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Big role for a big actor

GENTLE GIANT: Nonso Anozie

NONSO ANOZIE is not yet a household name, but his talent and stature precede him.

Starring in upcoming big budget Hollywood flick Conan the Barbarian, the British actor, who has built up an impressive CV of theatre credits – and scooped a prestigious Ian Charleson award – looks set for a bright future.

Despite his towering presence, the 32-year-old conducts himself with a graceful demeanor and plenty of poise. And though he says his character in Conan is “noisy”, in real life, Anozie is somewhat of a gentle giant.

“I play the role of Artus, Conan's old friend and someone he looks up to as an older brother,” Anozie says of his latest film role.

“Artus is a Zamoran pirate, a skilled warrior and a bit of a ladies man. He’s big, noisy and really makes his presence felt.”

Having recently been cast in the second season of hit US HBO show, Game of Thrones, the skilled actor is certainly making waves across the Atlantic.

“I haven’t even filmed it [Game of Thrones] yet, but I’m already getting mail. It’s a great part.”

With TV credits including Occupation and Prime Suspect; film roles in RocknRolla and Atonement; and theatre credits including King Lear and Othello, Anozie’s work has certainly been varied. Unsurprisingly, he’s thrilled that his large frame hasn’t made him typecast.

“Obviously, I’m a six foot six black man – you can’t get away from that,” he laughs. “But it’s been interesting that so far, that hasn’t really dictated my roles.”

However, he says he has been mindful in choosing his roles, so as not to do a disservice to black audiences.

“There are things to consider when you are a black actor, because you are representing your people every time you are on stage or in film,” he says. “I have turned down many parts because they don’t say the right things.

“You can’t always have a choice, but I try to pick things that stimulate me and tell good stories. It’s about human beings, the dynamics between people, rather than the colour of your skin.”

FRIENDSHIP: Anozie stars alongside Jason Momoa in Conan the Barbarian

Hailing from Camden Town, north London, Anozie got his first taste of acting when he was in primary school.
“My headmaster chose me to play the lead in a school play. I had to put on funny clothes and big glasses. The reaction from the audience is something that stayed with me for a long time; I knew I wanted to do it again.”

By the age of 15, he had found his vocation, but there were still obstacles.

“I was kind of a man-child; I wasn’t young enough to play the little kids on TV and I didn’t look old enough to play a young man. Being black made it doubly hard.

“I had the feeling it was going to be difficult, but I never said to myself I couldn’t pursue a career in acting. There were many people who said I couldn’t – even the careers advisor at school told me to forget about it. He said, ‘It’s hard enough for good looking white boys, and you’re a black boy – its not gonna happen.’ But I was determined.”

Inspired by a performance of Beef No Chicken by famed St Lucian writer Derek Walcott, Anonzie found that acting could be colour-blind.

“Seeing an all black cast [in Beef No Chicken] at the Tricycle [theatre], and seeing plays with multi-cultural casts made me think, ‘hold on – this is something I can do.’”

After an initial rejection, Anozie studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, where he was chosen by director Declan Donnellan to playing King Lear at The Royal Shakespeare Company. Aged just 23 at the time, he became – and remains – the youngest actor to ever undertake the role.

Having since built up an impressive resume across theatre, TV and film, Anozie believes that each of the mediums provide a great opportunity to develop and learn new things.

“I will always see myself as an actor who loves to tell great stories and be part of projects that make a difference,” he says.

“I think each medium has its own challenge and depending on what project you are doing, you will find things that challenge you and make you grow.”

Conan the Barbarian is in cinemas now

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