ALTHOUGH the crime drama that has attracted millions of viewers is set in east London, two new characters have their roots firmly placed in Stonebridge.
For Lefty and Exo, members of the underground rap group USG Crew, it is the first time they have tried their hand at acting. They play Tony and Trevor, respectively, in the new series of Top Boy.
Lefty, whose real name is Kevin Noel, said: “I took it really seriously. I went to the audition and read bits of the script with someone else.
“While we were doing it, they seemed to really like it. They said I was very good, but you think they are just saying that.”
Top Boy is set on the fictional Summerhouse housing estate in Hackney, and follows the main protagonists, Dushane and Sully, as they try to prove themselves as the most powerful drug dealers in the area.
Different stories and points of view are depicted in the series but the effects of the gang activity, violence, crime and drugs on young children on the estate is a constant theme.
The series was created and written by Ronan Bennett and the actors have made only small changes to the script to make it seem more realistic.
“It was a really good experience and being part of a production like that, especially when you don’t have any experience in the performing arts. We got to experience the whole thing,” Lefty said.
“It might be a stereotypical role, but what they are realising is that some actors don’t know how to play those roles and because we are living around it, we have got experiences to draw from.”
Exo, 25, whose real name is Daniel O’Connor, plays Trevor.
He said: “There were some things that weren’t right and they had to add stuff for TV, but mostly it was relatively true to real life. There were only a few words we changed in the script which people wouldn’t say.”
USG Crew are working on several projects at the moment and have been performing at festivals during the summer. They are no strangers to the camera, through music videos, and hope to diversify into acting.
A friend of the group, Q, who is helping to manage their careers, has experience of working in the USA and was instrumental in getting Lefty and Exo parts in Top Boy.
“I came and shot a video for Exo and saw that these guys have got a talent,” he said.
“I have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and knew of this company called Suspect Entertainment. It gets reformed gang members into entertainment.
“I saw these guys and they have problems with the police and things. Having grown up in this borough, I just thought, ‘what can I do for them?’
“When Top Boy came about they said, ‘I want to do TV, I want to do stuff like that’. I asked them if they were ready for it. I phoned the casting director and he offered them all parts in it.”
When it came to filming, only Lefty and Exo were able to do it and are now hoping to feature in the third series as well.
After the experience on set and working with other people who have experience of life with gangs in their neighbourhoods, they agreed Stonebridge would provide the perfect setting for a similar project, but this time led by the community.
Lefty said: “We want to get our own story out there as well. We could have our own series. We have got a lot of life experiences that are deeper than those shows show.
“We would like to do our own projects and get people from our own community. People could be writers and researchers.
“People want to see the real thing. That is why the first Top Boy was so successful. People see it is as being quite negative when showing the youngsters, but the things they show actually do happen out there.”
Q agreed: “The nice thing about it is they want stuff that comes from reality.
“Actors who have gone to RADA can’t bring that reality. We want that kind of authenticity, people that know of that world.
“The thing is, it is also giving people from this background a chance to have a career. Exo and Lefty are role models – you can come from that background and be a brilliant actor.
“It is a wonderful example.”
? The first series was broadcast in 2011 and the final episode of series two will be screened on Channel 4 Tuesday, September 10.