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Ashley Thomas: "I like to give all the characters the respect that they deserve"

Them, Top Boy, Black Mirror – Ashley Thomas has amassed a formidable screen CV. His next role? The ITV remake of spy classic The Ipcress File. We talk to Thomas about getting his spy on 

Ashley Thomas

Ashley Thomas has been gracing our television screens for a long time, expertly executing a range of different roles. Whether you know him from Them, Top Boy, Black Mirror, or are a fan of his music persona Bashy, you can't deny the impact he has had on the big screen.

Thomas has been acting since he was in primary school. At the age of “five or six”, Thomas was auditioning for an array of commercials, his first role starring in a Wall’s ice cream advert.

Gone are the days of cheesy whimsical ice cream adverts: Thomas’s acting career is heading for new heights.

He landed an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his impressive performance in Them. Building off this momentum, Thomas will now portray Maddox in The Ipcress File in the highly anticipated ITV show.

With all his ever-growing success, Thomas remains a charming and humble person. We chatted about his early start in acting, where he gets his inspiration from, and his possible return to music.

Starting with your role as Mr Emory in Them, how did that come about?

I just got sent the script, I read it and put myself on tape. I then heard there was some interest which was amazing

But then at the same time, I was a little bit scared and intimidated by the character, the weight of the story and just the importance of it. I wanted to do the part justice and began to talk myself out of going to the screen test in LA.

But my mum and some friends convinced me to go. And when I understood that it was fear holding me back, I knew I had to do it. And the next day [after the screen test], I was offered the part.

Playing Maddox in The Ipcress File was relatable because I understood what it is like to navigate in these spaces

Is it easy to do an American accent?

I don't find it easy. I find I have to put in a lot of work in order to attain that accent authentically. But that's part of the process. I do the research and I put the work in and I speak to my African American friends and family so that the accent is grounded in a real place.

It takes a lot of work and me doing my due diligence but that helps me build the character, so that’s cool.

How did you feel when you heard that you were up for a Film Independent Spirit award for your performance in Them?

It feels good to be recognised by a credible award ceremony that's really industry-facing. A lot of people in the industry respect and look to those awards, so it was a good feeling.

I’m glad I was able to do a good performance. To me, that's more important than anything else. But it feels good to have the nomination, for sure.

Ashley Thomas

Moving onto your latest project, The Ipcress File, have you read the novel?

I haven't read the book. I did watch the original film with the legendary Michael Caine.

What preparations did you take to play a spy?

I always start from scratch because I like to give all the characters the respect that they deserve.

I could have done little because I've played a similar character from that era, in particular a black man in a position of power trying to navigate the workplace in a time, which was less progressive than now. And those kinds of characters had similarities, but I had to start again and strip it all the way back.

I read a book by Leutrell Osborn, which was called ‘Black man in the CIA’. Reading his book was pretty helpful because it taught me what it was like in the world around him at the time. I was thankful that he had even put his experiences out there that I could utilise that to get an understanding of the world.

I also watched a lot of documentaries on that time and spoke to some people that lived in the era. That's how I build the characters, without giving away too much of my process!

Ashley Thomas

Out of all the characters you have played in Them, Top Boy, Black Mirror and now The Ipcress File, which one do you relate to the most?

I think I relate to them in different ways, some of them more than others, but I think the one that I probably relate to the most is Henry Emery in Them because the character was so nuanced.

Being set in the 50s, there were these pressures of the world that changed how you are treated because of the colour of your skin or your class which I can relate to on a lot of levels.

Top Boy to a certain extent because it's so rooted in where I'm from in London. And so, I understand that world.

Playing Maddox in The Ipcress File was relatable because I understood what it is like to navigate in these spaces. I always try to find something in the character that I can relate to and build from that seed.

Do you remember your first-ever audition?

I've had so many auditions so I can't pinpoint it. As an adult, it might have been a BBC kind of comedy. I think I might have already been 20 or something; it was my first taste of the industry.

I didn’t get it anyway. But it's fine now because it's turned around. My career's gone on, and I'm actually playing one of the leads in another show that that network is doing!

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Can we look forward to new music from Bashy?

I don't know. I’m focused on acting. I like to create when the moment feels right and if that moment takes me again, then maybe. Who knows? But currently, I'm not writing. The timing isn’t right.

Tell me something nobody knows about you?

I'm really into candles. I'm always in different shops looking and buying candles. I find them very peaceful, especially sitting in a dark room. Right now, my favourite scent is probably Diptyque Vanille.

Finally, where do you get your inspiration from?

Life, man! Just everyday life. It probably sounds really generic coming out of my mouth It’s all in my living experience.

I could read a book, I could watch a film or a TV series, see an article in a newspaper or my niece could say something funny. All this helps to inspire me creatively.

Watch The Ipcress File on ITV, March 6, 2022

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