David Harewood talks to Shelley Carter about his rise from restless pupil to acting royalty and how being a Bluenose is in his bones
David Harewood was a self-confessed ‘pain in the arse’ at school. Sat at the back of the class at Washwood Heath Comprehensive he was uninspired, fidgety and disinterested, but on the sports field and on stage it was a different story. “Sport was my thing and I did a few school plays. I had no idea what to do when I left school and just before the end of term one of my teachers suggested acting. It sounded as good as anything,” he says. It turned out to be a genius bit of careers advice. With an enviable CV spanning 30 years and an MBE for services to drama, David’s career has been hugely varied including stage roles such as Othello, Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop and Lord Asriel in His Dark Materials. On screen highlights include the ground breaking Oscar-nominated Blood Diamond and Golden Globe winning smash Homeland.
David auditioned for Birmingham Youth Theatre who turned him down. Undeterred, the budding thespian headed to the National Youth Theatre who recognised his talent and offered him a place on their prestigious six-week course. “It was really exciting. It was the first time I’d been surrounded by like-minded nutters and I had a whale of a time. My parents were worried. There were no black actors on TV and it just seemed like a crazy thing to do, but they could see I was passionate about it and supported me.” David came back to Brum after his first stint at NYT and worked at Albert’s Wine Bar in Dale End which was ‘fantastic’. Even there the punters kept urging him to get into acting. Back at NYT the following year, one of the tutors suggested auditioning for RADA which he did successfully. “All the other students were discussing Dostoyevsky and the like. I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about.” He soon settled in and had a ball.
Having worked pretty steadily after RADA, David found he wasn’t getting the screen roles he had hoped for and turned to the US. A swathe of British actors seem to be heading across the pond and taking on some fantastic roles with Homeland being the obvious example. Harewood and fellow Brits Damian Lewis and Claire Danes enjoyed huge success on the show. “On stage I’d had some fantastic leading roles, but that success hadn’t transferred to TV here. In America there’s more choice and more three-dimensional roles.” Homeland was David’s first job in the US which isn’t a bad start. “Having the other Brits around was great. It might have been unsettling otherwise. Damian was great fun. We’d just go off and talk about football or something.” Despite having worked in Britain for 30 years, it’s Homeland that David is most famous for. The success of the show has its down sides though like being papped on holiday with his wife and daughters which was a bit of a shock. “Yes that was weird. We did get to do amazing stuff on Homeland though, like going to the Golden Globes and the Emmys. There were actual movie stars walking around. You know Charlize Theron was within touching distance. Obviously I didn’t, but I could have!” Despite being star struck David managed to hold it together until he saw one of his heroes Sidney Poitier. “I lost it. I leapt from my chair, ran over and introduced myself. He had no idea who I was – probably the cleaner, but it didn’t matter. I just had to tell him how I felt.”
When he’s in the UK David lives in South London but comes back to Brum as often as he can to see his parents and has noticed some big changes in the city. “I love the buildings and some of the changes have definitely improved the place, but not all of them. I grew up in Birmingham at a time that felt diverse, cosmopolitan and musically rich. There were a few numpty skinheads around, but not overwhelmingly. The city seems to have become more polarised which is a real shame.” David’s connection to the city is heightened by his unconditional love of the Blues. “Up the Blues! Up the Blues!” he boomed when asked about the team’s heroic escape from relegation last season. “It was just an amazing feeling. I was on cloud nine. Being a Bluenose is in the bones,” he added. The next half of the year looks busy for David. He’s about to start filming Tulip Fever written by Deborah Moggach and adapted by Sir Tom Stoppard with Judi Dench, but more exciting for him, Christoph Waltz who was in Django Unchained. “I cannot wait to meet Christoph. He is brilliant. I just hope he’s shooting at the same time as me. I’d like to watch and learn.” David is also working on Grimsby which is a film by Sacha Baron Cohen. “I met Sacha in LA and he was surprised I was British. I get that all the time. I worked in this country for 30 years and no one remembers! It just shows the power and success of Homeland.”
INFAMOUS BLUES BATTLE CRY….
David’s rousing messages tweeted before Blues escaped relegation made the front pages: ‘Today. We call on the spirit of Latchford, Francis and Burns. Of Dugarry and all who have worn the Blue and White! Keep Right On Lads!’ ‘As we gaze into the Abyss and darkness threatens to eat us up, remember the City, remember the Fans! Until the End Of the Road Lads!’