Since winning the Bafta Rising Star Award in 2012, you’ve been in court twice: once for threatening a stranger with a machete, once for sending abusive tweets to your Kidulthood director Noel Clarke. Fair to say it’s been a roller coaster?
My life went from the highest point to the lowest. I was on top of the world when I won the Bafta, thinking that would never be possible because I was up against these big Hollywood names [Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Chris O’Dowd, Eddie Redmayne]. Then I was sectioned and in hospital. Life has shown me that anything can happen.
You were diagnosed as bipolar this year. Did you never suspect it before?
My life was too hectic. I left home when I was 15 and went to a hostel where there was no one to notice that stuff. Friends would say there was maybe something there but nothing to make me go to the doctor. When I’m creative, I just go off on one. I would have low days but it wasn’t until things started getting really bad in my personal life that it all started to come out more.
You made a programme for the BBC with Stephen Fry (pictured) about being bipolar. What did you learn from him?
That the industry won’t totally turn off to you — they didn’t with him and that made me realise I hadn’t ruined everything. He said it doesn’t have to take over your life. If anything, you should embrace it and use the creative times to really think outside the box.
Tell us about your new film, To Dream.
I play a character called Easy. He’s a drug dealer and a criminal and a bit of a psychopath. He is a real nasty character.
Why do you get cast as these dangerous types?
Once you start playing a certain type of character, it’s hard to get the industry to understand you can play different parts.
What would you like to do? A romcom?
I would love to! Or a Victorian period drama — something where I can challenge myself.
To Dream opens this year’s British Urban Film Festival. What is an ‘urban’ film?
When people hear the word ‘urban’, they automatically think ‘black’, but I think it’s more a young UK energy that incorporates everything: black, white, Asian, everyone.
Why do urban films often seem so grim?
Because people really need to be more original! It’s very easy to write a drama about someone with a gun causing madness on the street. We need more film-makers who experiment. I am writing a comedy with a similar vibe to Anuvahood. With the world we are living in, people need to laugh.
The argument is that it’s hard to reach an urban audience…
I don’t get why they say that because whenever they put out urban dramas or comedies, they always seem to get the ratings. My friend Femi [Oyeniran] just made a film called The Intent and he got told the same thing but it had great ratings on Channel 4 and went to No.1 on iTunes.
What’s your own background?
I grew up in Hackney when it wasn’t hipster, it was just poor, but it was quite fun. I loved that it was so mixed — different cultures and walks of life. It feels like the real London.
You’re a musician too. Describe your music.
I would just call it UK sound. It’s not your typical kind of grime. I love grime — I love what Skepta is about and Kano and Wiley for starting the whole scene and I can’t wait to hear Ghetts’ new album. I find it therapeutic to put what you are feeling down into music.
What else keeps you balanced? Are you on any meds?
I was but I stopped after the episode was over. I feel back to normal now. And I have calmed down a lot. I just like the simple things. I want to make groundbreaking films but my dream is to have a family and kind of just to be happy.
Are you, in fact, a secret softie?
I think I am! A lot of people say that. LARUSHKA IVAN-ZADEH
To Dream premieres at the British Urban Film Festival on September 14. britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk