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'There are many opportunities for black actors in the UK'

BEST OF BRITISH: Actor Treva Etienne

DESPITE CROSSING the pond to America a decade ago, actor Treva Etienne insists that there are plenty of opportunities for British actors here in the UK.

“I had done a lot of acting, but also some writing and directing too. I wanted to explore directing a bit more, and there was an opportunity to work with some American companies, so I went for it,” he shares with Life & Style.

As industry experts claim many black and minority ethnic (BME) stars - such as Aml Ameen, David Oyelowo and Freema Agyeman - were leaving the UK to pursue careers in the US due to a lack of opportunities in their homeland, Etienne believes there are “lots of stuff happening” in the UK.

He says: “I left because I wanted more opportunities, but I didn’t leave because of the lack of them in the UK. I got the opportunity to go, and like any actor, or anyone who wants to further their career, I took the opportunity when it came.”

He continues: “And I think this is what a lot of the other black actors have done – they’ve just taken the opportunity.

“I just think when you get the opportunity to work in a bigger pond, you share the love, you take the risk and you jump.”

Etienner, 49, who says he is acclimatised to America (he has family in the States who he would visit when he was younger), also believes America is used to British actors making a name for themselves in that country.

“The Americans have been used to English people coming out since Charlie Chaplin,” he says. “They know our accent - they know what we’re about.”

Because of this, the recent success of British actors in America – including Idris Elba, and Chiwetel Ejiofor – is not surprising to Etienne.

“If you look at what Brits have done in America – it’s not unusual, it’s traditional.

TALENTED: The actor has starred in Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl (above) and Terminator Salvation

“England and America have always held hands. They’ve always shared talent. It’s not surprising. The way I see it – talent always rises to the top no matter where it’s from.”

Etienne, rose to fame in fan favourites such as, Only Fools and Horses, Desmond’s and London’s Burning. It was at this time Etienne helped start the UK diversity movement and was called to become the first black James Bond.

He was deputy chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Diversity in Film Committee with Lord Richard Attenborough, Sir David Puttnam and UK industry professionals.

His career moved from strength to strength with blockbusters including Pirates of The Caribbean and Terminator Salvation. Now he is back on UK screens to star in Steven Spielberg’s Falling Skies.

“Filming Falling Skies was tough work and it was intense. There are a lot of special effects, a lot of explosions, and night shoots.

“But it was a great cast and a great crew, and we all mucked in and got on with it.

“We were filming for around six months in Vancouver [in Canada]. It rained a lot so it was very much like being back at home in England,” laughs Etienne.

After training with the BBC as a director, Etienne wrote and directed his first short film The Promise of Strangers.

His television credits include writing, producing and directing two seasons of the BBC’s award winning comedy sketch show The Real McCoy.

MENTOR: Etienne ran a youth theatre company with actor Larrington Walker

He also wrote and directed two award winning short films, Driving Miss Crazy, which won the HBO Best Short Film in Acapulco, and A Woman Scorned which won a Best Short Film prize at the Hollywood Scare-fest Film Festival.

Etienne, who plays the role of Dingaan Botha in Falling Skies, was brought up in Harlesden, northwest London, and learned his acting craft by joining youth drama schemes in the capital, including the National Youth Theatre, the Royal Court, the Young Vic and the Black Theatre Co-operative.

In his mid-teens, he set up his own youth theatre, Afro Sax - a twist on Anglo Saxon.

He teamed up with mature actor, Larrington Walker, who became a good friend and mentor to him.

Afro Sax became very successful and they performed shows at the Opera House and the Round House.

Etienne says: “It was an opportunity, as young people, to do something that was creative and gave us the opportunity to get into a creative space and start playing with our talents and our confidence.”

Together, he and Walker ran the workshops for four in Brixton which caught the attention of many young aspiring stars – including Angie Le Mar, Robbie G and Eddie Nestor - who went on to the become very successful in their own fields.

“Larrington was really a mentor to many young actors of my generation. He’s an unsung hero. A lot of us owe Larington a lot. He really helped guide us and gave us the confidence to go off and do what we wanted to do,” Etienne says.

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