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Interview with Gamba Cole who plays Christian in Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws

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Who is Christian?

Christian Taylor is a doorman at a club called Argo. He’s the sole carer for his younger sister Esme, and they also live together. He’s an offender doing community service. In terms of his character, he is a loyal guy and actually one of the good ones. Obviously as the story unfolds, we will start to see why.

Why is he on the Community Payback Scheme?

So… the big plot: he’s the only one that hasn’t committed a crime and is doing community service because he’s pretending to be somebody else. His name is not actually Christian – it’s Ben. Christian is meant to be doing community service. His job is to just double as him, keep his head down, do the community service and pay back his debt to the real Christian.

How does he relate to the rest of the group?

I feel like every character in this show comes from a completely different world to him. Initially there is that great clash of worlds when many different people collide – their ideals, thought processes, the way they do things and for him, he doesn’t want to obviously draw too much attention to himself. His job is literally to just get in and get out and do what he needs to do during the day. As the story unfolds he starts to build a relationship with the other characters, like Rhianne’s character Rani, and Claire Perkins’ character, Myrna. As those relationships develop, the real Christian so to speak, starts to come out and you start to see a bit more of his personality.

Can you just give a little tease as to where the story’s heading?

It all starts with Christian asking a gang leader for money. He needs money so he can buy an apartment and move his sister out. Basically his mum is an addict and he wants to give his sister a better life; he didn’t want her to go through what he went through. He doesn’t have the money for a deposit, so he goes to this person, who says, “Okay cool, I’ll do this for you but this is what you need to do for me” – which leads to the community service.

The gang leader, who is called Malachi, then appears at the Community Service and forces Christian to do a job for him, which is to go into a house and take this bag. The bag has got a phone in it which connects to so many different people. He doesn’t know why; he’s just been told to do it. It’s either him or his younger sister. He takes it and decides to store the bag at the Community Centre. Lo and behold, as they’re cleaning up one day, the bag falls through the ceiling tiles that he packed it in and is found by the other characters. They open it and find loads and loads of money and we see them go through deciding what they want to do with it; whether they’re going to spend it, split it…etc.

Christian then figures out that the money’s gone and he’s trying to find out who’s taken it. He finds out who did it and that leads to the pursuit of getting that money back. So he’s got the pressure from both sides!

As you describe it, that could easily be a serious crime drama. What, in fact, is the tone of the show?

It’s interesting, because with Stephen Merchant behind it, there are so many elements of colour and vibrancy and comedy in there. For my character, there isn’t much comedy at all. His story is very, very real. For the show as a whole, there are so many beautifully nuanced moments of tragedy and comedy just blended into one.

How realistic is The Offenders in its portrayal of Bristol’s gangland?

In terms of the level of realism in there, myself, Stephen and the other guys in that gang world – we wanted to make sure that it was centered as closely as possible to what actually goes on in Bristol. It was about honouring and showing how these things happen in so many different places. So we made sure, especially with dialogue, language, dress designs, all of those kinds of things, that we kept as honest and as true as possible.

How well do you know Bristol, and to what extent is the setting integral to the story?

I was actually born in Bristol. My family are from Bristol and my grandma, aunts and cousins are all still there. It was funny because my character is from St. Paul’s in Bristol and that’s where a lot of my family are. I spent a lot of my childhood summers growing up there so to come back there as a character, I knew exactly where to place myself.

I also spoke to a lot of Bristolians to get familiar with the accent and to make sure it’s as authentic as possible, as there’s such a variance in accents anyway, depending on the generation that you’re in. I feel like what’s so beautiful about Bristol is it feels like there’s so many different types of people, but we all have an understanding and a mutual respect. It’s a really, really lovely city to be in.

Have you picked up any practical skills spending so much time pretending to do Community Service?

I mean, I’ve always been good with a paintbrush but my character uses the rubbish pickers a lot. So in between takes I found myself trying to throw things up and catch them again with the picker. On the last day before the hiatus, I actually managed it so I was very, very happy with that. Next time when I go back, I’m gonna record it.