V”, answering automatically as if he’s been asked a hundred times. Settling down to begin our chat, I start with asking him about his opinion on Shiro’s Story. Speaking at length, he describes the project as “culturally innovative. It’s a piece of work which was so needed, essentially it’s a musically narrated short film series.” His faith in the project is evident as he admits that he knew Shiro’s Story would be bigger than a song.
“Even when Rapman first came to me about it I said “bro I don’t do music videos” but when I heard the song, and I was like, “bro this is not a music video, this is a script”, like if you literally broke down everything that was in this video it would be a script,” adding that he was happy to get involved as long as he could produce it and help take it to the next level. “I find it difficult to be involved in independent projects without being able to have more of a hand in them than just acting in them” he explains. I understand why he would be interested in the role given Shiro’s character development. The short film offers a different take on the violence and drug culture that is so often portrayed in British film. Given the popularity of Shiro’s Story, Jovian likens the trilogy to a UK equivalent of Power but we agree that despite some similarities, the plot twists in Shiro’s Story are much harder to anticipate.
On the topic of whether or not the third instalment will be the final one, Joivan says “we’ve got a big plan for it, we’re trying to get it as a full on series and that’s the plan, and we’re essentially using these as an opportunity to be able to create essentially a case study to be able to say “look what we’ve done”, we’ve made the whole world go mad for it, youth culture, this is their baby”. Another thing I notice about Joivan is his will to build things from the ground up, he isn’t content with just a music video or a cameo role. “Maybe it will be the end of our era on YouTube but our plan is to take this and take this to the next level” he states, careful not to promise what he can’t deliver.
Joivan’s filmography is swiftly growing with the most recent addition of the 2018 horror flick The First Purge. Naturally, I’m curious about the thought process that goes into choosing prospective roles and he’s candid about his own role as an actor who wants to be “able to play in a world in which I want to play in”. The ideal world he continues, would entail, “telling a story that I wanna to tell, often stories that I don’t feel like have been told, or stories that have been told, that I really want the opportunity to be involved in.” He goes on to explain further how fortunate he’s been in being able to portray a number of different characters, “especially because as a black [British] actor, we get Hoodie #1, #2, #3, but I’ve been able to do Doctor Who and those worlds in which we don’t really get to play in.”
Another thing I start to notice as we continue our conversation, is how driven and forward thinking he is. It’s evident Jovian is intentionally trying to avoid being typecast and choosing instead to add different strings to his bow. “Once I’ve done one role, what’s the next thing? Am I progressing? If a film comes out or TV show comes out and the TV show that comes out, or the film is not better or more progressive than the one I done before that, I get annoyed. I want people to see the progression and one of my biggest things [for me] is I want people to see that they can do whatever they want to do.”
For me it’s about playing roles which inspire me, that I know I can live in for however long it’s gonna be.
With the flow of British actors heading to the U.S not slowing down anytime soon, I ask whether he personally prefers working in the UK or the US, “There’s not really a preference to be honest. I love L.A. because for one, I think if London was a place in which we had sun for the majority of the year, I would never wanna leave. But the sun, it adds a mad perspective to your life man. You wake up in the morning and you feel a certain way. You open your window and you see the sun, straight away you’re forced into a certain thought pattern. You wake up in London and you open your window and it’s raining, straight away it’s just like… you know what I mean”, and I know exactly what he means as I reflect back on the feeling of optimism and motivation I’ve felt with my own experiences of waking up to the sun abroad.
“So I love L.A. for the weather and all of that, but also the industry. I wanna be on the top of my game and play in the playgrounds where we’re with the best DOP’s, the best producers, the best directors, that’s Hollywood, there’s a reason why it’s called Hollywood”. Speaking with an urgency he continues, “But at the same time I’m born and bred London bro, this is my city, this is what I love and I’m doing what I have to do, to do what I want to do. I wanna build a film industry here so the next generation don’t have to always fly out to L.A. and fiend work. All of us lot like John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia [Wright] all of us are having to go there to try and get roles, like come on man if we had an industry here.” It’s probably fair to contrast his get up and go mentality, to the plight to of British-born footballers afraid to fly abroad for more team minutes.
Given Joivan’s propensity to answer questions with a clarity beyond his years, he comes across as an actor who is well prepared in all facets of the game, and ready to take on impromptu opportunities. Undeterred by the sound of glass smashing on set, Jovian stays on track to answer my earlier question about preparation, “You gotta prepare, that’s the biggest thing.” Reflecting back on his whole journey before The First Purge, it was all down to preparation, “I wasn’t ready for that role a year and a half ago, because I had to get my accent right, I had to do this and I had to do that. Through preparation, through that point, I decided I’m gonna work on that part of my craft now, and when that opportunity came I was able to take it because it was ready for me, it was right.” Reinforcing the preconceptions I’d held about the young actor, I can’t help but admire the determination, work ethic and sheer bravery it’s taken for a once young boy, to mature into a man so quickly in order to pursue his dream.
Right now I get more love for Shiro’s Story than even The Purge.
