Ekow Quartey

Real life events always seem to manage to outperform any fiction. What can you tell us about Pedro an African mercenary from Spain fighting in Scotland/UK in the times just before Elizabeth’s Golden Age?

The truth of the real Sir Pedro is that he was taken into Henry VIII employment as a soldier after a ship he was on carrying more than 1000 Spaniards was waylaid and growing tired of the sea they asked the king if he would take them in to employment. He was later knighted by the Lord Protector Duke Somerset for his heroics in helping the English keep Haddington castle from 10000 besieging Scots. He’s a regular badass by all accounts, riding through the Scot’s with 200 men armed with muskets and supplies. My Pedro is a confident and principled man who understands the somewhat simpler life of war but when he finds himself somehow in the political battle field his understanding of the world, his principles and loyalty really get tested.

How did you prepare to play Pedro?

So I read anything I could find about the historical character which was the best foundation which lead to two major discoveries. He’s Spanish and would have been an excellent horse rider…two things I am not! So with the support of Penny Dyer on dialect and the devils horsemen, Doug in particular, I began hours of work to get me to standard where I could portray this Knight.

Where were you in your career before this dream role came your way?

Before the pandemic I’d been predominantly doing theatre at some incredible venues. I’d also played a recurring role in Aisling Bea’s This Way Up which is such an incredible show and on such an important topic, mental health. I was even in the middle of a run of Macbeth at the Globe when we all had to head to our homes to stay safe. So truth is, I was feeling good! It felt like the next stage of my career was just around the corner, yea Ekow you’ve got this! Unfortunately with the arrival of Covid that quickly changed.

How did you manage to keep your mental health together during the Covid lockdowns?

My mental health journey had already begun 2 years prior to the pandemic when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I’d love to say those 2 years had helped and prepared me for what was to come but sadly that wasn’t the case. I really struggled. I couldn’t see a way out of where we were. My theatre show cancelled, no idea where I’d get an income from and no idea how long this might last. Luckily I was living with my parents so I had a roof over my head, food, no financial pressure from them and most importantly my family close to me. However it felt like I was losing any hope of my dreams and aspirations coming true. I’m 30, living at home, no prospect of a job, any possible income, the job I love was no longer viable in this pandemic world we now lived in… yup, I’m going to be growing old under the same roof with my parents! Theatres had shut their doors, some not knowing if they’d open again. Sets had closed down and I already felt like I hadn’t earned my place on the lists of actors being seen for big screen projects. I crumbled. Days of not leaving my bed, because what’s the point. My motivation went, exercising in my living room, no thank you! I leaned on food to make me feel better, which quickly became binging. I was really struggling. I eventually got a job delivering for Amazon but when we came out of the first lockdown I had to stop because I could no longer guarantee no contact with the public and I had two vulnerable parents at home.

My family and my one year old nephew at the time were really the thing that kept me going when all I wanted to do was stay in a dark room. His abundant joy of just having our company was so infectious and life affirming. (Ps my sisters family lived opposite so we were abiding to the rules, promise) Fast forward a year and this project came up, it genuinely was like a dream come true. I’m definitely one of the fortunate ones in this industry but the mental and emotional residue of the pandemic is still with me and I continue to put my efforts, with the support of therapy, into helping myself live a life where I can find peace and joy.

Since the Covid epidemic there seems to be quite a push for men to open up about their mental states, instead of keeping everything bottled up, and be able to ask for help. Can you give us any general advice?

All I can say is seek help if you need it. Holding it in will erode and break you down. There is no weakness in asking for help and there is strength in your vulnerabilities. You don’t have to be an Island. I hope you have people out there who care for you and want to help, but if that avenue doesn’t exist there are charities and support lines out there with trained Proffesionals ready to help; Mind, Calm, together, samaritains and the mental health foundation just to name a few. I’ve done 25 press-ups for 335 days now (not consecutively) and posted it on my Facebook in the name of mental health, just to remind people you’re not alone.

Is it true you will always be a South London type of boy? What is it about South London?

Born and raised in Kennington, south London will always have my heart. The vibe, the spread of cultures, the accessibility! South London is like no other. You’re never too far from a park, a cool bar, a plethora of delicious restaurants, incredible theatre spaces, great nights out…the list is endless!

Interview and photography by Andrea Vecchiato.

Grooming by Eoin Whelan.

Becoming Elizabeth premieres on the 12th June on StarzPlay.

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