You play Alex Hunter in FIFA 18, the most popular video game in the world. Are you more of a gamer or do you prefer to play sport in the real world?
I like doing both. I think I like to get out there in the real world more these days especially. Growing up I was never a gym guy. I’ve always kept fit by playing team sport. As we get older it gets a little bit more difficult with work and life to stay involved and I miss that. At the moment I’d go with real life over gaming.
I used to play football and rugby, and got involved with a lot of athletics and tennis. Football is the most lifestyle one that we play the most. I grew up kicking about everywhere, watching it on TV and trying to recreate the best moves of my favourite players. When I’m in LA I really enjoy playing paddle tennis by the beach a lot. It’s very sociable. It’s the kind of thing you can do after a late night. You hang out with the guys, play a game, sweat it out. I guess it’s a different kind of lifestyle fit. I’m going to change my answer and say it depends where I am.
Were you a good footballer?
I was an amazing footballer, can you not see on Fifa? Then you will see I am probably the most complete footballer the world has ever seen. I am both the best, the most average and at times the worst footballer in the world.
What impact do you think these games have on younger generation?
What’s incredible about what we’ve done with Fifa is that there is an immersiveness that’s new, that’s amazing. One of my favourite things watching people play The Journey is seeing people draw into the narrative. As a storyteller the thing that you want, that you're most interested in is creating a world and drawing people into it. The Journey is doing that amazingly well at the moment. I think playing in those imaginative fantasy spaces is a really healthy thing. We are very imaginative, playful beings.
On the other hand, with technology in general, we have this weird thing where we can keep in touch across phenomenal distances but in some ways that can mean that we isolate ourselves more from each other in the real world. We’re doing all this online social connection but then sometimes at the expense of real world interaction. So it’s a double-edged thing. I guess like with all things, balance is the key.
The balance of living real life and playing in virtual spaces. That’s exactly what In the Cloud is about. It’s very similar. It’s all about us developing a means of playing in virtual spaces that will become as real as the real world and dealing with the ethical, social, criminal and moral implications of that. It’s asking if I can upload myself into the cloud and exist there free of the limitations of my real world body then what's more real, what’s more preferable? The documentary Transcendent Man by Ray Kurzweil envisions a future in which we must become machines to keep up with our technology. He asks, what does it mean to be us? There are existential questions that arise from the phenomenal technological advances that we’re making.
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Your career has been very varied. Did you deliberately seek out this contrast?
Yeah definitely. I think one of the great joys of being an actor is the variety that's available. You can do very different things. I can read an audiobook. That’s different to playing a film character on screen. So it’s fun, so when this opportunity [Fifa] came up and I met the creative directors I thought it was an interesting experiment. We were going to see if we could make this thing work.
Entertainment in general is playing a lot with the possibility of virtual reality. What I loved a lot about the Fifa idea is that it gives you the chance to be the lead in your own film. One of the great ideas of the game was not to try and make the avatar the gamer. Instead you have this empathy for the character and you invest in his story as your story. So that was what really appealed to me.
In The Cloud sounds pretty complicated. Can you explain the concept in 20 words or less?
It’s a deeply immersive psychological experience that confronts us with the question of what we would do with second chances.
The film is based around questionable software capable of uploading a person’s consciousness and memories to a virtual space. Have you experienced any technological mishaps?
I was on a flight flying to London from Lagos and the pilot comes over saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re coming into landing, get ready” and all of that stuff. Then five minutes later he comes back on and says “Just to warn you, it might take us a bit longer. We’re having a problem putting the landing gear down.” He said we’re going to wind around for another 10-15 minutes. Then he says we seem to have a technical problem and at this point you've got expressive people praying and screaming. They were promising the Lord that they would do anything. Then the pilot comes over the tannoy again to say “Don’t worry guys, calm down, calm down. I just want to reassure you that the emergency services at Heathrow Airport are excellent.” It was fine though. That was a hairy one that’s for sure. I wasn't initially nervous about flying and that certainly made me conscious of how much of a precarious position you're in.
If you could prevent only one embarrassing memory of yours being uploaded to the cloud, which one would it be?
I think it would be fun to have them uploaded to the cloud. Then I’d be able to remember what they were. I have a terrible memory. I can rummage around and go, “Oh, I remember that,” review and then delete. Embarrassing things happen to me on a daily basis. When I was on stage at the Globe, Juliet didn't turn up. We were doing the balcony scene one day and I was quickly cycling through the play thinking where can I jump to. But this play doesn't happen if this scene doesn't happen. So I decided to swing around one of these big pillars. I was acting being in love, waving my arms in the air and twirling about and just trying to stretch out the time as much as possible. She still wasn’t coming. Then I thought I’m going to crack a joke. I was racking my brains for my best joke when I heard this noise behind me, I spin around and I almost stepped backwards off the stage and plummeted into the audience.
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This software allows people to interact with a realistic avatar of an individual, even if they’re no longer alive. If this was possible, which three people would you most like to meet?
I’d love to jam with Bob Marley in the Kingston days. The nerd in me would want to meet someone like Odysseys. If there’s a grand daddy of mischievous tricksters. I think you’d have a lot of fun. If you’re going to learn a trade, learn from the best. I think it would be fun to meet someone like Genghis Khan or something, a nomadic, roaming mongol king. One of those great travelling warlord adventurers. Getting swept up in one of these grand moment of history that are completely alien to the life I have lived. When that cloud reality really exists we’re going to be spoilt for choice. We’ll be paralysed by options.
Do you think this cloud software will one day exist?
I think it might be really egotistical but I think there's something existentially human that we can’t recreate digitally. That's why something like Battlestar Galactica was an amazing series because it asks if you can't tell the difference, then what’s the difference? It makes ethical dilemmas very stark. That’s what’s so amazing about sci-fi, it’s an amazing genre for exploring all these things like what makes us us and if aliens look, speak and act like you, and you can't tell the difference, it questions the way that we treat 'the other'; animals or the plants and the birds and the bees and reshapes those questions and actually makes you think what is it that we use to differentiate and discriminate, and should we?
Your characters, including Romeo, Sir Elyan in Merlin and Marcus Young in Bates Motel, have a knack of winding up dead. Can we expect a similar fate for your character in In the Cloud?
Yeah it’s been rough, it’s very emotionally traumatic - dying. Maybe this is my apotheosis. With my character in In the Cloud it’s about creating a means to never die. Whether I die or not I’ll be endlessly regeneratable. I’ve ensured by own immortality one way or another. What remains to be seen is if the cloud is somewhere someone wants to live forever.
Coming from Lagos and being only the second black man to play Romeo, do you think that the industry is becoming more diverse?
I think it’s a lot better for my generation than it has been. But until the media we consume reflects the composition of the society that we live in, there's an issue. What does that mean to say the second black Romeo? Why is he the second black Romeo? Why isn’t he just a Romeo? At what point does that adjective become essential to the character? As long as we think in those terms and express in those terms we harden boundaries and amplify differences.
I remember having a discussion with a friend about multiculturalism at university and he was saying that by celebrating multiculturalism we amplify segregation, and I as an Anglo-Ghanaian-Nigerian who is absolutely comfortable in all three environments I cannot accept that it's true. Our identities and who we are is complex, shifting, an evolving creation. It’s like being multilingual. Just because you speak one language it doesn't amplify the fact that you don’t speak something else. The most important thing is that we feel comfortable having open conversations about it. It’s when people feel that they cannot express themselves that prejudices and false assumptions are perpetuated and grow.