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Chivalry | Interview with Adjani Salmon (Aston)

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What appealed to you about Chivalry?

They branded it as a ‘Me Too comedy’ so I was very curious to see what that looked like. When I read the script, I thought it was really funny but it also had an interesting perspective. It shows the complexity of Hollywood and how people get trapped in the cycle of misogyny, through a female character trying to climb the ladder. It shows how you can start making one or two sacrifices and the next thing you know, you’re in it with everybody else. It’s about how complicit everyone is in keeping the system the way it is.

Why do you think Hollywood post-Me Too works so well as the setting for a comedy drama?

I think because generally, especially in this climate, people don’t like being preached to. And sometimes medicine is best served with honey. And the honey is humor.  

How would you describe the character of Aston? 

He’s a recent stay-at-home dad (to seven-year-old son Noah) after moving to Los Angeles for his wife, Bobby’s job. He previously worked in the tech industry and was the breadwinner and now Bobby is. He’s a trying person who is scared to get things wrong. I think he may come across as needy but when your fears are stronger than your drive, it makes you seek validation and reassurance because your fear of failing is greater than your passion of succeeding.  

What is his and Bobby’s relationship like?  

It’s challenged by the new dynamic and her availability. He struggles with the new lack of access that he has, which is compounded by the new power dynamic of their relationship. Understandably Bobby is busy so she’s like, ‘no, you can’t just call me anytime’, but [for Aston] it’s like, ‘actually, I need you.’ 

How does Bobby react to that?

She does feel bad but she is more determined to have a successful career than she is to fix the situation. She takes things for granted. People are there so you just expect them to be there. It’s like, ‘I’ll come back to you. This other thing I’m doing is not secure, whereas you are, so I’m going to fix that first.’ That’s essentially the clash that they have.

Did you draw on any inspiration to play this character?

I’m a godfather to an 8-year-old and there have been times I’ve looked after my goddaughter for a whole day. I understand the delicate balance of taking care of a child you feel like you’re not very confident with.

What other preparation did you find useful?

At the time, I was reading books about relationships for my own show [Salmon wrote BBC3 comedy Dreaming Whilst Black] so I brought some of that stuff into the role as well. I read about love languages, forgiveness, emotional intelligence, etc. I’m interested in why things don’t work, because outside the obvious reasons like infidelity, a lot of relationships just break down.

As a writer yourself are you quite selective about which acting projects you do?

I do try to pick projects I find interesting, so for me, it was very much the script as well as the people making it. Steve Coogan is a legend in his own right and Sarah Solemani has made waves here and in America, so to be amongst these more established writers and performers was like an education for me.

Was it a big deal to work with Steve Coogan? 

It was weird because I didn’t even know how big he was! I was familiar with his Michael Winterbottom films but I hadn’t seen Alan Partridge which everybody raves about. It was interesting to witness his process, and Sarah’s – they both prep and perform in different ways. I’m used to being on a show where we write all our jokes and we say all our lines; we don’t improvise. On Chivalry we were free to improvise which took some adjusting as I’m a fairly new actor. The trick is progressing the story forward while you’re making it up and that’s what Steve and Sarah have mastered. We’d be filming a scene and they’d say something and I’d be like, ‘wow, you just made that up!’

Did you feel confident enough to improvise yourself?

In the beginning I was nervous because I’m just not in their league full stop! But they made me feel really welcome. Our director Marta Cunningham really made it a safe space for us to perform.

What was the greatest lesson you learnt?

The importance of trusting each other as performers. That’s not to say I didn’t trust actors before but I guess with Sarah (who I had scenes with the most) I experienced having that absolute trust and support. That creates a safe environment for you to just play and make mistakes even though nothing really is a mistake because you’re playing; there’s no right or wrong. 

Chivalry has a star-studded cast. Any pinch me moments?

I’m a big fan of Wanda Sykes. As someone who is just coming into the industry it’s so interesting meeting people who are considered titans because they’re just nice people! I guess the movie industry and certain media outlets have created this idea that actors are a big deal so it was great.

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