BAFTA winner Gbemisola Ikumelo talks about Black Ops now streaming on Showmax

30 April 2024

BAFTA winner Gbemisola Ikumelo talks about Black Ops now streaming on Showmax

Nigerian-British actress and filmmaker, Gbemisola Ikumelo, speaks on Black Ops as the 6-part comedy crime-thriller now streaming on Showmax.

BAFTA award winning actor and writer Gbemisola Ikumelo (Famalam, A League of Their Own), Hammed Animashaun (Black Mirror, The Wheel of Time) and BAFTA award winning actor and producer Akemnji Ndifornyen (Famalam, The Queen’s Gambit) star in the high-concept comedy thriller, Black Ops, produced by BBC Studios Comedy Productions and Mondo Deluxe, and is now streaming on Showmax.

Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom in Black Ops on Showmax
Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom

The BBC series Black Ops is set in East London and follows two inept community support officers, Dom and Kay, who join the Met Police in the hope of cleaning up their community but are unwittingly thrust into the murky world of deep cover infiltration as they become part of a powerful criminal enterprise.

The six-part comedy crime-thriller is co-created, written and executive produced by Nigerian-British BAFTA winners Gbemisola Ikumelo (Famalam, Brain In Gear) and Akemnji Ndifornyen (Famalam, The Queen’s Gambit), who star alongside award winner Hammed Animashaun (The Wheel of Time, Cunk & Other Humans on 2019, Pls Like).  

Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom and Hammed Animashaun as Kay in Black Ops
Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom and Hammed Animashaun as Kay

Dom, played by Ikumelo, is feisty and takes no nonsense while Animashaun plays Kay her naïve, but surprisingly capable partner who lives with his church elder. The pair are soon thrust into a high stakes secret mission where they find themselves out of their depth facing one of the leaders of the Brightmarsh gang, Tevin, played by Ndifornyen.

Already renewed for a second season, Black Ops was nominated for Best Comedy Performance (for Ikumelo) at the 2023 Talk Telly Awards, as well as the 2023 Royal Television Society, UK award for Original Score – Scripted and most recently for Female Performance in a Comedy Programme at the 2024 BAFTA TV Awards.

Here’s what she had to say about the show and character, Dom.

How did you come up with the idea for the show?

AK [Akemnji Ndifornyen] got it into his head that off the back of doing the BBC sketch-show Famalam that it’d be really great to do a show with me as a sort of vehicle piece. So, he called me and said, “Look, we’re going get into a room with the Beeb and pitch some ideas.” So, I went away and thought about the kinds of things I’d like to do, and one of the things I was just really excited about was the notion of putting myself in a show or scenario that I wouldn’t get cast for ordinarily. You can hide a multitude of sins behind comedy, so I just went, “I’d love to be in a cop show. I’d love to be in a show where it’s running, guns, car chases and it’s fun and funny as well.” Also, grounding it in a world and a language we understand. So, the idea of PCSOs became a really interesting way in – and that’s how the show was born.

It feels grounded in reality and really authentic.

Gbemisola Ikumelo in Black Ops on Showmax
Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom and Hammed Animashaun as Kay

Absolutely. Hammed is such a beautiful scene partner to work with and, I guess, us really connecting and having great chemistry was the crux of all that. Also, just realising that a lot of the stuff that’s going on in the show is very real-world stuff. Some of the stuff is inspired by things in the news that we’ve heard and seen, we’ve done our research. So, I do think it should feel grounded and real, as well as being incredibly silly and fun. And we kept going, “We don’t want it to stay in the estate.” That was a big key thing and it was kind of figuring out where it goes to. I think Joe [Tucker] and Lloyd [Woolf] really sort of expanded on that kind of world and that was really great.

What was it like writing an episode with AK?

Akemnji Ndifornyen as Tevin in Back Ops
Akemnji Ndifornyen as Tevin

We wrote episode two together, and all four of us [Gbemisola, AK, Joe and Lloyd] effectively developed the show together. We kind of wrote it in a room together, coming up with what the show is going to be, and then AK and I also collaborated on scripts. I’m not a great writing collaborator, I take my stuff and go into a hole and I emerge – it’s a thing. And, so, I didn’t know how it would be working with AK, but the synergy was quite surreal. To the point where I’d be writing something and it was like, “Pass a laptop over” and he’d sort of finish off the sentence. A lot of it as well was just us having a chat for like two hours and then write for half an hour and get some lunch, and then something we gisted or joked about found its way into the script. So it was such a beautiful process.. I think AK’s opened my eyes to the world of writing collaboration. He’s a great collaborator, I would definitely work on a longer form thing with AK, for sure.

How would you describe your character of Dom?

Black Ops Series 1 on Showmax
Gbemisola Ikumelo as Dom

I think she’s very cynical. She’s the kind of person who, if she was a teenager, doesn’t want to make out that she cares too much, you know, because I think there’s a vulnerability in that. So, she’s a bit like a surly teen with maybe an arrested development of like 15 or 16 years old, bit spoilt, bit middle class, her parents do a lot for her. When we meet her, I think she had this image that she was going to go to cop school, become a great detective, and that would be her life. But she just kept getting overlooked for promotion and that sort of led to her being a bit cynical and a bit, “Okay, well, I’m just going to do this job and just get paid and go home and eat.” And then through the show, and all the things that go on, and through Kay, I think she starts to learn to sort of embrace the faith that he has and sort of protect that a bit more. She grows up through the course of this.

She’s also very funny, like when she calls DI Clinton a budget Idris Elba. That was an improvised line! I’m not sure Ariyon [Bakare who plays DI Clinton] actually really appreciated that. I blurted it out and instantly felt really guilty, but he’s a great sport.

