BAFTA Rising Star Bukky Bakray On Representation, Inspiring Women And Daniel Kaluuya's Advice

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‘Surround yourself with people who want more for you than you want for yourself.’ Daniel Kaluuya gave me that advice the night I won my BAFTA Rising Star award last year.

Luckily for me that’s exactly what I saw that night. A room of people – my glam squad, publicist, cast mates, family and friends – who were genuinely proud and happy for me. Not to mention the other actors who were nominated that night. I’ll never forget the welcome actors Sope Dirisu and Kingsley Ben Adir have given me in this acting space – a space I never thought I’d ever get to be a part of.

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When I was growing up a career in acting seemed like an intangible thing. As a young girl from East London I decided early on it probably wasn’t going to happen. I was so sure of that so I thought there was simply no point in thinking about acting or making it one of my dreams. This frame of mind didn’t come from my lack of ambition, rather me trying to be honest with myself. I remember once typing ‘How To Be An Actor?’ into Google and learning you had to pay for acting agents. I cleared my search history and called it a day.

BAFTA Rising Star Bukky Bakray On Representation, Inspiring Women And Daniel Kaluuya's Advice
© John Phillips – Getty Images 24th British Independent Film Awards – Bukky Bakray

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But I always loved film, especially old American movies and music videos. My house is full of DVDs from the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as ‘classics’ like Good Fellas and Training Day. I’d watch these films religiously and learn their dialogue as if they were song lyrics. I saw, even then, the way that certain actors like Lakeith Stanfield, Kano, Issa Rae and Benicio del Toro can portray such honesty with just their eyes. To have that skill is incredibly special and it’s something I’m working on.

Then Rocks came along. The casting process for the film was anything but traditional. It started with the film’s director Sarah Gavron and casting director Lucy Pardee watching students from the back of performing arts classes all across London. One day they were at the back of my drama class and nine months later they invited some of us to their workshops. I was really nervous in the workshops, but when I made some friends I opened up a bit more and was able to enjoy it! Meeting the women in those groups for the first time was like finding forgotten cousins or lost half-sisters. It felt so natural. When Kosar [Ali] and I first met we both got sent out of class for laughing too much. As those friendships were being formed, unknowingly Gavron and Pardee had already started to pick the lead actors for the film.

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Rock is about a group of young girls finding their way through London. While shooting the film I didn’t understand the significance of what we were making because the story seemed so mundane to me. I remember thinking who’s actually going to watch this? It seemed so ordinary. Only now do I realise I’m used to watching films and TV shows based on stories which feel very distant from my life. So stepping into Rocks’ story, which had such likeness to my own world, felt insignificant. Part of me thought its story didn’t matter. Now I see it does.

I’m so proud of the film because women like me are being seen on screens. I’ve never looked at myself as a role model, but since the film came out I’ve had little girls tell me: ‘Thank you for making me feel seen.’ It’s really humbling to be able to inspire others.

BAFTA Rising Star Bukky Bakray On Representation, Inspiring Women And Daniel Kaluuya's Advice
© Tristan Fewings – Getty Images Bukky Bakray

When my agents called and said I was nominated for a BAFTA last year, I was in a taxi coming back from a Covid test. I was shocked just to be listed among the other nominees (Ben-Adir, Dirisu, Morfydd Clark and Conrad Khan); they are forces of nature. Some of the best actors of our time have previously been nominated for the Rising Star award, so the idea that anyone thought I could sit at the same table as those performers really threw me. To fall behind Letitia Wright, John Boyega and Micheal Ward feels like something I’d dream of achieving by the end of my career, not just as it’s beginning.

Recently I’ve been starring in a four-part series You Don’t Know Me on the BBC with actor Samuel Adewunni. It’s a love story where everyone trying to do the right thing for each other, but failing. I play the main character’s little sister, Bliss. She’s very naïve and been through a lot, but can still see the best in other people. I learnt so much in the making of the series from everyone on set, from the director to the sound recordist.

BAFTA Rising Star Bukky Bakray On Representation, Inspiring Women And Daniel Kaluuya's Advice
© David M. Benett – Getty Images Bukky Bakray

As my careers continues, I’m excited to learn more, collaborate more, work more. I’ve worked consistently over the last year, and I know how much of a privilege that is, because a lot of actors haven’t been in work because of the pandemic. I also recently got a place at drama school, but I’ve decided to keep working for now – perhaps I’ll go at a later date. I’d love to find a way to combine my passion for music with acting, and to film a project set in Nigeria and see its culture represented on screen.

I don’t like to think about the future too much or be too ambitious because of my fears of failure. Instead, I try to be present. For now, I’m looking forward to the stories I’ll tell on screen and the relationships I’ll make. I have a lot more work to do, a lot more life to experience and plenty more mistakes to make.

I often remember what Kaluuya said in his Oscar’s speech last year: ‘We are living’. We are. And if nothing more I want to focus on that.’

You can watch You Don’t Know Me on BBC iPlayer now.

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