Kwame Kwei-Armah Interview Highlights

On Monday our free online series Mountview LIVE returned for a second instalment. Our first guest was actor, playwright and Artistic Director of Young Vic Theatre, Kwame Kwei-Armah, who was interviewed by our alum Bejamin Lafayette and took questions from our current students. The pair covered a range of topics including writing, acting, Kwame’s heroes and inspirations and the Black Lives Matter movement. You can watch the full episode on our YouTube channel but below are some of the highlights.

On making theatre

“There is something beautiful in that everything we see in the world has sprung from someone’s imagination… We get to dance in our imagination”

“I started writing because I didn’t see the plays out there that represented what I wanted to see in the world… The beautiful thing about being a writer is that you get to see the idea you had in the shower made manifest by people who are brilliant at what they do”

“Ultimately that’s what I’m going for – people leaving the theatre feeling the thing that we wanted them to feel when they came in.”

Influence and Inspirations

“Growing up in my house influenced me most as an artist… Dealing with the harshness of the exterior world influenced me as a political being as much as an artist”

“My mother was and is my role model.”

August Wilson, the playwright – “who showed me that you didn’t have to compromise your truth in order to get success… he wrote from a true Afrocentric perspective at a time when that was not allowed”

Mohammed Ali – “both magnificent at his craft and yet true to his soul. And I think the pursuit of being the best you can be – and fulfilling my own personal potential – has always been something that has meant a lot to me.”

Malcolm X – “Malcolm X’s truth to power and his journey travelled opened my eyes in a way that few had done before or even after.”

On Black Lives Matter

“I am magnificently proud of the young generation, in particular young black women… who have lead this movement of Black Lives Matter.. in a way that is admirable and heroic and filled with empathy…  Your generation have achieved, for now, a deeper quality of listening from our white brothers and sisters. The listening has become deeper. And what we’re able to do with that deeper, better quality of listening, that understanding to some degree that white supremacy in all of its manifestations has to be challenged because even if you are white it means that you are handing that sin to your children and your grandchildren and I think our white brothers and sisters are hearing that and going ‘I want to end this, I don’t want this virus to pass down. I don’t want it’. And I think that’s what you’ve achieved. So this is a glorious moment.”

“You young Black people, and particularly you young Black women, are at the vanguard – it makes an old man quite happy”

“It’s important that you walk into every room and own it and every part that’s offered to you. That you never think – I got [the part] because I was black or brown or a woman. You got it because you won it. You got it because it’s yours.”

“There are a thousand reasons that you may not get a job. Just don’t let your acting be one of them.”

Advice to young artists

“Know yourself. Know who you are. And know what it is you want to place in the world. And then find the genre or the medium that allows you to do that.”

“Invest in the three R’s – replenish, reflect, reform. Use this time to shore yourself up and to know who you are and what you are. It is in adversity that we learn who we truly are.”

“Use this time to read and investigate and find and listen hard.”

“Our job as artists is to create the world we want to see. Sometimes that’s mining the interior and sometimes it’s flying to the moon and looking back down.”

“There’s not a director alive who doesn’t need the vitality and the energy of the recently graduated actor. There is not an older actor who doesn’t need to be in a room learning from you, from your optimism, your freshness, the dreams you have.”