Top Boy casting director, Des Hamilton, explains the process of crafting together the ensemble of the Netflix long runner.
I was sent episode 1 by Charles Steel and Aly Flind of Cowboy films. I had previously worked for Cowboy on a short film Andrea Arnold made called ‘Wasp’. I loved the humanity and multidimensional aspects of Dushane and Sully, I responded immediately explaining that I’d be very excited to meet with the director Yann Demange.
The evolution of the casting process can be summed up by saying that on the first series, back in 2011, we held an open call looking for characters Ra’nell, Gem, Chantelle and Dris (subsequently played by Malcolm Kamulete, Giacomo Mancini, Letitia Wright and Shone Romulus respectively). After over a month’s preparation, the open call at the Round Chapel in Hackney generated approximately 200 people for those 4 roles. Then on series 4, we received over 1500 submissions for 1 character that featured in 2 episodes.
What the show needs from its casting is people who have a natural understanding of the world and the characters that they’re going to portray. Even with all the acting ability in the world, if the actors hadn’t had some kind of connection to that environment, something would have been missing.
We feel the overall philosophy of the casting process is to honour the writing of Ronan Bennett, and populate his wonderful scripts with people that, not only do justice to it authentically, but also – given the freedom that production and the directors support – elevate it on occasion.
Given the ensemble nature of the show, we look for people who are generous of spirit and not self-serving. The ability to listen is also very underrated, especially when it comes to being part of a team. Top Boy, as well as being a family, is very much a team.
As a casting company, you can only dream that actors progress and grow in terms of ability, in the way we have witnessed with Ashley and Kano. No doubt inspired by this, subsequent incoming talent such as Jasmine Jobson, Saffron Hocking, Little Simz – amongst many others – have similarly honoured this level of commitment and consistency in their respective roles. Adding to the authenticity we have seen in each series. Fully respectful of each other’s journeys, every one of them brings their A-game to every scene, which in turn demands this – in a non-prescriptive manner – from any talent that walks on to the Top Boy set. For us, it’s been a real joy working and watching these actors bringing these scripts to life, and seeing the results gained by being part of a strong team.
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