Speaking to Daniel-Yaw Miller on the eve of the Emmys, the breakout star of I May Destroy You discusses being part of a cultural movement across the creative industries and his love of Manchester United
Paapa Essiedu is a man on the move, navigating his way through the whirlwind of events, flights and jobs that are now a staple of his routine following a breakout two years for the London-based actor. “I got to LA on Friday and I’m going back to London tomorrow [the day after the Emmys], so it’s a lot. I can’t really have too much fun after, my body wouldn’t allow me to be honest,” he tells me jokingly as we speak over the phone from LA to London, hours before the Emmys, which he’ll be attending wearing a dark blue silk tuxedo by Gucci. Essiedu’s Primetime Emmy nomination for his role as Kwame in I May Destroy You was a defining moment in his life and career, made more poignant by the fact that he was nominated alongside Michaela Coel. Coel went on to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series. “I love the fact that I’m out here with Michaela, who is a close friend of mine and someone who is very special to me.”
Ahead of the Emmys, Essiedu tells AnOther about his mother’s influence on his style, mixing with Hollywood’s finest and his friendship with Gucci.
DYM: What are you wearing tonight, for the Emmys?
PE: I feel really fortunate, I’m wearing a Gucci tailored silk deep bluey-purple, very very dope suit. I honestly have never had the opportunity to wear something as beautiful as this before. I loved working in collaboration with my stylist and the team at Gucci to create something that felt really suited to me and really special for this huge moment.
DYM: What is your relationship with Gucci?
PE: We have been having conversations for a while about how we can find a moment to collaborate on something. This year is Gucci’s centennial year, so it’s a big year for them as well. It feels significant that our stars have aligned in that sense. I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity. It’s been a proper easy, straightforward and enjoyable partnership and the Gucci team have been great collaborators.
DYM: Where does your love of fashion come from?
PE: My mum kind of works in fashion. She went to London College of Fashion and taught us pattern cutting and other techniques. She also made a lot of clothes when we were younger because we couldn’t really afford to buy them back then. So the process of making clothes and styling outfits has been around me since I was young. There were big sewing machines and all of that in my childhood kitchen. It feels good now I’m a so-called adult that it remains a presence in my life.
DYM: How does it feel to be attending the Emmys?
PE: It’s surreal, I suppose. It’s my first time attending. It’s one of those things, I’m very proud and feel very fortunate to have been recognised by this particular academy. Yeah, it feels surreal but fun, more than anything else. It’s been such a mad couple of years for many reasons. To be given the opportunity to come out to LA and meet people, to soak up the atmosphere, it’s a lot of different feelings. It’s a good laugh.
DYM: Is there anyone, in particular, who you are looking forward to meeting at the Emmys?
PE: Everyone man. This is literally Hollywood. I’m looking forward to seeing everybody. It’s so funny, seeing all these people on TV, then you come out here [to LA] and it’s like rah, these people have brunch, these people go to the pharmacy, they’re just people, you know, and some of them are even short. It’s just very funny. Yesterday I met Kathryn Hahn, who I think is incredible and she was wonderful to speak to. I also met Lena Waithe, who was amazing. There are so many people I am looking forward to at least seeing from afar, if not meeting them.
DYM: How does it feel to be part of such a talented group of Black British actors, alongside the likes of Micheal Ward, Michaela Coel, Damson Idris, leading the way in the industry?
PE: Wow, that’s high praise, you know. I admire and I am inspired by all of them, I’m a huge admirer of their work. It is a great time to be a Black creative, not just in our industry but also when you look at fashion with the likes of Martine Rose, then to music with Pa Salieu and Dave, and it’s the same in the art world with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. It feels like right now there is a movement across wider culture, which is different to what we usually associate with Britishness. I think that Britishness is becoming a representation of exactly what we feel and see on the streets. It is now being reflected in the artistic and cultural stories that we as creators are telling. I feel privileged to hear my name mentioned alongside the likes of Michaela Coel, Michael Ward and Damson Idris because they are icons to me too.
DYM: What do you do when you’re not working?
PE: I love music, I love watching live music, I love watching plays and films. I love football as well, I’m a big [Manchester] United fan, so it’s tough right now, man. I was up at 5am in LA this morning watching the [West Ham v Manchester United] game. The stress of that game combined with jet lag, combined with all the rest of it means that maybe I’m not in the right headspace for the day so far. The only way is up from here.
DYM: It’s been a whirlwind two years, but what’s up next for you?
PE: Right now, I’m filming something for the BBC, a series called The Capture which we are halfway through and is going really well. I shot a series called Extinction earlier this year for Sky, which will be coming out in 2022. I also did a film with Alex Garland called Men, so I’ve had a kind of a busy year even though we’ve been wildly locked up and all that. Hopefully, the future is bright, each day brings new opportunities but also new roadblocks, so it’s about navigating each of these things as and when they arise. I’m trying to stay grounded, stay humble and stay present because you can really get lost in the madness and I really don’t want that to happen. Everyone starts out humble, don’t they? So check back in on me in a few years time.