Black actors should 'head for Hollywood'

  • @adamsherwin10

Black British actors should go west to Hollywood as quickly as they can because they won't find leading roles in the UK, David Harewood, the acclaimed National Theatre performer, has advised.

Harewood, the first black actor to play Othello at the National Theatre, was recently awarded an MBE and has enjoyed a successful stage career.

He played Nelson Mandela in a BBC film but after supporting roles in a number of television series, including Doctor Who and Robin Hood, the Birmingham actor, 46, has only now made his big breakthrough after securing a leading part in Homeland, a Golden Globes-winning American drama about the war on terror.

Harewood said it was a "fact" that young British actors had to follow the example of Idris Elba, Adrian Lester and himself by accepting they would struggle to find roles that matched their talents in Britain.

"There really aren't enough strong, authoritative roles for black actors in this country," Harewood told a Bafta screening of Homeland, the series to be screened by Channel 4, in which he plays the CIA's head of counter-terrorism. "A lot of my contemporaries have gone to the US. I would encourage young black British actors to get to America if they have ambition."

Harewood cited Elba, the Hackney actor who won the lead in the BBC1 detective drama Luther after he had established himself as a charismatic drug lord in the award-winning HBO series The Wire.

"I was talking to Idris about his frustration and he said, 'I'm going to America'," Harewood said. "It took him a long time to crack it with The Wire but he wouldn't have been given a role of that weight and authority in the UK. That's a fact."

Adrian Lester, the star of Hustle, who is also leaving the UK to try to break into Hollywood, said: "As a black actor ... you only see yourself travelling as far as people like you have travelled."

Harewood, who returned to the NT to play Theseus in Moira Buffini's Welcome To Thebes, said: "I'd like to replicate the variety of those roles on screen. I've played Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but those great roles are few and far between for us."