Susan Wokoma Talks Being a Demon Hunter in New E4 Comedy-Horror Series Crazyhead
Brought to us by an E4, Netflix collaboration, Crazyhead follows Raquel (Susan Wokoma) an impulsive, temperamental and prone to violent outbursts demon hunter and Amy (Cara Theobold) who after finding out her best friend Suzanne (Riann Steele) has been possessed by a demon, realises what she thought were crazy hallucinations… are actually true.
The unlikely pair meet as a result of their demon spotting abilities and together decide to take on London’s demon gangs, along with navigating real world stuff like the over-protective big brother (Arinze Kene), not so clever boyfriend/friend/what are we, and best friends who don’t know how to behave…
Having watched one episode, what stands out is Ms Wokoma is a bloody good actress with great comedy timing. She’s already showed what she can do as the virginal / undercover freaky sister Cynthia to Michaela Coel’s Tracey in the brilliant comedy series Chewing Gum, also E4. But Crazyhead’s a different kettle of fish and Wokoma’s character Raquel, is less virginal, more nutty, outspoken and ballsy…probably due to the fact she has to fight demons all the time!
There’s something about British born Africans, when we get together. We turn into caricatures of our parents, mimicking their facial expressions, exaggerating their accents… There’s a connecting camaraderie of feeling at home, and comfortable when you meet a fellow person who reminds you of ‘back home’ – your British African household. It’s no different when I met up with Wokoma, we spent a good while going through the African-British-Born-Bonding ritual before we got into talking about her role.
Crazyhead’s good innit! You’ve done well [universal African accent voice]. Are the parents on board?
It’s good innit [universal African accent voice]. Yeah mum’s on board now, she just sort of gave up. I remember when I got a play at The National, she called me just as I got the news. I said ‘mum I got…’ she said ‘no, no, no let me just tell you something it’s on my heart… I feel like you’ll never work again. I’m just scared, I want you to have your house please Susan, just reconsider’ I’m trying to interrupt, she’s like ‘no…’ then I was like ‘Mum, Mum I’ve got a job…’ she said ‘Oh God is good…I just wanted you to know there are other options for you’ [laughs]. So she’s on board.
What, she’s even on board with Chewing Gum – that internet porn scene and everything?
She loves it. The episode with the laptop [internet porn scene] as soon as it ended, [I looked at my phone] and saw ‘MUM’ I said ‘nope I’m not answering the phone’. But she’s leaving voice messages laughing. She loves it.
I don’t know who broke the African parents’ traditional resolve, but I’ll say thanks, because now we’re a bit freer. Now you can take on roles like this a serial zombie killer without worrying?
Yeah it’s great, I no longer have to worry about what’s mummy going to feel… But actually, she’s never made me feel like I can’t take on a role. I’ve always been able to make my choice. Black women are policed so much, there’s no point in trying to police yourself on top of that. I know some people do worry about the representation of black people on screen, and worry because we’re not being represented right, or enough… That’s what it is, it’s not necessarily about not being represented correctly, it’s about not being represented enough. Because there are lots of different types of black people who exist. Once you have a variety then you have can have comedies where it’s slapstick and doesn’t mean anything, as long as you’ve got things to balance it, and we don’t have the balance. So I understand it’s something to be aware of, but you’ve got to be carefree. That’s how I’ve operated. Rather than I owe a responsibility to my race, I’m going to do the work that I really enjoy.
Which is evident as the roles you’ve taken aren’t stereotypical ‘black girl’ roles, and you’ve also magically avoided the angry-dark-skinned-side-friend…Now with Crazyhead, you’re a co-lead…!
Yes! But that’s about how you play stuff. With Raquel in Crazyhead I just knew that when you’ve got a good writer, when you’ve got a good team, whenever the character is big, brash… there has to be vulnerability and I worked my arse off to portray that. I say work my arse off, but actually Howard’s [Howard Overman – Creator/ writer] written it and he’s not an idiot, he knows that the bravado, the bigness has to come from somewhere. There is also that thing at the back of my mind, if I’m playing a stock character, the angry black woman, or subservient black woman you just have to know that you’re good enough to not ever just be that. But it’s hard.
When you grew up were you seen as the different black girl? Someone from the ‘hood’ may look at you / your roles and not identify… Did your school / home environment growing up play a part in how you’ve managed to navigate the industry?
In my household we’re really different. I’ve got my older sister who is quite posh, a bit bouji; love her. Then I’ve got my little sister and older brother who are right cockneys. Right EastEnders talk. Then there’s me… and I see my mum looking at this smorgasbord of children, confused… In my household, being a certain way was not a thing it just wasn’t. Then when I went to school in Elephant and Castle the girls would question me ‘where are you from? Why’ve you travelled all the way to Old Kent Road to go to school?’… and I was like ‘because I live there’… There were some girls who said we don’t believe it. We think you’re pretending and I have met people who ask ‘what is this, what is this persona?’ and I have to say It’s just me. From an early age there was an expectancy of how I should behave and I just said no. Not doing it.
