We spoke to the man that is Vauxhall Jermaine…
Q: We would love to take this opportunity to say a big well done for your roles in This Is England ’90 and Meet The Mckenzies. How it all start? How did you become the actor you are today?
Vauxhall: Ah thank you much appreciated! It was a joy to work on both, especially TIE 90.
I started out as an extra back in 2007, fitting it around being a professional footballer (soccer) and sports modelling. I would watch the lead actors on set thinking I really want to do that one day. It felt like a free acting lesson as you get to see masters at their craft. I remember Game of Thrones casting director Nina Gold, casting me in a small non-speaking role alongside Ryan Phillippe in a film called Franklyn. That was surreal as I’d just watched him in Crash a few days earlier! When I when I went back for pre-season training I told my team mates about being on a movie set and that I was gonna be an actor one day… they laughed at me! Who’s laughing now, hey!
I retired from soccer in 2009, going into extras work/sports modelling full time. In 2011 I stopped the extras work after getting a small speaking role in an indie film called Weekend. The lead Tom Cullen really encouraged me to go for it, so I started getting roles in student/short films via acting websites, to gauge just how good or bad an actor I actually was. I haven’t trained as an actor so I’d use any auditions I got as a workshop tool.
Q: What was your favourite acting role and why?
Vauxhall: Playing Rudy in Channel 4’s This Is England ’90. I just felt I’d arrived as an actor for even getting the chance to audition for such an iconic piece of British tv. We filmed it in 2015, I’d only stopped the extras work four years earlier and now I’m on set of a BAFTA winning drama! Madness. The lead Vicky McClure had a word in Shane Meadows’ ear about me so I’m in debt to her for the rest of my life haha! Doing scenes with Stephen Graham was probably the equivalent of playing alongside Steven Gerrard. The man is a genius on screen. He’s so kind as an actor and helps you in any way he can (Being both Liverpool fans helped too!).
Agents and casting directors definitely started taking me a bit more serious after TIE. I actually landed the role the same day I’d landed a role in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation alongside Tom Cruise, which we were filming in Morocco, Africa. I was panicking about the dates clashing but production waited for me to get back which was amazing.
Q: Tell us about your funniest on-screen experience!
Vauxhall: Two moments stick out. When we were filming Mission: Impossible one of the extras (in the pic far left) had a little bit extra around the waist line. Tom kept saying to me that Marines are a bit more athletic than that so we need to change him. I felt a bit bad for him so I suggested that he just breathe in when we film and relax afterwards. Tom whispered something to one of the AD’s, they went over to the extra and told him what I suggested.
We filmed the scene for one hour solid and this poor guy is literally pulling his stomach in looking like Johnny Bravo to then letting it go like Homer Simpson in the Moroccan heat. I was in stitches! – as the Moroccan heat ain’t no joke trust me!
I was in an audition for a yoghurt commercial. I was wearing a well fitted suit and had to jump out of my chair and do some mad dance kick thing. My trousers fully split and fell down in front of the casting director who was raging. The director was crying with laughter so hard he was literally sliding down his chair behind the script. I didn’t get the role or get called in by that CD for two years after lol.
Q: BAME actors have been the talk of the town lately. Do you think they have to look overseas in places such as in the USA to be appreciated and to find work?
Vauxhall: There is definitely more work in the states that’s a fact, and the chances of landing a breakthrough role there as a BAME actor are a lot higher. I hope the UK market catches up, I really do… but it has a looonnngg way to go yet. That’s why it’s CRUCIAL we continually create our own work and using social media platforms to get the major UK networks to notice us more. I said in another interview and I stand by it – we need the equivalent of a BBC Radio 1 Xtra for television! Showcasing high end content made by BAME creatives. And it needs serious money pumped into so it becomes a major network. They could slip it into where BBC Three used to be.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome this?
Vauxhall: My biggest obstacle was not letting my past consume me. I grew up in various foster families, a children’s home, an all-white boarding school for boys with behaviour problems, I became homeless at 17 and a father at 18. By this point, I was a criminal doing all kinds of stuff. I was selling fake Ralph Lauren clothes for a local gangster while I was at college. Burgling people’s houses – if it wasn’t bolted down I was stealing and selling it, trust me. Robbing business men for their mobile phones in the street was standard behaviour for me I remember my ex-girlfriend asking me about becoming her pimp when I was 21 years old. I politely declined as I was born out of that world.
How I overcame the obstacle: it was my desire for a better life coupled with real fear of what I’d end up becoming if the door never opened. Pursuing soccer professionally gave me that hope. It was the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel but I was ready to die for my efforts because I had to prove to myself that my start doesn’t have to be my end. I still have those fears now and that’s what keeps me driving forward.
Q: What audition advice would you give to your younger self?
Vauxhall: Relax. You’re not on trial for murder. Enjoy it and take genuine risks in the room as casting directors like that. You’re not going in there to land a role you’re going there to show what you can do. Leave it all in the room. It’s done – it’s over.
Q: If you could write and direct a film tomorrow, regardless of budget, what would it be about and why?
Vauxhall: It would be my life story. Young black men need to be reassured they can still be all they can be despite whatever their upbringing. I have to big up Stormzy and Bashy for how they’re using their platform to inspire young black men. It’s beautiful to see.
Q: Who is one ‘up and coming’ actor that you feel we should all look out for?
Vauxhall: Apart from me haha, I’d say my friend Maia Watkins. I saw her at Monologue Slam and was blown away. Her love for acting is real. Also check out British actress Zaraah Abrahams, she’s dope in Spike Lees’ Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and Black Girl in Paris.
Q: What can we expect from you in the near future?
Vauxhall: Well…I’ve just appeared alongside Arnold Oceng in a BBC Two terrorism film called The Attack. I played ‘Kaymar’, a man who’s sells guns to criminals in London.
I’ll be appearing in a short film called ‘Leroy’ alongside Nathan Bryon, then an independent film called ’90 Minutes’ – I play Jonno Banks, a manager of a Sunday morning soccer team. And then I’ll be featuring as ‘Bouncer’, an assassin in a new major US drama called ‘Will’ – airing on TNT Drama in summer 2017.
Q: And finally what is your message to the world?
Vauxhall: Wow no pressure there haha!.. Just try your best to be all you can be. Never be afraid of hard work or the time it will take to reach your dreams. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail just go again. But most importantly follow your instincts like your life depends on it. It will never let you down.