Paapa Essiedu, star of The Lazarus Project, says he’s taken a proactive approach to avoiding typecasting, even if it means turning down great roles in the process.
The 33-year-old actor has a complex part to portray playing George, a rule-breaking secret agent who needs to be both the everyman and action hero of the high concept show – as well as being able to get his head around time travel.
The second series of the BAFTA-winning sci-fi picks up with the world stuck in a time loop in which the world ends every three weeks.
Essiedu’s co-star, Caroline Quentin, who plays Elisabeth ‘Wes’ Wesley, the leader of The Lazarus Project admits: “I struggle to remember what I did yesterday in real life. So, trying to find my way through the backwards and forwards of the script was very challenging for me.”
Also challenging were the show’s filming conditions – with series one shot in the middle of the first COVID lockdown, and the second during a brutally cold winter.
Essiedu says he had to train for the role, which sees him take on numerous adversaries, fighting and shooting his way to saving humanity.
“It was a long shoot, very intensive… It requires a lot of mental resilience, emotional resilience, and physical resilience”.
Admitting to being somewhat accident prone, he didn’t survive the shoot injury-free.
“I could get injured like sat on this chair right now, you know? It really is a joke. My physio thinks I’m very talented in that particular sphere. So, yeah, I had a couple of injuries and a few fight scenes and whatever, but you keep calm and carry on.”
So, in a show where the characters frequently live the same three weeks over and over again, do Essiedu and Quentin ever feel as actors they’re asked to play the same roles on repeat?
Essiedu, who’s played parts including Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; George Boleyn the brother-in-law to Henry VIII and a demon called Gaap in the guise of a disco star, says he’s taken a strong stance to avoid getting stuck in a career loop.
“I think for me I’ve had to be like quite conscious in things I say yes and no to in order to stop that from happening. Because you do a thing and people see it and they’re like, ‘OK more of that, more of that, more of that’.
“I’m quite rambunctious in my opposition to that, you know, and sometimes to the detriment of really great parts. I think if you’re lucky enough to get the opportunities that allow you to stretch your range or to show different sides of your capabilities, then you’ve got to be conscious to chase those opportunities.”
Quentin, 63, who is perhaps best known for the role of long-suffering girlfriend Dorothy in 90s hit sitcom Men Behaving Badly has also had to battle with lazy casting.
“I’ve always struggled with that, you know, because I’ve done a lot of comedy and sometimes you just want to go, ‘I don’t just do that’. This is nice, it gives me an opportunity to do stuff that isn’t like that…
“If you’re good at something you don’t want to be bad at something, so people don’t ask you to do it again. But on the other hand, if you’re good at it, you don’t want people keep asking you do the same thing over and over again.”
So, what would they have done if their life paths had taken a different turn, and they hadn’t been actors?
For Essiedu, it would have been a complete jump away from the arts into the sciences: “I very nearly became a doctor. I had a place at medical school, and I often think about what my life would be like if I was doing that.
“I obviously love working with people and that’s one of the reasons I love being an actor because you get to meet many different types of people.”
Quentin would have stayed a little closer to home, becoming “either a potter or a painter or an illustrator or something in that world”.
Series two of The Lazarus Project is streaming now on Sky Max and NOW TV.