How did you build your resolve, was it because people kept challenging you that you were forced to develop a thick skin?
Yes, people challenged me very, very early and there was stuff that my parents didn’t quite understand about me and so I just needed to work it out. I think I just cared less about what people thought, and then of course what happens is you get older and you start to care more. But I was very lucky in that I had a lot of people outside of my experience saying you’re quite good at this, this is your strength. I had teachers who would tell me to apply for various opportunities. I’ve had allies all through my life. So it didn’t come innately from myself, especially to do with acting, it was people saying you should do it. Also school wasn’t my only means of socialising. I started doing National Youth Theatre at the age of 14 so I started being in other spaces, I started reading other text, I started meeting other people. I remember when someone first spoke Welsh to me. I was like OH MY GOSH I didn’t know it’s like a proper language! I remember getting Sky and showing my mum the Welsh language channel, and we couldn’t believe it. So it’s just the cliché of walking in other people’s shoes. The more that you step outside of your own experiences, the more you learn and I don’t think it’s changed me.
But, it allowed you to look at roles with a different perspective…
There’s always fear there. I had a lot of people telling me this is good, you’re good, then you grow up, those people move on, and then it’s just you. You’re there on set with all these people and you have to drag the self-confidence out. So I do get scared, but in terms of the work that I do, I’ve always stressed to the people that work with me, my agent… I want variety.
It was an open casting for the role of Raquel… How did you get the script?
Yes which means a lot more competition. I got the script through my agent, I was doing A Raisin in the Sun [Eclipse Theatre production] at the time, got the script, saw Netflix, Channel 4…
What got you, the companies behind it or the storyline?
It was the words on paper because sometimes you hear those buzzwords and read it and you’re like ‘trash’ ‘rubbish’. But I remember after doing the show [Raisin], went home, I read all three episodes and said dammit I want it.
Which character caught your attention from the first read of the script
Raquel. I kept hearing all the words, I could see myself and as soon as you start seeing yourself then you know it’s got you. This heart-breaking feeling of I want it…
Every time you’ve had the feeling of connecting with the script and imagining yourself as the character have you gotten the role?
Sometimes. The first audition I went in and I felt like it went well, but you can never tell because it was open; I didn’t know what they wanted. So I realised very quickly that I’ve just got to do it and walk. Then the second audition that’s where you’re getting closer and closer, so I spent like an hour with Al our director and the casting director then Cara came in and we spent about another 45mins doing scenes. I left saying I’d done all I can. The reason why that feeling is important is because this has happened to me so many times where I’ve gone up for something, I’ve done all that I can, I don’t get it and then I get something else.
Bluestone 42 is a really good example. I auditioned for one of the series regulars when I’d just left drama school but I looked too young to play a corporal soldier even though I was 22. I didn’t get it. I was close but didn’t get it and I was gutted. Three or four years later, I get an audition for an episode for Bluestone 42 again, they said we love you, we wrote the part for you, and it’s not one episode it’s three. It’s because they remember what you do. So I’ve learned throughout my whole career that you’ve got to just go in there, drop the mic, go, and they’ll decide. It’s happened to me so many times. It’s your reputation of being good
Crazyhead touches a bit on mental health, with Raquel being written off as mentally unstable because of her demon spotting abilities… Will there be more exploration of being judged as someone with mental difficulties?
No it doesn’t. It’s a nice little touch because Amy, Cara’s character, is the eyes into this world, so if you’re from the outside and you say that you see things, then people think something is wrong with you. That’s where it begins with Amy stopping her medication because she realises it’s real. It’s not explained too much but Raquel has been fighting demons since she was a young teenager. She’s the only one who can see them and over the years of fighting them on her own, she knows how serious it is, how life and death it is, so she plays the system so that she can continue to hunt demons. She tells her brother that she’s been going to her therapy sessions. So that she can go out and do what she needs to do. It’s about assimilation. Which is an apt metaphor…
Are you a horror fan? I find it strange when people pay to be scared?
I love being scared. I love the feeling of being scared. I do pay to be scared. I went to see The Woman in Black with my boyfriend at the time, he’d seen it before and he put me in the aisle seat. I was like why am I in the aisle seat, babe you’ve got longer legs than me, but he insisted I sit there. So I’m watching the play, and then the woman in black comes past and her cloak touched my leg and I screamed, swearing! The thing is I get so scared but the adrenaline feeling is so good. It’s like a rollercoaster. I love it.
What’s next for you?
Chewing Gum’s coming back and if Crazyhead comes back for a second series, we’ll be starting pretty damn soon. I’m also writing at the moment which is all very new… I’m going to see what happens.
Crazyhead starts on E4 Tonight, Wednesday 19th October at 9pm.