Adam Deacon made his film debut parodying hoodie culture as a member of Sacha Baron Cohen ’s hapless “East Staines Massiv” in Ali G Indahouse. But unlike Baron Cohen and Ali’s absurd suburban crew, Deacon is from an inner city neighbourhood where violent street gangs are a reality.
In subsequent grittier British films – Kidulthood, Adulthood, Shank – he has drawn on his upbringing in Hackney, east London, to authentically portray the tensions that exist on many British housing estates. Now in Anuvahood, which he has co-written and co-directed, as well as taking the lead role, he has returned to comedy.
Kenneth, who he plays, lives on a bleak estate but is such a ridiculous gangster that he would not be out of place in the East Staines Massiv. The film is very much aimed at the young audience who are its subject. Deacon wants Anuvahood to feature characters that his audience will recognise but he also wants them to laugh. “I think they don’t necessarily want to see their way of life always portrayed on the screen in a negative way – it’s not all doom and gloom on council estates and there are young people that are trying to do everything they can to stay away from that trouble.”
But that’s not easy, as the film’s script makes clear. “You might have a character like (local thug) Tyrone who comes along and won’t let them escape,” he says.
“Even though the film is a comedy I did want to push hard that there’s a very strong message. You ask all these young kids how their life is and they’ll tell you I’m quite depressed at the moment with the way life is. There are very limited opportunities out there and it feels like young people do get a hard time
I feel there needs to be some films that take them out of that world.”
Deacon, now 28, has “lived in a council estate all my life”. His opportunity to go into acting came from the famous Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington, north London, which specialised in giving hard up children a chance to perform on stage. Numerous television actors have been alumni, including Linda Robson, who plays Kenneth’s mother in Anuvahood. “If it wasn’t for Anna Scher I wouldn’t have had a chance to get into it,” he says. “I don’t think people realise how dedicated she was to getting people from the street out there. It was never a money thing with her.”
As a teenager Deacon experienced being a victim of neighbourhood gangs. “I was never a kid to go out and look for trouble but it comes to you living in certain areas. When I was 15 years old I got robbed in Hackney for my trainers, there wasn’t any comedy in that at all. All these guys came out of a club and one guy put a knife to my neck and made me take my trainers off. I will never forget that day. There are so many people that want to get away from that madness but they can’t.”
Deacon was a member of the cast of director Noel Clarke’s acclaimed 2006 debut Kidulthood, which helped to fuel the debate around urban youth crime with its realistic portrayal of a world that often goes unnoticed by the media. “I’ll be honest I think it’s getting harder now with all the cutbacks and so many things closing down in these areas,” says Deacon. “I believe we’ve never had it harder. People are losing their jobs and their houses and it’s scary times we are living in. Young people weren’t to blame for this and politicians need to take a little bit more responsibility.”
Anuvahood is released today (18 March)