Elliot Edusah on ‘Pirates’ and showing an unseen side of London
Elliot Edusah is one of the three young stars of Reggie Yates' hilarious directorial debut, 'Pirates', and is already a legend, basically.
Why are you reading this and not going to see Pirates? Oh, because it’s not quite out yet. Fair enough. When it’s out though, you should go to see it, with mates, for a better time will not be had in the cinema this Christmas season. Pirates is Reggie Yates’ directorial debut and is the story of three friends in 1999, who are Garage scene wannabes, and a bunch of love-struck, food-struck, piss-taking, not-quite-men who get into a host of scrapes on their route to having the best/worst Millennial Eve possible. Basically, it’s very, very funny, and full of very, very good music, and you must see it. Elliot Edusah is one of the three incredibly likeable leads – alongside Reda Elazouar as Kidda and Jordan Peters as Two Tonne – he plays Cappo, the sensitive intellectual one who’s just back from his first term at Uni and is no longer sure he wants to be part of The Ice Cold Crew. As we discuss with Elliot, seeing the kind of vulnerable, daft, anxious, emotional masculinity in his character most obviously, but actually with all the boys, is something that is very refreshing to see on screen indeed. Pirates will surely make stars of all the leads, and indeed Elliot will next be seen in the very exciting new TV series, Django, a new version of the 1966 classic b-movie. Good times for Elliot, good times for us all…
Can you tell us about the film, and who your character is?
So my character is called Cappo – he’s a tenacious young man, very motivated, very driven, and he’s coming back from university for his first summer back as an adult. He’s meeting Two Tonne and Kidda, who he’s been best friends with since they were little. They have a Garage group called The Ice Cold Crew, which still on going, but we’re all now on different paths in our lives, our childhood relationship is slowly changing. So there’s that process of having a friendship that separates, but we still love each other a lot.
It’s a love story about London and it’s also a story about brotherhood and how boys can be in relationships with boys who they can feel vulnerable with: sometimes you can be vulnerable around your friends and tell them how you feel, sometimes your friends can be your anchor in life. And the film is also about how music brings people together.
The relationship between the boys is quite tender. You don’t really see that that much.
Yeah, and it’s something that me and Reggie spoke about a lot throughout the whole process. Reggie was very hands on. There was a point where we all went away for a weekend, just to communicate as boys and get to know each other and have fun. We watched Trading Places and different classic comedies that Reggie loved and that inspired him to write Pirates. The room that we were working in was the room in which Richard Curtis wrote Love Actually – he’s one of Reggie’s mentors. It was very detailed and anything we needed help with, Reggie was there to help us. I was born in 1997, so all my older siblings were in the garage scene, they loved it, and my dad loved it as well, but I wasn’t ready to connect to it. I had to do a whole load of research, just to understand the time period, and how people were different. The small nuances about texting, how the relationship with phones was very different back in 1999 to how they are today – when we’re in a party, we’re not going to be thinking, ‘first thing we’re gonna do is take a picture,’ it’s more like, ‘I’m not using my phone unless I need to call a cab or my mum calls me for an emergency!’ It was just about getting acclimatised to that that era and understanding these characters but also adding our own flavour.
A thing that really struck me was how physical the boys are with each other, like puppies…
Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s the cool side of boyhood that you don’t really get to see because everyone always has to be the tough guy and always has to be the bad man. But really, we’re just friends that love each other that can be vulnerable around each other, and also can play around with each other. It takes me back to secondary school because we were exactly the same way. We’d just jump on each other and kiss each other, hug each other, that football mentality. It was just fun to feel, you know.
What effect did Covid have on filming?
It caused a real hiatus in the middle. Reggie shot the film chronologically, so it was really nerve wracking. We thought, ‘Are people gonna notice that there’s a six, seven month gap in the middle of the film?’ I got really chubby eating Oreos during the lockdown – I was like, “I’ve got to lose weight and get back in shape!”
But it turned out to be a lovely moment because Reggie had edited half the film, so he had the opportunity of watching half the film and asking, ‘What are the missing pieces? What scenes do we need to flesh out more?’ He had the time to digest it and really think about it and have time to write more scenes into the film.
It was a strange journey. When we came back, it was all bubbles and staying away from each other and certain things had to change in the film because he just couldn’t happen. But we were so lucky too. You know that amazing scene in Ministry of Sound? We did that about three days before the lockdown. And I always say ‘God has blessed this film’, because we could have scheduled that scene maybe a week after and then we would have never been able to do it because getting 250 people in the Ministry of Sound after that time was impossible.
How did you get involved in the first place?
Through my agency. I originally auditioned for Kidda, but Reggie said to me at the end, ‘You seem more like a Cappo.’ And I was like, ‘You know what, I wanted to tell my agent this but I wasn’t brave enough.’ When I read the script I knew I could do this part, it’s so much closer to me and what I went through. I’m an East London boy but I went to Lamda for my degree. I was classically trained and it was a lovely experience, but when I came back to my East London Boys everyone was like, ‘Wait, why are talking like that? Why are you saying ‘with’? It’s ‘wiv’. It’s not ‘think’, it’s ‘fink’.’ That adjustment of going to a different establishment with different people opening your mind, and then coming back to a very urban environment, with people have known you since you were young – it’s hard to explain that to people who aren’t in the same situation. So I could relate a lot to that character specifically.
