Venus Vs Mars star on why it's time black actors got a different story
PUBLISHED: 09:10 23 April 2015
Actor Jamie Charles dreamt of being a footballer, but ended up breaking new ground in Sky's new hit comedy, finds Alex Bellotti.
Even as we meet in an Islington coffee shop, Jamie Charles is still on duty. While queuing up to pay, the actor starts talking to a group of young Londoners, persuading them to check out Venus Vs Mars, and you suspect this is the biggest reason for the television show’s remarkable journey over the last two years.
The romantic comedy, penned by Baby Asko, follows twentysomething Venus (Letitia Hector) and her friends as they haphazardly navigate London’s dating scene.
Having begun as a series of online ‘webisodes’ in 2012, it became such a hit through YouTube and social media that it was commissioned by Sky Living, with its first episode debuting two weeks ago.
“Because we came from a webisode, we’re very used to going up to people,” explains Charles, a Stoke Newington resident who plays love-rat Gabriel in the show.
“To promote what we had, we had to directly go on Twitter and Instagram; we were sending it out to everyone and anyone we thought would be interested in what we had.
“When you’re doing something like that there’s no limits, so even now we’re on Sky we’re not just leaving it to their advertisements.”
Last year, in the wake of his appointment to the BBC’s Independent Diversity Action Group, comedian Lenny Henry told the Gazette that “high end drama and comedy needs to represent on screen but also off-screen”. In this sense, Venus Vs Mars has made history – it is the first UK television show ever made entirely by a black cast, writer and production team.
For Charles, the benefit of this is that it has allowed them to tell a different more, aspirational story than other dramas usually focused around black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) youngsters. The characters on Venus Vs Mars, he explains, “have jobs, they’re very close knit and they respect each other”. In turn, he hopes they can act in some way as role models for younger audiences.
The 27-year-old’s emergence as an actor is a similarly uplifting tale. Since childhood, Charles had dreamed of becoming a professional footballer and played into his 20s semi-professionally. After a serious knee injury curtailed his hopes however, he had to reassess his options and refocus on his twin childhood love of drama.
He began to help at a company in Luton working with local children from different ethnic minorities, encouraging them to act and gain confidence. From there, a friend put him in touch with Isako and director Victor Adebodun, and together they filmed the pilot of Venus Vs Mars, which clocked up 25,000 views within two days on YouTube and became the second highest Twitter trend across the UK on its television debut.
“It’s amazing,” says Charles of this impact. “I felt truly humbled, but at the same time it was nice to see there was that support.
“For me it’s not about the issue of black people not being on TV or not having enough diversity on TV; for me it’s an opportunity for people to see something that represents the community in a lighter form, rather than just focussing on the negatives.
“I feel like it’s nice for people to come home and see something that is light hearted, humourous and has a touch of romance in there as well.”
Venus Vs Mars continues tonight on Sky Living. Previous episodes are available on demand.