We recently sat down to have a chat with British actor Mark Ebulué where Dr Natasha Berridge spoke with him about his craft, life and everything in between.
Born and raised in South London, Mark Ebulué is a man of many talents. Not only is he a well-established actor, but he is also an influential Martial Arts Instructor. In our recent interview with him, we spoke to Mark about his passions, drives and focus. More importantly, we got in-depth about his leading role in the must-see Netflix series called Cursed. So, let’s get straight into it!
Tell us a little bit about your early days of growing up in South London, your family and your background
I grew up in Peckham and to be honest, it was kind of rough. My dad did a lot to shield me from the gangs and everything negative that came with the environment. Even though he tried to keep me from the bad stuff, you would always hear things. Sometimes you would see things happen. But, mostly we heard about things that happened from people you knew or on the bus to school. But, despite my dad trying to shield me from these things, the gang-related culture, crime, robberies, etc. was always there. Knife crimes were quite prevalent, and there are just things that you had to be aware of growing up. It’s almost like you had to grow up a little bit faster being around that kind of environments.
In regards to your family, do you have any brothers or sisters?
I’ve got two half-sisters that live in Nigeria, but they’re a lot older than I am. I also have three brothers, of which I am the second oldest as well as one adopted sister.
So, when did Mark Ebulué decide to become an actor?
In the early years, I used to fight. In fact, I used to fight in quite a lot of tournaments. This meant that I would sometimes need to fight multiple times per night. One night, I had just won the tournament but I took a bit of a beating. In fact, I was beaten so much that I was unable to drive back home. Thankfully my dad was there to drive me back home. During the drive, I remember my dad said; “yes, you won but what if you had lost?”. I think because it was such a beating he was really just concerned about my well being and happiness. We ended up having a long and serious talk on the drive back. I think although I won the tournament, he could see on my face that I didn’t really look happy at all. This really made me think about life and what I actually wanted to do. So, I suggested acting to him. He was, and always had been, extremely supported. Even at the age of 6 or 7, we would go and see Shakespeare’s plays as his office was right by The Globe. That being said, I think he was just very happy and supportive just to not have to see my face being punched anymore. I think being able to have that support has really been what helped me make my decision to become an actor.
How old were you when that decision happened?
I was about 17.
Do you have any family acting connections or any family within the industry
No, I’m a solo act. It’s literally just me. Wy older brother does a bit of photography and my little brother became a writer. Then the baby of the family, James, well, he is the one with the brains. He is into computers and the whole world of IT. So I am really the only one in the arts.
You went to Italia Conti which is the longest established art performing acting school. You also have a BA honours in acting. How easy do you think is it for those who want to get into acting, to do so without having a professional qualification, like yourself?
There’s so much more to acting than just acting. You have to know about the business side of things, the industry, and so many other things, and so many other components. I would say for me, drama school really depends on who you are as an individual. The reason why drama school made sense to me was because I had no connections whatsoever. I’d seen plays, but I had no idea about the acting life, the touring life or anything else really. In fact, I wasn’t even the kid at school that would go to drama club or anything like that. It was literally just that moment in the car. To get a better understanding and to be more prepared, having a professional qualification will help a great deal! But, as they say, there are a million ways to the top of the mountain, you just have to find the right one for you.
How did you fund your way through acting school
I was still fighting. I didn’t want to take a student loan because I did not want to have debt. So, during my first year, I was still technically fighting. It wasn’t really to win trophies anymore. It was now to fund the dream. And then, after my first year, my dad said, this isn’t going to work. So I took out a loan like everyone else, and the rest is history.
I am sure that many would like to know, who does Mark Ebulué consider a mentor?
My dad’s my biggest mentor. Just in everything. The way he lived his life, the way he treated people around him, his kindness, his humanity. He’s my reference in terms of who I want to be. He wasn’t the richest guy but in terms of how he lived his life, and how he interacted with people, and mostly how people interacted with him. That’s something that I aspired to and still do every day.
You’ve performed in numerous plays, and you’ve had loads of TV roles as well. Do you have a preference for the stage or screen?
I do! It has to be the screen. Theatre is always going to be my bread and butter, and I love it. After all, it is my background. It was my first proper introduction to acting, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But I think my acting style is more suited to the screen. The lifestyle, the timetable, it’s just something that I lean more towards. Plus, when I was in drama school, my drama school teachers were all telling me that I was really good and that I was made for the screen.
Out of the TV shows have you done, which ones were most memorable to you?
