Actor Michael Salami has swapped Hollyoaks for the stage with his role in Royal & Derngate and English Touring Theatre’s production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.
Directed by RTST Award winner Nancy Medina, the play takes us back to Philadelphia in 1969 as regulars of Memphis Lee’s restaurant struggle to cope with the turbulence of a rapidly changing world. The diner is in threat of being torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project that is sweeping away the buildings of a community, but not its spirit.
Salami, who plays the charismatic Sterling Johnson, joins us on Close-up Culture to tell us more about the production and reflecting the day-to-day black experience. For tour info
Q: You mentioned on Instagram that this upcoming role [interview conducted before the tour began] in ‘Two Trains Running’ will be your most challenging role to date. Likewise, some people might raise an eyebrow to see you go from ‘Hollyoaks’ to an August Wilson play. Why did you want to take on this challenge?
A: I believe in growth and taking risks. I got into this industry to become the best version of me. I constantly look for challenges which I can overcome.
I studied August Wilson’s work in drama schools, so when the casting came in I was super excited to get involved and finally showcase all the things I had learnt over the years and put it all into one character.
Q: August Wilson is one of the most important voices in capturing the African-American experience in 20th Century US. What resonates most with you about Wilson’s work and, more specifically, this play?
A: Being a black actor in this industry, I find there are not many auditions that reflect the day-to-day black experience truthfully and authentically.
With Wilson’s writing there is really an opportunity to truly express who we are and what we go through. Two Trains Running reflects our experience and resonates with me. I feel like I’m speaking my ancestors’ truths which still speak to me in 2019 because this play talks about gentrification, each character talks about getting what is rightly theirs.
Q: What do you feel director Nancy Medina will bring to this production?
A: Nancy has brought a beautiful perspective. I read the play one way and, after spending time with Nancy, she opened my eyes to a different way of looking at the text. Being an African-American woman herself really brought a fresh and dynamic look at the text and also helped us really dig deep into the character from day one of rehearsals.
Q: You were born in the US and raised in the UK. Will you be tapping into your US family history for the role?
A: Yes, I spoke to a couple of my US family and friends, and also watched tons of documentaries.
Q: Sterling’s relationship with Risa is an important part of the play. How excited are you to work with Anita-Joy Uwajeh (who plays Risa) and the rest of the cast?
A: It has been an absolute pleasure working with these phenomenal actors, I have learnt so much from them. They bring so much to each character and it is exciting to see them grow deeper and deeper into their roles.
Q: Lastly, what are your hopes for the UK tour of ‘Two Trains Running’?
A: To be honest, I had no expectations. I came into this without trying to gain anything other than to grow as an actor. I saw this as an opportunity to learn and so I feel even more blessed to be in such an incredible show.
My only hope is that people continue to come and see this production of Two Trains Running and what it stands for.
Title image by Manuel Harlan