Omari Douglas: “After It’s a Sin, I realized that I was still supported for who I was” | Cabaret

ohhusband Douglas is a natural performer in the truest sense of the word. We meet in the rehearsal space, where he is preparing a new Cabaret production alongside Jessie Buckley and Eddie Redmayne at the Playhouse Theater in London. Although we cut into his lunch break, the 27-year-old actor – and current favorite to be the next Doctor Who star – gesticulates enthusiastically as if he’s used to being on stage all the time. “I’ve always admired the way television and film can bring audiences together,” he smiles.

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The Playhouse’s Cabaret is the latest in a long line: the 1966 musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb was inspired by John Van Druten’s classic 1951 play, I Am a Camera, which was itself an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin. These facts are relayed to me by Douglas at breakneck speed; the actor has seen Cabaret three or four times. He now stars as Clifford Bradshaw, a lost American novelist who arrives at the seedy Kit Kat Club in Berlin. “I never imagined myself as a Cliff,” he says. “But we are given the space to find something new.”

Director Rebecca Frecknall chose to portray Cliff, typically written as bisexual, as a queer id. As a black actor taking on the role – also a rarity – Douglas isn’t nervous about such changes. “We’ve had these conversations about the nuances that I’ll bring as a black actor to the role, but I don’t feel like I have to work too hard for that to make sense,” he says. “Cliff is from Harrisburg, Pa., Which was and still is a predominantly African American community; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that there could have been a black man who came to Berlin from America to find himself and his identity.

Douglas’s enthusiasm takes on its full meaning when he traces his roots as a performer. Although the theater is where he made his debut, appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie Get Your Gun, most viewers might recognize Douglas from Channel 4’s It’s a Sin, playing the fiery Roscoe Babatunde in the drama by Russell T Davies. He followed that up by appearing alongside Russell Tovey in a production of Gender Traded Constellations. After speaking, it appears he has become the bookmaker’s favorite to be picked as the next Doctor (not bad for someone whose TV debut was in January). Douglas is officially a rising star, a fact he humbly laughs at.

Part of her appeal may be her willingness to take on roles that deal with race and sexuality. It’s not necessarily intentional, he says, but he’s happy with the conversations his characters have opened. “It sounds like a happy by-product. I’m really thankful that being in these rooms allows things to turn out in a different way. If the opportunities are there, I won’t say no because it is a game changer for people.

Douglas is of Jamaican descent and grew up in Wolverhampton with his mother, with his father based in the United States. Although he was an only child, he was brought up with many older cousins ​​who lived nearby. Much of her childhood was spent “trying to entertain them”, watching soap operas and going to the movies with her extended family, a tradition that continues. He caught the scene bug before he could figure out what the scene was: “I saw a video of me in a nursery as one of the wise men. I remember my family found it hilarious because I literally lead others! Another first performance was a rendition of… Baby One More Time by Britney Spears at an elementary school talent show. “A pretty traumatic memory,” he says, “but I’ve always loved playing. “

“There could have been a black man from America in Berlin”: Omari Douglas in rehearsal for Cabaret. Photography: Marc Brenner

He was doing well academically, but his mother had always supported his love for the stage. She also encouraged conversations about her sexuality and identity. “After the release of It’s a Sin, I realized that I was still supported for who I was. Growing up black, gay, and knowing so young, there is still that stigma of “Does this work in my world?” And in fact, it is: the support has always been there.

At A level, he found himself torn between applying to college and drama school, but chose the latter after being encouraged by his performing arts teachers. Ambitions for an acting career had been at full swing by the middle of adolescence; a highlight was “consciously moved” after seeing a production of Once on This Island when he was 14. “Sharon D Clarke was in it and there’s a mostly black-led cast,” he says. “I remember going to the stage door after meeting some of the actors. At the time, I didn’t necessarily have the language to articulate what visibility meant at the time. But, looking back, that’s how I felt. I wanted to be there because what I saw made the possibilities more tangible and accessible. “Oh, you’re in musical theater and you’re black. So you’re going to be in The Lion King, ”he said. “And it’s like, well, yeah, maybe, but I can also do whatever everybody else does.” This has made him acutely aware of the differences between black and queer actors in the media world, and he speaks passionately about the need to blend casting and production traditions that keep under-represented groups out of our stages.

“Marianne Jean-Baptiste is recognized as one of our greatest – she should be alongside her white contemporaries here. But it was someone who went to America and I observed this trajectory, ”he says. “Someone could be as talented as someone else but not necessarily held at the same level in the UK because that person is white and that person is black.”

“[We need] more producers who do not view queer or predominantly black stories as “at risk”. Because time and time again, we prove that these aren’t risks. It is a sin that was viewed as a risk by many custodians. That people still weren’t sure how a Russell T Davies show would be received is remarkable. But over and over again, there are so many people up there who just aren’t broad enough. “

He hopes for “less of the same old” and is eager to see not only changes in the way the works are adapted, but what is adapted: “They are great, but there are also a lot of other people that we are with. can adapt. ” And in his own future? For what could be the first time today, the actor is taking a long hiatus. “I love my job. I always want to be better,” he says. “I’ve never considered myself the best. I want to be good at what I do. And having a platform to do it is a bonus, and a good thing.

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club is at the Playhouse theater, London, to May 14.

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