I’m gonna have to say it must be when I was on Casualty. That was my first proper lead episode role in anything. Plus, that was the first time my dad saw me on TV. So, that was a real big moment for me. Doctor Who was also surreal and it was such a cool role. I think what I loved the most about that is the amount of love that you get from the fans. I get letters all of the time which I keep, of course. I love to be able to go through them from time to time. In fact, that was the first time I understood what it really means to have fans. At school, I was not the most popular person or even in drama school. So, to get that kind of attention was completely new to me and took me a little by surprise. Another highlight is when I did Stan Lee’s Lucky Man. I did four episodes on the first season and had the opportunity to do a scene with James Nesbitt. I am a massive Marvel fan so anything with Stan Lee’s name attached to it was just a dream for me! Cursed was just amazing from start to finish. Everybody on the show was absolutely amazing. From the cast down to the crew. It was the biggest TV show I’ve ever done so far. There were green screens and blue screens everywhere. Castles were built and we were on horses. It was just a crazy set. Just such a great experience.
Tell us a bit more about your character on Cursed where you played a leading role.
Yes. So in the world of Cursed, there’s a bunch of different races and different species. And there’s a race called the Tusks. I play the son of a Tusk commander, who’s also a translator for the Tusk tribe. So I can speak English and also translate what other people are saying to our Tusk leaders. He’s a really cool character. We get to wear these prosthetics that are kind of horns, which we also call Tusks, hence the name of the tribe. We’ve also got lots of different kinds of tattoos as well, so we look really cool. That is such a great part of the process as well. I love getting in a makeup chair and getting the horns put on and getting into character.
As you said, this is one of the biggest things that you’ve done so far. How did you find out about the audition for this part?
I said to my agent that I was going to take a week off in LA, and I’m just going to not think about work because I’ve not been on holiday for maybe 10 years. I just felt like I needed a bit of a break. I think maybe a week or two weeks before, I did a tape for the show but for a different character. I went in, just did a normal audition, and to be honest, I forgot about it. All that I was thinking about was LA, and what I was gonna do there as I had never been there before. By the second day of being there, still jetlagged, I got a call from my agent saying that I am close to one of the roles and that they will keep me updated. The next day my agent informed me that I was shortlisted alongside three other actors. A few hours later my agent phoned again asking if I have ever been on a horse before. Laughing at first, I followed with a serious no! Nevertheless, I got the job and had to cut my trip short by a few days. Within two days I was already at costume fittings and shortly after that, I was already on set busy filming.
Due to its scale and popularity, it fair to say that Cursed is probably one of your proudest professional moments?
It was but I think the proudest has to be when I did the live-action show of Fast and Furious at the O2. That was a highlight for me, and again, I never thought I’d ever be performing at the O2 for anything. Plus the fact that I was able to perform to 15,000 people. That was pretty amazing.
As a black male, have you experienced any negativity or any adversity in your professional acting career to date?
Yes, I think every kind of minority actors have stories for you. I’ve had a few, but I think the most important thing I try to remember when these things happen is that you’ve got to take the world for what it is. How you want it to be. It doesn’t mean that the world changes, or that it doesn’t change, and it doesn’t mean that you have a negative outlook on it, because I don’t really think that’s helpful. But, at the same time, you have to accept where we are as people. Always remember that things can, and hopefully will change. Things, conversations and talks are happening now that wasn’t happening a couple of years ago, so I think all progress is good progress, even if it’s slow.
What keeps you motivated? Perhaps more importantly, what keeps Mark Ebulué focused?
I’ll say two things, I think mostly, my upbringing. My dad, again. He raised me with a real kind of laser focus to just prioritise what matters and what’s important. But then also, being in this industry, being in this world, obviously, things can get on top of you and it can all be a bit overwhelming. You can so easily forget. When those moments happen, I think about the tough times, and about all the things that I’ve sacrificed to get to where I am. And I also think about the people around me, who have invested in me. Those who have also made sacrifices. My father, again, made a ton of sacrifices. He didn’t really have to stay in London and raise four black kids in South-East London. He could have gone back to Nigeria, anytime, and would have been worshipped as a king, living the life of luxury, but he didn’t. And I’m pretty sure at times, people were telling him to do just that. But, he always stepped up and he believed that his place was here. He made sacrifices for me, personally, to get to where I am, to where I’ve gotten to. So, when I do have those hard moments, I do think about everything that it took to get me here. That keeps me focused and on the right track.