“A role is a role for me” he says as he goes on to discuss the blurring lines between mediums such as TV, online streaming and film. “Especially now in the industry where even tv and movies are one and the same. It’s all the same thing really – character and story, whatever medium you use in order to tell that. People come up to me in the street and 9 times out of 10 they be like “Ah I love you from this, I love you from that”. Right now I get more love for Shiro’s Story than even The [First] Purge. It’s just the storytelling, it’s the characters, people love what they love and whatever medium that’s put in it doesn’t really matter. Its just consumed you know, thats why Netflix changed the game, its all about content, where it’s distributed is not really a thing. You go to the cinema, yeah you get that experience, but you get somethings that’s wack in the cinema versus something that’s dope online – you’re gonna watch that which is dope online every single time.”
Over here in the UK, we have had a wave of young, Black British actors growing in leaps and bounds with their respective careers. I liken Joivan to Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Black Mirror, Get Out), and John Boyega (Detroit, Attack The Block, Star Wars) with their successes both domestically and internationally. When I ask what their collective successes could be attributed to, his answer comes as no surprise – “working hard and being brave man! It takes a lot for someone to be in a position where they decide “Yeah I wanna go to America”. John did it when he first decided, yeah he went out there for a year, plugged it away. Dan did the same thing. I went out there two years ago… the amount of money that I’ve spent and the amount of time that I’ve spent and the sacrifice of going there without no real…” I know exactly what he means as soon as the conversation takes a religious turn, and here we share a common understanding given both our backgrounds in South East London. With those experiences, it’s not shocking to hear him talk about how his faith in God justified his decisions to take risks despite not having a concrete plan of action. “Belief, I always believed “of course it’s gonna happen, as long as I put myself in that situation and I get it done, it’s gonna happen” so hard work, preparation, bravery man – and for me God. I’m very passionate about my religion and God, and my relationship with God.”
Before we started the interview, we’d both admitted to being big comic book fans, and so moving on to talk about DC and Marvel is well worth the wait. Until Black Panther broke the ceiling on box office success earlier this year, the lack of roles available in the comic book universe for black actors had been a point of contention. Recently landing the role of Victor Stone aka Cyborg, Joivan explains “that was a weird experience. A month ago I got asked to do a self-tape for it and I didn’t know it was that role. I’m very choosy and picky because I run a company. I have employees, and people to feed and look after, and I’ve always been very careful about what roles I pick and how long it’s gonna take me out for. So I haven’t really done series, Eastenders is the longest thing I’ve really done and that was broken up while I was shooting it so I was happy to do it. But everything else has been short-film series, like half an hour episodes which run for 4 weeks or whatever, to give myself the time and ability to make my own projects and build my own company up.
So when I heard it was a series for DC platform and Netflix, but it’s gonna be thirteen hour long episodes, I was like “Rah that’s a lot of time out” but I didn’t know what the character was. So I said “nah I’m not really interested”. And then a month later my UK agent calls me and he says “I got an email from the UK casting office for this thing that you got sent for [Doom Patrol], why don’t you want to go for it”? I told him my reasons and he said “you do know it’s for Cyborg right” and I was like “no”!
You’re his Cyborg and he’s not ready to give up on you for the role
He explains that when certain projects are under wraps they don’t really give you the character and it had been over a month but they still hadn’t found their guy while Joivan was still on their radar. Learning that the role was for Victor Stone, better known as Cyborg of DC Comics fame (see Teen Titans and Justice League), he simply responded “Ok let me think about it. Literally two hours later, as I haven’t got back to my UK agent, my LA agent rings me [at WME] and says “look I just got an email from Greg Berlanti [the executive producer of Doom Patrol] and he just saw The Purge and you’re his Cyborg and he’s not ready to give up on you for the role”. Insisting on setting up a Skype call to explain the project, the producer soon explained “how the character would also crossover into Titans and that you’ve got the CW superhero shows like Arrow and The Flash but this is completely different to that, this is gonna be a Netflix Original for the rest of the world and in the US it’s gonna be for DC platform and it’s gonna be a project that people will love, it’s gonna be mini-movies”. Flying out to LA four days later for a screen test, as the story goes it all went to plan and two days later he was cast. Now preparing for the role, he has a plan to “ace it.”
Joivan’s candid nature shines throughout our chat, and just as we finish talking about his upcoming role in Doom Patrol, he’s needed back on set. Generously giving us more time than we’d initially planned, we begin closing our chat while walking back towards the set. Answering my last question we focus purely on what’s ahead for Joivan, “I’m developing shows at the moment. I have a few development deals in the US for two shows that I’m making. I have two shows in which I’m very close to getting developed, I’m just trying to work out the right production partners. But essentially my whole plan is to do everything that I’m doing over here but in the US additionally to be able to then be able to build out the capital to enable to bring things back home and then create what I wanna create back home, which I feel hasn’t been created for us. More of creating my own company, Wall of Comedy, building that out to be the beast which it will become, which it is already; currently it’s the #1 most viewed comedy platform in Europe. I wanna do the same but have it #1 in America. And have more roles!” and he’s not done yet!
Jovian goes on to tell me, “I’ve got another movie coming out in October called ‘VS’, which is a rap battle film directed by Ed Lilly which is gonna be a dope project. It’s a different take and you’ve got 8 Mile but it’s a British rap battle film, and the community based around that and I’m looking forward to that coming out. And then my head is really just in Cyborg now. I mean today and in the next few days finishing off Shiro’s Story and once we got that in the bag, I’m gonna be all over Cyborg and just getting my all into that for the next six months. And from that point wherever things take me but just creating creating creating, and doing more of what I can.”
Shiro’s Story 3 will be available to watch later this month.