Xavien Russell: Top Boy actor pushed off a roof has feet on ground as he heads to Hollywood
12:00 17 November 2013
(l-r): Ra'nell (Malcolm Kamulete), Dushane (Ashley Walters), Sully (Kane Robinson) & Gem (Giacomo Mancini). This picture may be used solely for Channel 4 programme publicity purposes in connection with the current broadcast of the programme(s) featured in the national and local press and listings. Not to be reproduced or redistributed for any use or in any medium not set out above (including the internet or other electronic form) without the prior written consent of Channel 4 Picture Publicity: firstname.lastname@example.org
Xavien Russell often gets stopped in the street by people jokingly asking him how he’s still alive.
The last they saw him, he was chucked off the top of a 20-storey tower block when he came to a sticky end in the second series of Channel 4’s drama Top Boy.
It was “pretty frightening” for the 14-year old, who played Michael in the series portraying gangs in Hackney.
“As I ran out to the balcony the stunt man would hold me right where the edge is, like he was about to throw me, and they would say cut, and then he put me down,” he said. “Ashley Walters who played Dushane looked like an ant down there.
“At first they told me there would be a big crash mat at the bottom and they were going to throw me off the building. I said ‘no’. I was pretty gullible to believe it,” he laughed.
Top Boy captures the sordid world behind stabbing and shooting headlines, and attracted nearly two million viewers when it first aired in 2011.
Hence Victoria Park resident and script writer Ronan Bennett was re-commissioned for a second series, aired in September.
Xavien is chuffed to have played Michael, a gang minion who works as a drug -runner, in both series. The young lad looks up to Dushane, the “top boy”, and views him as a father figure, reflecting the reason so many youngsters get drawn into gangs to replace their families who don’t quite cut the mark.
Growing up in Hackney Wick, where he attended Daubeney Primary School in Homerton, Xavien witnessed similar scenes to those in Top Boy, but has never been tempted to join a gang.
“I think it would be hard for kids growing up in Hackney who are living that life, because they have to go through struggles,” he said. “It’s not very hard to keep out of it. You’ve just got to be yourself, don’t follow anyone into the wrong things. If you aspire to do something you’ve just got to stick with it.”
The dramatic scene which sees his demise involves a rival Albanian gang who kill one of his friends in Dushane’s home, while Michael cowers behind a chair. To redeem himself to Dushane, Michael shouts down to him from the balcony, warning him not to come up, but gives himself away.
It was quite a violent scene to pull off. Xavien said: “I think of a situation where I’d be really scared and I get myself prepared and I just do it. Because I was scared of the height I was scared already and then two minutes before they say it’s time, you’ve got to be scared. Most of the time it works. At the end of the day to be a good successful actor you’ve got to be willing to do any scene that comes your way and just conquer it.”
Fiercely ambitious, he’s already planning a move to Hollywood, where he wants to follow in the footsteps of his hero, fellow Hackney-born star of The Wire, Idris Elba.
His publicist believes he will be snapped up by a great agent there and could be paid “ridiculous” amounts of money to appear in a US TV series.
His mother Cheoenne is overwhelmed by his success and thinks he should just go for it.
She’s the one who signed him up to Anna Fiorentini’s drama classes when he was nine. He wasn’t keen but grew to love the Saturday classes in Our Ladies’ Convent in Lower Clapton.
One of the other career highlights includes an appearance in Plan B’s music video Ill Manors, where he dances next to his seven-year-old brother Xirone.
He also has hopes of becoming a music producer and opening a theme park, inspired by a project in his English class. “I was coming up with great ideas. I want to get them out there because I think my ideas are really good and will attract a lot of people,” he said. “I will keep them a secret for now but I’ve got some crazy rides planned.”
The discipline of drama has been a good focus, although he sometimes misses out doing things with his friends, like ice skating. Presenting an award at the Black International Film Festival Music Video and Screen Awards this month, alongside EastEnders star Chucky Venn, meant he couldn’t go to a friend’s birthday party.
And sometimes he will spend his Friday nights doing homework, which he needs to keep on top of if he wants to wrangle time off school for filming.
But it’s all worth it to do the job he loves.
“Watching yourself on TV or in the movies is pretty fun, and I just like the atmosphere when I’m walking along the road and people stop me,” he said. “I think if you’ve got a talent you’ve got to strive: you never know where it will take you.”