Paapa Essiedu responds to criticism of Anne Boleyn’s casting

Anne Boleyn star Paapa Essiedu has said critics of the TV drama are entitled to their opinion but far more viewers welcomed the show’s modern take.

The Channel 5 production, which premiered in June, starred Jodie Turner-Smith in the title role, while Essiedu played her brother George.

Both actors are black.

Essiedu, an Emmy nominee for his supporting role in I May Destroy You, said the decision to cast actors of colour to play white historical figures did not feel “revolutionary”.

Speaking at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in London, where I May Destroy You won the TV drama prize, he said: “It’s interesting, even like hearing the terminology around the casting process, because it feels like so much of the attention was put on that afterwards.

“Not all of the casting was integrated or race blind, there were many people who were casted ‘appropriately’, so-called. But the idea was to cast the people that were the best people for the role and to give us an opportunity to see that story told through a different perspective, which people have been given the opportunity to do in different spheres for years and years and years.

“So it doesn’t feel that sort of particularly, you know, revolutionary, but we are proud of what we did.

“People have the right to respond to it whatever way they wish. Like, we know the reason that we made that show. Actually, way more people responded positively than negatively so that’s what we focus on.”

South Bank Sky Arts Awards – London
Paapa Essiedu with the TV drama award for I May Destroy You at the the South Bank Sky Arts Awards (Ian West/PA)

Last week Essiedu, 31, was nominated for the Emmy award for outstanding supporting actor in a limited anthology series for I May Destroy You.

He played the best friend of Michaela Coel’s lead character in the hugely acclaimed sexual assault drama.

Essiedu was doubtful when asked about the prospects of a second season.

“I wouldn’t hold your breath,” he said. “When we were making the show it wasn’t kind of like with the intention of becoming an ongoing kind of piece, it was a story that we wanted to tell within those 12 episodes and I think we feel quite satisfied with where we got it.”

He gave his backing to writer, director and actress Coel possibly becoming the next star of Doctor Who, saying: “I think she’d be pretty good.”