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7 Questions with Tosin Cole: '61st Street is intense! It's a race against time'
The Doctor Who star talks to BT TV exclusively about playing promising but vulnerable athlete Moses Johnson in AMC’s "intense" new Chicago-based thriller 61st Street.
After two seasons playing Jodie Whittaker’s companion Ryan Sinclair in Doctor Who, Tosin Cole takes on a very different challenge in AMC drama 61st Street.
Cole plays promising athlete Moses Johnson, who is preparing to head to college, only for a series of unfortunate events to collide and throw his entire future into the hands of the infamous Chicago criminal justice system.
A propulsive thriller, 61st Street tackles policing, race and broken social structures head on. “It’s intense,” admits Cole.
1. How would you describe 61st Street?
It’s a race against time. Time is of the essence. Wrong place, wrong time. Someone is planning to retire, someone is planning to leave. Then there is a domino effect. Everything is going good... then boom, one thing happens.
It’s a catalyst for… political uproar, community uproar, system uproar. Someone losing their future and fighting for their future and as the story goes on fighting for their morale and his freedom. It effects so many different things. 61st Street man, it’s intense.
2. What was your first reaction when you read the script?
Just the grit and the rawness. I don’t think we hold back. The truth and the essence and the real humanity of it all. It was Moses' story, his vulnerability, that got me.
How do you beat the impossible? Being a young black kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. We all know what the media are going to think and what it looks like. You never have time to explain yourself in that moment. We all know what the system does to people for much less. So I was intrigued to see what happens to him and his family.
3. You do a lot of running in the first episode. How tricky was that to film?
Running on camera is always funny. Normally you have to slow it down and wait for the camera. But on this show, we were going full pelt. I injured myself twice doing this. I pulled my hamstrings twice. I trained in the UK to get my form right. I trained with [Olympic athlete] Dwain Chambers. I was out running in the cold. It’s cool to do 100m, but 400… it’s a lot man. It was fun to prepare for, learn some techniques and get inside the brain of a runner.
4. How much time did you spend getting to know the city of Chicago?
The crew were from the South Side. A lot of the cast were from the city. I’ve got family out there. I’ve got brothers, I’ve got cousins. You get immersed in it. I was playing basketball with the local people. You listen to their stories, become immersed in the culture and you start picking up little things. You listen to Chicago music and start picking up the lingo.
I embraced it and it naturally becomes a part of you. Chicago people have got such love and pride for their city, despite how it is depicted. And I’ve never had a bad meal in Chicago – they’re always down for a good time in Chicago.
5. What was it like to work with Courtney B Vance?
I was honoured. I watched Courtney growing up. Being able to work with someone who has such grace and such leadership, a gentleman through and through – he has an aura of calm and preciseness about him. I learnt a lot from him. My first scene with Courtney was a big scene and I was looking at him… I couldn’t believe it was happening. We’ve got powerhouses in this cast. I was just so blessed.
6. The show doesn’t shy away from the subject of race – how much do you think things have changed since the Black Lives Matter movement began?
We’re still dealing with certain issues we were dealing with decades ago. The fact you are asking the question shows we still have a way to go in terms of justice, equality and being human to one another. It’s up and down, rather than progressing steadily. Until we reach the point where nobody has to ask that question, I don’t think we’ll be able to say everything has changed. If we’re discussing something and thinking, nothing has changed. When we’re reminiscing, then something has changed. Is it slowly progressing, yes. Has it changed – nah.
7. What was the biggest challenge of making 61st Street?
The vulnerability of Moses. His life is in someone else’s hands non-stop. You know how the American justice system works. They give people hundreds of years. Life is life. To have that hanging over your head every day. What does that do your life? What does that do to your soul? Knowing what the system does to black men and ethnic minorities. The hope you are clinging onto – it’s like hanging onto a cliff with one finger. You know it’s no good and it should be impossible to hold you up, but it is holding you up.
That vulnerability and losing everything, trying to escape something that doesn’t feel escapable. That was hard man.
How can I watch 61st Street?
Watch 61st Street on AMC, Tuesdays at 9pm.
AMC is exclusive to BT TV customers.
Watch AMC on BT TV channel 332/381 HD. Catch up on AMC shows on the BT Player and BT TV app.