Black actors still face frustration trying to find top roles, says star

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Hustle star Adrian Lester has said there is still a long way to go for black actors working in the UK.

The star – the suave Mickey Stone in the BBC1 show – said in a magazine interview that there had been improvements since he left drama school. But he said the situation was still far from perfect.

The 43-year-old added: “As an actor you’re constantly trying to guess how valuable you are to the industry. If you’re a woman you’ll put certain negative things against that, be it age or weight.

“As a black actor you do the same – you’ll only see yourself travelling as far as people like you have travelled. And if no-one like you is doing what you’re doing it’s very hard for you to see yourself going further, and you get frustrated.”

He added: “I left Rada in ’89. Apartheid was still going, it was a very different world. When people leave drama school now saying, ‘It’s frustrating, I want to change things,’ I think, ‘Yeah – but, mate, we’ve done a hell of a lot of work!’”

He said: “Things have changed. There are kids who, when they speak in whatever accent, you can’t tell what colour – even gender – they are until you actually look. That’s what Britain is. It’s impossible to move backwards.

“And anybody who is intent on not moving forwards is moving backwards, and that’s an exercise in futility. At the moment a lot of dramas with non-white actors in them feel as though they have to justify that presence. Fine – but the presence is there, justified or not. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s getting better.”

Lester seemed destined for a US film career when he landed a pivotal role in the 1998 movie Primary Colors, starring John Travolta as US presidential wannabe Jack Stanton, and Lester as an idealistic young campaigner, Henry Burton.

He said doors had opened again, adding: “The iron (in the fire) is quite warm after Hustle.

“It’s been nice knowing that for the past nine years, every summer there’s this great job....

“This is the first time the slate is completely clear. I know I’m definitely going over to America. I’ll spend time doing three meetings a day. There’s lots of talk and stories flying around. We’ll see what lands.”