Actor Divian Ladwa joins us on Close-Up Culture to chat about his acting journey and his exciting role in Mr. Malcolm’s List.
Hello Divian, welcome to Close-Up Culture. Can you tell us about your background and what led you to acting?
I used to watch a variety of movies non-stop as a kid so I wanted to be an actor from a very early age. As a child, my Dad lived away from our home in London, my mum had multiple jobs and we didn’t have any friends or family in the profession so opportunities and the know-how to get into acting were beyond me. Nonetheless, I kept dreaming until I was able to take up drama at GCSE and Performing Arts at A-levels. I started auditioning for drama schools when I was in 6th form.
When I left school, I enrolled in loads of part time courses at The City Lit and I found various drop-ins around London for improv, meisner technique and general classes. I was never selected by a drama school however, all the training I was doing at The City Lit and other drop-in spots, were incredibly enjoyable and I eventually secured an agent. I started performing with Fluxx Improvised Theatre and Tamasha Theatre Company. I continued to do theatre plays in very prestigious venues across the UK as well as in schools, prisons and old homes, before going into commercials and eventually TV and film.
How did the opportunity to star in Mr. Malcolm’s List come about?
We originally did a short film for Mr. Malcolm’s List back in 2018. The casting director Tamara-Lee Notcott, contacted my agent and enquired if I’d be interested for that short. Although the character I was asked to read for was not involved much in terms of dialogue, I really liked the director, Emma Holly Jones’ treatment for the script. The short film did really well and Emma ensured my character was kept for the feature by adding me into the script.
You play John in the film. Can you tell us about the character and your experience in the role?
John is a footman who is roped into helping Zawe Ashton’s Miss Thistlewaite exact her Austen-esque revenge on Mr Malcolm. Thanks to Emma, I got to develop this character with her and bring about a playful servant who observes and reacts with many eyebrow raises and eye rolls, the ongoings of high society without being noticed by them. I was allowed to make dialogue suggestions, ad-lib and improvise with great support from our director. A real treat for any performer.
What was the most rewarding part about being involved in Mr. Malcolm’s List?
To be included in a genre that hasn’t always been inclusive. Of course, England may not have been as diverse back then as it is today, but to assume there were no people of African or Asian heritage here in the past is bizarre. Britain was certainly more mixed than our past film and theatre suggest. I find it a little odd that 20th century films excluded non-white people from this genre so I am grateful for the inclusion offered by Emma Holly Jones and Armando Ianucci who included me in The Personal History of David Copperfield.
You’ve starred in some huge movies, including Ant-Man and the Wasp, Lion, The Personal History of David Copperfield. Do you have any standout memories from the projects?
I sometimes think back to working on Lion and how incredible the entire experience was. Starting from the auditions process, which was long and numerous, for an incredible story, to flying to Melbourne, meeting the actual family we play in Tazmania, hanging out with Dev Patel and Rooney Mara, going to the film festivals when the film initially came out and then to the BAFTAS. What a ride. I never really thought I’d get that role. I didn’t even tell anyone about it when I did. When the director found out that I hadn’t even told my parents, he nearly fell off his chair.
When I got to Australia, he joked “Does your Mum know you’re here?”. That whole time was surreal for me. I still think back and wonder if I really worked with Nicole Kidman. Did she really play my Mum? Did I just dream it? I don’t think anyone in my life, not even myself, would have believed I would be in a major motion picture that would end up with an Academy Award nomination for best film. And then, after the lights dimmed, moving back in with my folks who probably thought I’d been in my bedroom the whole time.
What type of roles would you love to take on in the future?
I’m pretty open to different roles. Drama or comedy. Maybe one in a genre I haven’t done. For the immediate future, I’d love to have any type of role in Stranger Things. I also love Korean films and TV shows. Anything in those would be incredible. Realistically, I am lucky to be offered roles that vary so much. To keep having the opportunity to play a character different from the last is a pleasure that I hope continues.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
It would be amazing to find a way back to doing the type of gigs you mentioned above. A bafta winning comedy, a drama with Oscar nominations and a big studio film with lots of action. That’s a lot of variety and very difficult to land in the first place but to be able to sustain those types of roles in those types of projects has proven to be very difficult for me. It seems like anyone else who lands those projects continues on that path. I’m not quite sure how to keep landing parts in such high-level screen work. I only know that I’ll keep persisting and most importantly, enjoying the pursuit and whatever the journey brings.
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