Interview: Nonso Anozie

A Nigerian-English Othello in Prague

Nonso Anozie has never been a struggling actor, and probably never will be.

In his first role after drama school, he played King Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Academy.

Now, at the age of 25, he's starring as Othello with the British company Cheek by Jowl on a world tour that's taken him to Sydney, Shanghai, Istanbul, Moscow, and Prague. Offers for film and television work are already starting to roll in.

Taking a short breather before he goes on stage at the Stavovské Divadlo (Estates Theatre) on Thursday and Friday, Anozie spoke about acting, Shakespeare, and superheroes.

Margot Buff: What's unique about this production of Othello?

Nonso Anozie: There were no preconceptions about the play; [director Declan Donnellan] said he didn't know how he was going to approach it. He knew he wanted to use the original text, with the actors that he had. He told us to read it over and over, and things just started to emerge. It's definitely honest, and original, and truthful.

It's not like any other Othello, because I'm not like any other actor. Each person who plays it is different. I bring a lot of my own experiences to the part, my own view of what Othello can be.

MB: How do you respond to the racial themes in Othello? Does the play seem totally antiquated in its treatment of race?

NA: Not at all. It's very applicable. I'm from a Nigerian background - both my parents are Nigerian - but I grew up in England. For me, growing up in a country where the majority is white, and being a black man, I do feel I can empathize with certain parts of the character. I can use my own experiences. Although Othello is even more alienated because he is a black man in a world where there are far fewer black people than in London today. But he's also a man who's assimilated in Western culture.

We've approached the play as if it's never been done before, without all the years of history on top of it. This year is the 400th anniversary of Othello; I think Shakespeare would be really annoyed if we were still doing it the same way as when he wrote it.

MB: Has the show changed as you've been on tour, performing in so many different countries and cultures?

NA: The performance changes every night! People who come to see it say it's amazing how it varies. All the different factors, like the audience and the space, change the performance. You need to be able to react; the show becomes more alive, it electrifies the performers, because you're alive to the space, to what's going on. That's what people really want to see, even if they can't put their finger on it.

Only last night, in Brno, a couple of people said they saw the devil [in the character of Iago]. They related it to religion. A few months ago, someone said it was not about evil - it was about a man who had been wronged and took revenge. People take what they want from the show.

You never know what you'll take away from different experiences. This tour has been life-changing for me, not only because of the performance, but because of encountering different cultures. You take away bits of people's culture with you.

MB: How did you first get interested in acting?

NA: When I was a little kid, I used to watch comics heroes on TV. You admire them, you want to be them. I realized that if I wanted to be a superhero, to be someone different, what I really wanted to be doing was acting.

MB: What's next for you, after this tour?

NA: I've been offered some TV and film roles. There are a few things in the balance. But I've learned not to talk about these things until you're actually doing them!

Nonso Anozie plays Othello at Stavovské Divadlo (Estates Theatre) on Thursday, September 23rd and Friday, September, 24th. Both performances begin at 7pm.

PTV Event Listings: Thursday | Friday

Photos: Keith Pattison

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