Hammed Animashaun on his groundbreaking BBC comedy: ‘Black Ops is a huge step forward for every creative of colour in the industry’

·7-min read
Hammed Animashaun: ‘I definitely didn’t think this role was mine’  (The Other Richard)
Hammed Animashaun: ‘I definitely didn’t think this role was mine’ (The Other Richard)

For Hammed Animashaun, this year’s birthday is one for the books. The actor turned 32 on Saturday 6 May, and celebrated the launch of his new buddy cop series, Black Ops, the night before. “Honestly, it’s like a dream come true,” he says with a wide grin. The zany comedy, which is the brainchild of Bafta-winning Famalam stars Gbemisola Ikumelo and Akemnji Ndifornyen, sees Animashaun and Ikumelo play two police community support officers who find themselves way out of their depth when they’re sent off to infiltrate a drug-shifting gang.

Combining slapstick comedy with thriller suspense, Black Ops is just the sort of project that Animashaun has always wanted to be part of. Plus, collaborating with people he’d long admired was the cherry on top of the cake. “I moved things in my schedule,” he says, wiping clean his imaginary calendar with his hand. “I made sure that I was able to have this chance to work with them [Ikumelo and Ndifornyen]; it’s really something I can tick off the bucket list.” So enthralled was he, Animashaun didn’t think he actually had the part for months, despite being present in the show’s earliest development stages. “I definitely didn’t think this role was mine,” he says, laughing. “I was like, ‘I’m just a placeholder for someone with a bigger name, someone more established.’”

Although Animashaun has been a working stage actor for at least a decade, with several stints at the National Theatre in shows such as Barber Shop Chronicles (2017) and ‘Master Harold’… and the Boys (2019), he’s still getting used to a life on screen. Outside of Black Ops, his most notable TV role has been that of an ogre-like creature named Loial in the Amazon series The Wheel of Time in 2021, which he will reprise later this year. “A lot of good things are happening,” he says, nodding vigorously.

The actor is self-effacing and effusive in a way that feels wholly genuine. He fizzes and pops, all dancing eyebrows and warm laughter. Anecdotes flow out of him. “Gbemi would probably say I can tend to be a bit annoying at times, especially during early morning calls,” he says of his screen partner. “At 4am, she’d already be getting her make-up done in the trailer, everyone’s tired, but I’ll come in with my Bluetooth speaker like, ‘Morning everyone!’”

He shares this unyielding positivity with his Black Ops character, Kay. A counterpoint to Ikumelo’s jaded and droll Dom, Kay is a glass-half-full, God-fearing gentle giant and the opposite of street-smart. When Dom whines that Kay is about as useful in times of danger as a chocolate teapot, you wince at her harshness... but it’s hard to disagree. Animashaun is aware that, unfortunately, many wouldn’t expect such a sensitive character upon first look. “I definitely was interested in showing a different side of what people might expect when they see a big Black dude on telly,” he says plainly. “He’s not out here trying to be on road like that; he just wants everyone to be happy.”

As much as the show’s punny title, Black Ops, refers to the pair’s embroilment in a covert, unauthorised mission, there’s also a clear nod to the characters’ race. And with a long-documented history of institutional racism in policing across the globe, Dom and Kay’s involvement with the force means that, to some, they’re seen as Black opps – enemies, and sell-outs, of the Black community.

Black Ops has so many different meanings, I’m not going to tell you what we thought the title meant,” Animashaun says, giving a cryptic shrug. “But it’s good for people to make up their own minds. Hopefully, the show will start a conversation about the differences that can be made when there’s a positive relationship between the community and the police.” Though hesitant to delve too deeply into his own feelings towards the police, Animashaun has previously shown his support of protests that call out racist policing on social media. In the show, Kay’s job as a PCSO is grounded in bettering relations between the police and the wider community, but in reality, Animashaun thinks that while there is hope for genuine change, we’re far from seeing it yet.

“I don’t think that just sticking a label onto someone and saying ‘Go into the community’ is enough,” he ponders. “There’s more to it. Things are changing. A lot of things have happened in the past few years, especially with what happened with George Floyd. I think things are changing, but it’s a slow process.” Thankfully, Black Ops doesn’t shy away from the imperfections of police departments. One early scene shows Kay and Dom treated with suspicion and stopped when trying to enter staff quarters, despite having been members of the team for years. “With the writers we had, they of course stayed truthful to what really happens and what could happen within the police,” he says. “We don’t stray away from the truth in this show, but we also stay true to the funny.”

Total chaos: Animashaun and Ikumelo in ‘Black Ops’ (BBC)
Total chaos: Animashaun and Ikumelo in ‘Black Ops’ (BBC)

Many of Animashaun’s roles have seen him exercise this comedy bone. From a customer in need of a trim in Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles to Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he tends to shine brightest when his characters are rooted in levity. It’s something he’s been drawn to ever since cutting his teeth in youth theatre as a teenager. “I always loved making people laugh,” he says simply. And if a job can be fun as well as fulfilling, it’s all the better for it. “This business can be really hard,” he explains. “When you are working, I always make sure I enjoy myself as much as I possibly can, because I don’t know how long this thing is gonna last!”

Going out on Friday evenings on BBC One, Black Ops sits comfortably in the scheduling spot of some of the network’s previous comedy heavyweights, including Gavin and Stacey, Little Britain and My Family. Knowing that this show has the chance to be seen by millions across the country, Animashaun has high hopes for the future of British TV. “It means a huge step forward for every creative of colour in the industry, to know that it’s possible,” he says. “AK and Gbemi have been working for so long to be able to create a project like this. And they’re not stopping.”

If I ever get a no, that’s not going to stop me from pursuing what I want to pursue

But he doesn’t want to give the industry too big a pat on the back for platforming Black-led shows. “The mention of ‘BBC One primetime’, I try not to get too caught up in that. For me, it should have happened ages ago,” he says. “I’m like, ‘It’s about time,’ rather than ‘I’m so pleased.’ When people tune in, they’ll understand why it should have happened ages ago. We worked really hard on this, and I’m really excited for people to see it and enjoy themselves. Regardless of the fact that there are three Black leads, it’s a good laugh!”

Animashaun thinks the show will be a success. He’s optimistic, too, about his career. But even if he encounters any hiccups in the grand plan, the actor is determined to keep pushing for a CV filled with joyful characters.

“If I ever get a no, that’s not going to stop me from pursuing what I want to pursue. That’s just one no; there’s another door over there. I’m gonna keep going,” he says matter-of-factly. “This is what I do; this is what I’ve been doing. I love to perform, I love to act. Why would I do anything else, and why would anyone try to stop me?”

‘Black Ops’ airs at 9.30pm on Fridays on BBC One