Malachi Kirby: “I had an out of body experience on set”

The star of Roots and Curfew on defying his capacity and the advice he'd give to his 18-year-old self

“Here’s the thing — I’ve never really been good at acting,” says Malachi Kirby, which is a fairly punchy way to kick off an interview for our actors special, I think you’ll agree. But this isn’t the barefaced, praise-fishing, humility that lesser actors deploy to fuel their egos at press junkets — this is a purely technical admission.“I just don’t know how to pretend.”

This tells you a lot about Malachi, who speaks in a beautifully soft and considered cadence, like an older brother teaching you how to ride a bike. “My approach to doing this job is to get as close to the truth as possible, even if it’s painful,” he explains.

Malachi Kirby: “I had an out of body experience on set”

“When I did Roots [the 2016 remake of the iconic 70s slavery drama], we had the option to wear fake plastic chains that were more comfortable. I knew I could break them, so I wanted real chains.”

“In one scene I was being chased by dogs and I was wearing shoes that were too big and I had these chains around my feet. By the end, my ankles were just cut up, completely raw.”

There is madness in the method. But Malachi, 29, was practising under pressure long before he was an actor. As a teen, he nearly became an athlete. His event was the 400m. “There comes a point in any 400m, at the 300m mark, when you feel like you’re going to pass out,” he says. “My coach would sometimes say to us ‘you’re not going to die.’ But it felt like that sometimes.”

“But doing that over and over again, defying your capacity, I’ve definitely taken that into acting, if that doesn’t sound too cheesy.”

“The whipping scene in Roots was the only time I felt I was having an out of body experience,” Malachi says. “I was convinced I was being hit. It was as if I could see and hear the cries of everyone who’d been through that. I was shaking and in tears. I couldn’t get up, I was just traumatised by it.”

Malachi Kirby: “I had an out of body experience on set”

Malachi’s new show, Curfew, is a smorgasbord of genres, flitting between action, comedy, drama and horror. It’s Mad Max in the Home Counties and about 100 times more exciting than that sounds. “As an actor, you’re trying to work out how to play it, scene to scene,” Malachi says. “And 90 per cent of it was a night shoot, so not seeing sunlight for six months messes you up a bit. But it was a lot of fun.”

I imagine Malachi’s definition of fun is different to yours and mine. Does he ever take a break?

“I used to be a workaholic — busy even when I wasn’t supposed to be busy — but I’ve learned to invest time in myself and in a role,” he pauses. “That’s what I’d tell my 18-year-old self, anyway.”

This article originally appeared in our March issue, click here to subscribe and get your copy sent to your door…

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