So I re-auditioned for Cappo and then we did the chemistry reads with the three boys. And it was great. We were the first ones in the morning. And then they sent me home. On the way out I see a roomful of other guys, ten guys, and thought, ‘Not got this one.’ So I went home, sat down, then immediately I get called by my agent saying they wanted me back for another audition. The three of us did it again – because Reggie was trying different mixes of people – and soon after that, we find out we’ve got the roles. This was great. I think it worked out in the right way. I love Cappo, I connect so much to that character, I feel like it was destiny for it to work out that way.
How will it be when your friends back in East London see it? It must be one they’ll love.
That’s the thing. That’s why I’m so excited about this. I’ve been a lot of projects and they all mean something to me, but Pirates is a special one. Because I know that it’s one that people that I grew up with will relate to. And I think it’s what the world needs right now. We’ve had a tough two years, whatever industry you’re in, wherever you are in the world and I think a bit of laughter is needed.
Also I’ve never seen London reflected in the way it’s reflected in Pirates. It’s three young boys, from different ethnicities, living in London together, and there’s nothing about race or violence or sex or any of that. It’s a pure story. A story about love, family, brotherhood, trust, but also just boys playing around and being silly. Sometimes in the media and in films, men are made to grow up too quick, when there’s a childishness about us that’s really endearing. And it’s something that you love, because it takes you back to secondary school. It takes me back to when I just used to fool around with my boys, and we didn’t have a lot of worries. Then suddenly you turn 21, and it’s ‘Oh, gosh, taxes are a thing. Mortgages. Okay. There’s more to life.’ But I think there’s a very sweet spot that Reggie captured in Pirates. And I haven’t seen London like it on TV. Obviously, you’ve seen London in different ways in I May Destroy You, in Kidulthood and Top Boy and all these great projects. But I think Pirates is a very specific area that hasn’t been touched before, about a legendary era when it comes to the music culture of the UK. I don’t think there would be a Grime scene, that there would be a Stormzy if there wasn’t for So Solid Crew and the Garage era. I think people are people going to love the film – it’s very, very funny, and it’s just going to make you want to go out and party and have fun.
What kind of other research did you do?
I watched many documentaries on YouTube about the Garage scene and how all these garage acts were blowing up out of nowhere.. And then also I did a lot of research on the clothing and aesthetics. It was very different when it came to fashion. People were much more unique. It was about having your own style and identity and less about what everyone else was wearing. But also men used to dress very smart. When we were going out it was shirt, tie, blazer, shoes. That’s changed a lot. Now you see someone out in the tracksuit and that’s considered sexy and cool.
Reggie also connected us with a lot of people when we went away. We had a lot of phone calls with people like Lonyo, who made ‘Garage Girls’ and DJ Spoony, and they were just telling us about the manorhood and how people used to act and just the culture behind it, because that’s something that you can’t research.
Also Reggie was, was about in those time. He was on the radio, and he knows a lot about the music and a lot of the musicians. There’s a lot of cameos in the film, people making appearances like Mighty Moe and the Heartless Crew at the barbershop and Lonyo and Wretch 32 at the party. It’s really exciting, and makes it that much more authentic and pure.
What was Reggie like to work with as a director? It was a new experience for him…
He was fantastic. The whole time. Even drew up throughout the COVID period, we were talking every week, he just kept us involved, and he motivated us. There was always collaboration with Reggie, we all had ideas and Reggie was never afraid to kind of accept our ideas, and give us the confidence to feel like we can risk ideas that might sound stupid but can just throw it out there. That’s the one thing I loved about working with Reggie, because he would always listen to you. It’s such an exciting feeling to go to set and think, ‘what am I going to do today? What am I going to try different? What am I going to surprise people with?’ There’s the element of fun because you’re not restricted and you don’t feel restrained as a creative being. I think that’s when the best work is done. You’re not overthinking stuff, worried he might say, ‘Oh, that’s a stupid idea.’ That was never the case with Reggie, every idea was a good idea. It might not work. But we’ll try it out. I think that was that was key.
Can you tell us anything about Django?
So I’m basically playing one of Nicholas Pinnock’s son in a new version of Django, from the 1960s original film. It’s about a place called New Babylon that my father has created, where all free nationals can come to, because after the Civil War there was disarray. They needed somewhere where people that were free of slavery and war could come and find refuge. I play a very integral part to the story because I trigger a lot of the resentment that Nicolas has towards Matthias [Schoenaerts], because there’s something that he does to my character that’s unforgiving. That’s what really fuels the whole story. So that’s exciting. And that should be coming out next year. But right now it’s Pirates time.
Have you seen it with an audience yet? That’s going to be an exciting I imagine…
The only time I’ve seen it was with the cast and crew. And half the people know the jokes, and half the people aren’t allowed to not laugh so it’s very hard to gauge! But I’ve heard back from press screenings and how people were reacting to it and people walking out singing. I keep on bumping into people saying how amazing it is and how much they love it, so for me that is really great. Comedies are made for people to enjoy. That’s job done.
Pirates is out on 26th Nov.
Photo team credit:
Photographer: Joseph Sinclair
Styling: Dylan Weller
Grooming: Daisy Holubowicz
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