‘Upsetting’: Star slams Aussie TV racism
Devon Terrell has a simple message for anyone critical of his casting as the first black man to play Arthur in Cursed, the new Netflix re-imagining of the knight's tale.
Emboldened by the Black Lives Matter movement, even joining in protest marches near his new Los Angeles home, Terrell is seizing his moment with all the power of Excalibur.
"If you can believe in a magical sword," he tells The BINGE Guide, "you should be able to believe that a person of colour can play Arthur."
The US-born, Perth-raised actor - who made his debut as a young Barack Obama in another Netflix biopic, Barry three years ago - has taken another step in his impressive international career, but yet to be offered a single job back home in Australia.
It's an indictment on the local industry's lack of diversity and a conversation Terrell hopes has been inspired by the racial uprisings around the world.
"I'm not trying to say anything controversial now … but in terms of Australian TV, I don't see anyone on it that looks like me. I didn't see my avenue into the industry being easy. I still haven't, until this day, worked in Australia and I lived there for the majority of my life.
It is upsetting, especially as an Australian actor. I know there's so many actors of colour in Australia that don't feel like they're represented on the screen there. TV and film and media have such a huge impact on culture and it's one of those things that just has to be better, in general," he said.
Born to an African-American father and Indian Australian mother, Terrell has been confronted recently by the scars of his own experience with racism - desperate to make a difference.
"I remember growing up when I was in Perth … people grabbing my hair and telling me I looked like a sheep. You try not to let it affect you, but it does affect you that people feel they can just grab you in that way and say those things.
I think it's one of those things … every country is coming to terms with their form of racism or their form of discrimination. The best thing is the truth coming to light and real conversations are now happening with friends and family.
He adds: "My thing as an actor, I'm educating myself every day and as a person of colour as well. I'm half African-American and my lineage has roots to tragic things, most likely and I've cried a lot during this period. You're just having conversations now that you've always wanted people to talk about but they don't believe you … they think it's in your head.
Embracing his bi-racial heritage, he says: "I definitely see myself representing both countries and the truth is there are amazing things about both countries and there are things we need to work on."
But seeing himself among the black faces of protesters on LA's streets has thrilled the young actor that change is going to come.
"It was just that moment of walking on the streets … I was walking with my girlfriend and her friends in the marches and just feeling like 'this is a moment and if we don't capitalise on this, then when is the change going to happen? When are people of colour and those in the LGQBTI community going to gain the respect of the general community if you don't take a stand?"
His work on the screen will be legacy enough, starring as a young Arthur, a mercenary, who joins Nimue [destined to be the powerful and tragic Lady of the Lake] in her quest to return an ancient sword to Merlin.
Already known for his process for a role (he taught himself to play left-handed basketful to play Obama), Terrell again through himself into preparation to play the medieval warrior.
"It was one of those things where I wanted to get into the shape of what a medieval person would look like or move like. I didn't want to go in there looking like Thor, no offence to Chris Hemsworth, but it was constant horse training and fight training and archery. Then the emotional stuff on top of that and learning your lines."
The production proved something of a Perth reunion for Terrell, Katherine Langford [who stars as Nimue] and Doctor Doctor's Shalom Brune-Franklin, who all hail from the West Australian capital.
"I've know Katherine for three years. When I did Barry she came to the premiere in New York. 13 Reasons [in which she starred] hadn't come out yet and then it just exploded and we've been mates ever since then."
Their familiarity helped them both nail their auditions.
"We got into the room for the final call back and don't think they knew that we knew each other, so we did the chemistry read and nailed it."
"It's been exciting to see three Perth kids, Shalom as well. We always joked around that Australia will go wild when they say this, it will be like 'what?' It's nice to have similar humour and it was a lot of fun."
The 10-part series was based in London, with the cast holed up in rental accommodation in the famous melting pot of Notting Hill.
But the experience living there would come with more than a few hippies, Terrell says.
"I swear there were ghosts in every place that we filmed. I think Katherine got locked in by a ghost, but I swear I was living with a ghost the whole time. I was terrified in my house. They put us up in Notting Hill, which is an incredible place … we had so much fun. It would be amazing to do another season just to go back and be together again … it was such a great experience."
* Cursed is streaming now on Netflix
Originally published as 'Upsetting': Star slams Aussie TV racism