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Jade Anouka: ‘I’ve always wanted to be a superhero’

Jade Anouka

Jade Anouka: ‘I’ve always wanted to be a superhero’

Q&A with the actor and poet on her role in ‘His Dark Materials’, her time at drama school and the afterlife

© Michael Shelford

Jade Anouka, 30, has appeared in ITV dramas Trauma and Cleaning Up and Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie. Her stage roles include leads in the all-female Shakespeare trilogy at London’s Donmar Warehouse. Her first book of poetry, Eggs on Toast, was published in 2016.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
When I was really young, I used to always draw pictures of myself as a pop star with a guitar, singing on stage. It’s hilarious to me now.

Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
An all-girls Catholic school in Bexleyheath. For sixth form, Christ The King, a mixed sixth-form college in Lewisham, where my drama teacher told me and a friend about the National Youth Theatre and got us auditions. The school paid for our two-week course. It changed everything — “Oh, right, acting, you can do that?” I cancelled all my university applications for computer design, went to drama school and did a three-year degree course at Guildford School of Acting.

Who was or still is your mentor?
[Director] Phyllida Lloyd. It was 2012 when I met her for the first Julius Caesar at the Donmar and we’ve continued to work together.

How physically fit are you?
Pretty fit. I’m quite an active person — I tend to walk places, run up stairs. I tend to only go to the gym when I’ve got a part and need to be a bit fitter. I don’t feel I’m a fitness freak — I do enough to be able to have some nice meals.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
You can’t have one without the other.

How politically committed are you?
As a queer, black woman, I feel like just by existing I’m pretty political.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A house with stairs and a back garden.

What’s your biggest extravagance?
Before lockdown, going out for dinner. Now, takeaway, ordering out from restaurants I love.

In what place are you happiest?
When I go for a big walk with my dog. There are woods that I love walking in — there’s a calmness.

What ambitions do you still have?
In terms of career, to have a lead role on screen — to be the lead character, where the story is their story. I’ve been lucky enough to have that in theatre.

What drives you on?
The fact that, for all the ups and downs in this career, I still feel very fortunate to be working in a job I love.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Various moments. For example, when I got cast in Cleaning Up — my first big role of that kind. To be in something like the Shakespeare trilogy, to play amazing lead roles alongside Harriet Walter, to be directed by Phyllida Lloyd. And my character in His Dark Materials, the witch Ruta Skadi, is nearest to the character I want to be — I’ve always wanted to be a superhero.

What do you find most irritating in other people?
Fake wokeness.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“OH MY GOD, you’re an actor. How did you manage that?” It was the dream, and 20-year-old Jade wanted it very much, but I found it hard to believe I would be able to pay my rent from acting work.

Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
I had a yellow car — my first ever car. I shared it with my brother and unfortunately he wrote it off. I loved that car!

What is the greatest challenge of our time?
To achieve true equality between all people: fairness, with every human being seen as equal.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Some people say once a Catholic, always a Catholic. I went to a Catholic school, I went to church every week — in theory I should believe, but I’m not a Catholic any more. Scientists say energy never disappears but moves between things, and when we die that energy has to go somewhere. I believe it moves somewhere else, but I don’t know how.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
9.5. I still have ambitions and there are things I would like to improve and change, but it would be a lie to say my life isn’t great.

Jade Anouka appears in ‘His Dark Materials’, which returns to BBC One on November 8

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