12th January 2023
Interview: Amy Bell
Photographer: David Reiss
Stylist: Way Perry
Styling Assistant: Andrew Burling
Makeup: Nadia Braz
Hair: Emmett Williams
Emmanuel Imani is an actor, writer and producer who will next be seen in the ITV/Amazon co-production RICHES, written and created by Abby Ajayi (How To Get Away With Murder, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Inventing Anna), the story focuses upon the exploits of the brash super-successful and wealthy Richards family; Emmanuel will play Simon second born child, first son of Stephen Richards. Abby Ajayi describes the series is a love letter to Black London celebrating the opulence, ambition and immigrant grit of the Black diaspora. It stars Deborah Ayorinde, Hugh Quarshie, Sarah Niles, Brendan Coyle, and Hermione Norris.
Hi Emmanuel. How did you get into the acting world, and who inspired you to want to become an actor?
Hey! Thanks for having me! I’ve been doing plays at school since I was 7/8, thanks to my primary school teacher Miss Cassidy. I didn’t take acting seriously until I was 17 though, drama classes were the only thing that I 100% found joy in - shout out to Miss Haylock! I would wake up smiling when I knew I had her drama class that day. Who or what inspired me? Easy! I was inspired by the best in the game - by the true giants of the industry - The Nollywood alum baby. HA! Honestly, I used to watch Nollywood movies with my mum and I loved seeing Ramsey Nouah, Stella Damasus, Jide Kosoko, Patience Ozokwo, Funke Akindele etc. I felt their hearts on screen and I wanted to do that “thing” they did. Make people feel.
Which of your past acting experiences, would you say was the toughest one, and that really tested your abilities?
Simon aside - Florence Karamera!!! Hugo Blick’s Black Earth Rising! Ohhh Chile! Portraying an ex child soldier - that level of baggage, it was tough but I’m so proud of my performance and that of my co-stars. It was a difficult but important story, a real labour of love. I’m truly grateful to Hugo for giving me a chance to bring Florence to life and to tell a story that is often overlooked.
You are playing the role of Simon in the ITV/Amazon drama, what attracted you to this role and can you tell us a bit about Simon?
Wasn’t just the role I was attracted to but the world of the show. Yes it’s aspirational but it’s also reality. There are rich Asians, rich Africans, rich Brazilians and so on, but western media brainwashed me into thinking people that look like me, don’t have wealth or power. That simply isn’t true. No race is monolithic. Black people are everything and more. That’s why I loved Simon when I first read about him. He’s got his own successful business, thriving relationship, fashion oozing from his pores, an unbreakable bond with his family etc. He’s the gay Neo! He’s The One - Matrix! Simon has been through therapy and worked through his daddy issues, which makes him a man to look up to. He is both strong and vulnerable. A pleasure to depict.
You are working alongside Deborah Ayorinde, how has this been for you?
Debs! She’s beautiful inside and out. She constantly championed me and led that set like a true leading lady! I am so grateful to Abby Ajayi for bringing the Emmy nominated Sarah Niles, Adeyinka Akinrinade and Nneka Okoye into my life. These are my new sisters and just like family - they cannot get rid of me! We’re bonded for life baby! HA!
How is this different from any of the roles that you have recently acted in?
This is the first gay character I’ve ever portrayed. As a queer man, I felt seen and empowered when I was given the chance to not only breathe my essence into Simon Richards, but I was constantly consulted on his portrayal. Truth was of the upmost importance to our producers. Hollywood doesn’t always want queer people involved in queer conversations, so I’m grateful to Riches for placing truth above all else.
Any funny stories from the set, and what a day on set looks like for you?
Funny stories? Far too many to recount! OH! My favourite day was a day we had all the family on set. CJ brought his mega speakers and began to play bashment music. Now listen - I grew up on bashment, so my waist automatically began to gyrate. But here comes Emmy nominated Sarah Niles with a quick two step! And right behind her? Deborah, Nneka, Adeyinka, Ola and CJ with a meannnnnn shuffle. It was glorious! I’ve never laughed so hard on a set before. Pure joy! Everyday on set working with these people as well as Brendan Coyle, Hermonie Norris and Jourdan Dunn was the epitome of professionalism, but the Riches set also always had a sprinkling of laughter.
How will you be gearing up for the release of ‘Riches’?
Riches is out in the world and doing it’s thing. The one thing that’s truly made me smile has been how people have received Simon and the rest of the show. I have to admit I wasn’t sure if my people were ready to see an openly gay black character with all the cultural elements on display, but I’m proud to say my people are loving him and the show. People are literally hounding Amazon Prime for a second season! Take the hint Amazon, this is the representation we’ve all been yearning for! In the words of Britney - Gimme gimmie more!
Are you working on any projects for 2023?
Of course! I have 2 projects I’m penning currently, but firstly: Demons! My Afro-Queer subversive revenge thriller! I directed, produced, wrote and starred in a short film about homophobic attacks in Nigeria. I’m tired of people not letting love be and I’m afraid for my loved ones in Nigeria and other parts of the world where people won’t give them peace, simply because they were born loving differently. I created this film as a piece of disruptive art and activism. Praying to God it sparks some important conversation and ends some atrocious acts. Still editing the film, but I’ve finally finished the website and I’m especially proud of the trailer www.demonsthefilm.com/more hoping it resonates with the world and we hear the true message encapsulated in this film: Let love be.