What is Kay like?

By contrast, he is all hope and faith. If she’s arrested development at 15 years, he’s 11 or 12 and is kind of like this annoying little brother. He’s also a man of faith, so he plays keyboards in the church band and he runs a youth Bible study. He’s coming at it with a real earnest heart, “I want to be a voice in the community, I want to build bridges in the community, and I really want to be here.” And I think through the course of this his faith is tested, and he has to do some things that really contradict who he is as a person. So, I think he has this real inner struggle with that ¬– but he also wants medals. But he’s a sweetheart, and I think in less intelligent hands he could have come across as, “Oh, he’s just a bit dumb”, but Hammed does a really beautiful job of kind of nuancing him, and there’s these really sharp moments of just a wit and savant-esqueness in him, which I think Hammed nails.

What about their relationship?

The thing I love about this show is there’s no ‘will-they-won’t-they’ built into the mix, as there tends to be when there’s a man and woman working side by side. It’s a brotherly sisterly thing, a real, genuine friendship. I don’t really see that much, in terms of a man and a woman working alongside each other and the chemistry being a different kind of chemistry. So that’s the first thing that I love about their relationship, and also, they are both missing things that the other person needs. So as much as sometimes they get on each other’s nerves – and there’s many times I think where Dom just doesn’t want to be in this partnership with him – they keep coming back to each other, because they need each other to get out of this mess. There’s something lovely about having a real buddy cop show feel that we all recognise, but also subverting it and doing different things with it, which I think would be great for audiences to see.

Why is Dom so dismissive of him?

I genuinely think that she underestimates him right from the get-go. There is a sense in what I think is a jaded world that we live in, that the sort of people who do have faith or a pure and kind of way of looking at things, who aren’t cynical about the world, can be seen as dumb because they don’t see the darker things. But actually there’s something quite maybe protected about people like that, and something we can maybe learn from people like that. So, I think she’s very dismissive because Kay’s first assumption isn’t to blame people or to assume this or that, but it’s to help and support them – and sometimes his assumptions are very wrong, but also there’s something really great about it that I think Dom slowly begins to appreciate. So, I think that’s why because he’s not like her and not like many people. I don’t think there are many uncynical people left, especially in that kind of job.

Dom has some personal issues going on too, doesn’t she?

I think this is another thing Kay helps with this sort of understanding and growing up, is that up until a certain point, her family are there to support her dreams and do all the things she needs them to do. She needs money, so they give it, and I think that’s how she sort of moved through the world. As we go deeper into the series, we start to realise that she has to give something back to other people. She has to learn to accept her step-mum who is nothing but lovely to her the whole time, and there’s no reason for her to get so much vitriol from Dom. And, so, I think slowly, she’s just learning to accept people more. This horrible, horrible situation that she finds herself in, this life-or-death situation, puts some things into perspective.

What’s it like working with Hammed?

Hammed is a goofball, and highly, highly annoying. No, like genuinely, it was like a brother sister relationship. He likes to get on your nerves. He’s that guy who sings, “I know a song that will get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves….” He’ll revel in it. So, we had a little code afterwards like if it was too early in the morning for singing, you know, I’d say, “beep beep” and he’d know. But genuinely, it was a joy, it really was, and I had sort of been stalking Hammed secretly for a number of years, from theatre, and just everything he’s done. He always lights up the room, as an actor, in all the work that he does. So, I was really keen to see if we’d work well together in this and the chemistry was just sort of instant.

What were the most fun, memorable moments from filming?

There were a lot of silly moments. One moment, it wasn’t particularly funny, but it was just sort of watching Hammed and how he worked. Towards the end he wasn’t very well and he was a little bit low. So, we put him in a little shaded area because it was very hot and fanned him, and I’ve not really seen him that quiet and subdued – he’s very bubbly. And then they’d be like, “Okay, we’re about to turn over” and then he’s sort of get up and slowly wobble over and they’d say “action!” and he’d be like [mimes being super alert and full of energy]. I was just in awe of how ‘on’ he could be, and then they’d go, “Cut!” and he would be like [makes a groaning sound.] I can laugh about it now, at the time I was very serious, I was like, “Are you OK?” But now I think it’s quite hilarious how he was really just squeezing that last bit of energy to do the show.

Do you have a favourite scene or episode?

I mean, I love a lot of it. I think there’s a lot of stuff in episode two that I really enjoyed like the digging scene. We had very little time because it was like summer solstice, so we had two hours of dark before it got light, and we had to shoot so much. It was effectively me jumping into a ditch doing my own stunts and then hacking off a finger. It was so much fun to just play and to be able to do it and to catch it. I think everyone was quite shocked that we didn’t need to do it that many takes. Because I was like, “Yeah, I’ll go down the hole. Yeah, I’ll hack his finger off. Yeah, I’ll vomit in a ditch!” And then I came out and looked at my face at the end of it and it was just covered in dust. It was one of those moments you kind of envisage you would do when you sort of think about being an actor when you’re younger.

Finally, where would you like to take these characters next? What’s the future for Team Day?

I mean, AK is basically like, “Let’s just go abroad, do an Adam Sandler and just go to a really hot location – paid for – and hire some really great actors and just have some fun in Jamaica or something.” But no, I don’t know, right now. I mean, there’s some ideas that we’re tinkering with, but I won’t ruin them. But I think there’s no limit to where these characters can go really. The way it’s been written is that it could go and go because, like I said, by the end of it, you really want to see where they end up.

Stream Black Ops now on Showmax, with new episodes on Monday.