Top Boy’s Ashley Walters on Me Too: ‘The industry’s learning lessons daily’

Ashley Walters says the TV industry is learning in the wake of allegations of bullying and harassment against high-profile names, including his former co-star Noel Clarke.

Last year Clarke was accused of sexual harassment and bullying over a number of years after 20 women came forward to describe abuse to The Guardian newspaper – allegations he denies.

Clarke was then dropped from future productions by Sky and production company Vertigo Films who made Bulletproof, while BAFTA also suspended his membership and revoked a recent award.

Walters says it’s important for everyone – not just those who have been accused – to make changes.

“The industry’s learning lessons on a daily basis when it comes to Me Too, and a lot of the other things that have come to our attention,” he said.

“I guess it’s just for all of us to really understand protocol on set and creating safe environments for people to be able to tell their truths and to tell what they’re going through.

“I think that’s one of the main things I would say going forward, with any show that I’m involved with is there needs to be that space for people to be able to talk about what they’re going through, whatever that may be.”

More on Netflix

While his show with Clarke may have come to an abrupt end, Walters other successful series Top Boy is back for a second season on Netflix.

It’s really a third season as the show had two runs on Channel 4 in 2011 and 2013 before it was cancelled then later picked up again, partly thanks to fan pressure – and the involvement of superstar musician Drake.

When it returned in 2019 it became a big hit, ending up on Netflix’s list of the top 10 most popular series releases of the year.

But Walters says despite the huge success, he didn’t go into this new season feeling any pressure.

“No pressure, but an understanding that we want to achieve greatness for the people that have supported the show from day one, this has been a really long journey, so no one wants to drop the ball now, so to speak,” he said.

“We just kind of understand what the formula is, what’s always made it as great as it is, and we stick to that and try not to be distracted off that path.”

“So, if you’re behind the scenes you’ll see we try and work with as much of the same people as possible from top to bottom – at the same time, still doing that thing of giving a platform to up and coming directors, actors, writers – just trying to be that platform and that stable for new talent.”

Also returning is Kane Robinson, known to many as the rapper Kano, who has established himself as an actor thanks to his role in the drama.

He says the key to the show’s success lies in its authenticity.

“It’s one of the things that I am always focussed on, and the main body of most of my notes and my emails is about, look, it’s great to grow the show or it’s great that the show has grown, but it needs to be the show has grown – not that we’re just trying to put in new themes to appeal to a wider audience,” he explained.

“It wants to be the show as we’ve always known it – it will always evolve but it’s just about what is the realness, what’s the authenticity, what’s the truth and we just try and keep that same energy while we’re filming and just analyse everything, every moment.

“We like to keep it exciting and not do the same thing, but just kind of approach it with the same ethos.”

This season there’s more emphasis on the female characters – with Simbi Ajikawo ‘Little Simz’, Saffron Hocking and Jasmine Jobson all reprising and expanding their roles.

While new cast members include Josephine De La Baume, Erin Kellyman, rap and grime artist ‘NoLay’ (Natalie Athanasiou) and model Adwoa Aboah in her acting debut acting role.

Robinson says the plot is allowing some of the female actors to really shine.

“The storyline of Jaq [played by Jasmine Jobson] and what she’s going through with her sister and coming up in a rough world and putting on this coat of armour to protect her, to survive amongst these other guys – to see her vulnerable in this season, I feel, you know, she really got to showcase her true ability.”

He says female directors have also had an impact on the show.

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“Nia DaCosta who directed on the last [series] – there was a scheme last [time] where every director had to mentor someone, and it’s really great to see that that wasn’t just a ticking of a box that sometimes happens in industries like this.

“Those directors now have moved on to direct in this new season, so yeah, it’s great to see women characters and women directors really getting what they deserved anyway.”

Top Boy series two is out on Netflix on Friday 18 March.