During 2022, Lewisham was alive with creativity as part of it’s year as the London Borough of Culture. We Are Lewisham, celebrated history, people and place, with over 350 events in the boroughs venues, parks and street corners.
Led by Lewisham Council and The Albany and created by the people of the borough, the programme was attended by more than 400,000 people and was inspired by Lewisham’s proud history of activism and of standing up for equality. Lewisham celebrated the borough’s diverse communities and trailblazers past and present, highlighting the power of culture to create change and it’s legacy will be felt for years to come.
The last year was also an incredibly successful year for filming which saw an increase of 40.5% on the previous year with fantastic TV dramas including Extraordinary, A Town Called Malice and You & Me all choosing locations to film in the area.
With the borough buzzing with creativity over the past few years the Lewisham Film Office sat down with one of the boroughs creative.
With some fantastic credits under his belt including Disney+ Extraordinary, Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and the amazing mini series Chernobyl, Joshua Leese, an actor based in the borough, took some time out to chat to the Lewisham Film Office about life and work in this vibrant pocket of London.
Joshua, you’re an actor based in Lewisham, how do you find the creative scene in the South East?
I moved here about 7 years ago and when I first came to London as I knew a few people already in the area, and I feel very much at home here now. I know quite a lot of artists, dancers and people in the creative arts just being here. Every year I feel like Lewisham is growing with film festivals, dance festivals, screenings and the Catford Arts Trail. When I first came here I was struck with how fruitful the Catford Broadway Theatre is and the theatre heritage in the local area.
Now that Lewisham has had time as the Borough of Culture people I think people are more aware of it, and it’s had a chance to prove the kind of people and talent and passion that’s in the area.
I’ve learned over the past six or seven years that the most satisfying and also the most reliable source of creative outlet is collaborating with people, so the more people I know in Lewisham, the more we can do and support each other.
How did you get started in Film?
I went to the Oxford School of Drama, which focuses very much on classical theatre and poetry. One of the guys I was training with, an experienced Malaysian actor, we connected on a very deep level. When I left we started writing and filming together and this is what I had on my show reel when I got cast in Chernobyl, which is a credit to the casting directors. It proved to us, that as an exercise, there is no reason that if the writings good, we can’t make something professional, that we are passionate about that is valuable to the industry. It was a great lesson.
TV Drama Extraordinary is airing at the moment, looks like a fun production to be a part of?
I had a lot of fun with Extraordinary. There was not much on paper, in regards to my character – he comes to be interviewed to be part of the superhero group and they really let me run with it. In those situations, you have to throw yourself in and rely on a confidence.
We were shooting in a set in a warehouse in East London and on location in house next door. It’s great finally seeing it on screen.
You recently worked on Ridley Scott’s latest biopic, Napoleon. How was that experience?
When I got there I didn’t know what to expect. It was outdoors on location in Farnham Woods where they filmed a lot of Gladiator. The scene I filmed was set in winter in Austria and there was fake snow, haze and tents every where. It was just like walking into Narnia. It was a fun 2 or 3 days but different to what I have done before with just jumping in and doing a scene, basically being prepared to be unprepared. If you are confident and have done your research it’s actually quite a nice way of working. It was fantastic to experience a project that has so much life, action and punch with a cast and crew that are enjoying themselves but also very professional.
Any tips on getting that next role?
I have quite a strong work ethic in terms of knocking on doors, contacting people and trying to get my foot in the right door at the right time. I try to be ahead of the curve and find out what’s shooting before it’s being cast, because that’s always going to be an advantage. I use a mixture of sources – word of mouth, research online, IMDB Pro, and I look on Casting Twitter. Sometimes you just build up relationships with casting directors that work on the types of shows I love, like biopics… I’ll send them an email detailing what I’ve been working on and asking what projects they have coming up -I do this at a strategic time and that can really lead to work.
Chernobyl has to be one of the best mini-series of the last few years. Did you shoot on location?
We filmed for 2 or 3 weeks in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. It was summer and the world cup was on and couldn’t have been less like Pripyat (*nearest town to the Chernobyl power station) but it was a very relaxing type of environment which I think we all needed. The crew were walking around with umbrellas covering us all day because if we got a bit of sun it wouldn’t have the right effect; the Ukrainians we were portraying worked long shifts, without seeing much daylight. A sister, empty power plant was used (*Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant) but the amount of filming there was limited for obvious reasons.
It was my first experience of working on a high paced mini-series like that and it was quite amazing to see the difference when you have a director like Johan Renck who was really skilled at keeping things moving – relaxed and enjoying himself – but few people can master that type of schedule. We filmed long days and consecutively which allowed us to build up to the tension of the explosion. It’s poignant when you do something that’s historic but also alive in living memory… we all took it quite seriously and wanted to make sure there was an accuracy there. Because a lot of evidence was destroyed by the Soviet Union, the writers had to flesh out the details and as an actor you had to really contribute a sensitive level of imagination to the role. When the camera’s were rolling and there were lights flashing and dust coming down, you felt an immediate connection to the people that were there; doesn’t make acting difficult. It was very special.
I really enjoy working within the community and mentoring when I can. I work with the Wildcard Theatre Company, a UK-based touring theatre company with rehearsal studios in London, offering space at affordable rates to emerging artists and companies. I’m also lucky enough to get invited to the new graduates showcase at Oxford, where I talk to current students and graduates; I get the opportunity to extend my own creative capacity to other people and It’s really interesting working with new graduates who have this fresh knowledge. I also wanted to mention that I’m an allied member of Citizens Of The World, who are the UK’s leading refugee choir that rehearses in Blackheath (SE London) weekly, which was formed after the 2017 closures of the ‘Calais Jungle’. A really interesting initiative where members can sing, practice their English and learn new skills.
A special thanks to Joshua for taking the time out to talk with us, we can’t wait to see what he gets up to next!