Nathan Bryon, award-winning author, and BAFTA nominee recalls his journey, shares advice, and looks forward to his upcoming feature film and projects on the horizon.
Nathan Bryon and I first met in February of 2017 when I interviewed him about his then-new web series Reality. There was a clear lull of morale in the room that day at the BFI Southbank as a result of President Trump being inaugurated one month prior.
In fact, Trump as a contender for the presidency became a precursor to Reality’s success, with Nathan writing a passionate plea for Americans to think, and vote differently.
So in 2017, as I, and many others gathered at BFI Southbank, Nathan screened Reality as part of the BFI Future Film Festival, and it was evident how his “art at the moment had a bit of an angry voice” creating a social commentary series on the treatment of the Black community across London.
“I felt like a lot of my work was about rebounding off that, and really wanting to yell and scream and almost a bit of like protest art”, confirms Nathan.
Starring Kiell Snith-Bynoe, the series highlighted Bryon’s frustration across the nation, with issues on police brutality, the Syrian crisis, and the debate about the arrogance, or mastermind intelligence of Kayne West, known now as Ye.
Guest-starring London Hughes, Percelle Ascott, and Bryon himself among others, the series showed Bryon’s mindset of “challenge everything you see”, and expressed his disinterest in modern politics through the lens of the Black community.
Five years later, with many of the issues Nathan warned us about becoming a daily feature of the news, Nathan reflected on his mindset during Reality, and how he approaches writing now.
“I’m not still angry,” Nathan assured me. “I’m angry about lots of things in general, but my anger about racism and film and TV has distilled.
“Now it’s not necessarily because loads have changed. I think there’s definitely been some great change, but I feel like I was angry before, because I felt no one was letting me in.
“And now I’m in, my focus is on getting it done.”
“My anger has shifted into a place of more like practicality.”
Referring to his shows, and inclusion across the mediums, Nathan Bryon, has since written a bestselling children’s book trilogy, Look Up!, Clean Up! and Speak Up!, as well as finding success with his comedy show Bloods, and acting career appearing in shows including BBC‘s Ghosts and ITV‘s Benidorm.
There is a distinction to be made here, about Nathan’s distaste for the lacking of Black inclusion within the British industry all those years ago, as many could dismiss his frustrations as playing up to a pejorative stereotype when in truth, he is correct in his vocality both then, and now.
#OscarsSoWhite is still an everpresent conversation, with The Golden Globes in 2022 failing to be broadcast as a report found that of the 87 voting members of the Hollywood Press Association, none were Black.
Instead, as Nathan Bryon told me, now he has his foot in the industry door, this is his oppurtunity to join those who are already making a difference.
“My anger has shifted into a place of practicality. I’m like ‘Let’s get shit done!’. And also I am seeing change. You’ve got Adjani (Salmon) with Dreaming Whilst Black. You’ve got Riches coming out on ITV Two. You’ve got Lady Parts.
“You’ve got all these brilliant shows, which are starting to build the mosaic of what Britain really looks like.”
“I feel that my sort of footing when we last spoke was none of that shit was happening. And all these creators I’ve mentioned, I now know.”
Though, what is most interesting about Nathan, crafting to me this mosaic of British talent, was rather the inspirational tone he was using as his lacquer, creating an adhesive of present and future fragments to offer the best opportunities for emerging talent, and crafting the masterpiece of British art.
“I know that whilst they’re doing this, they’re spreading their tentacles wider, they’re bringing more people in.
“I think there’s never been a more creative time. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a young, Black creative.”
“If anything I’m actually really excited about the next chapter.”
“I think the more the industry champions diverse writers, and filmmakers, that’s when our stories will suddenly become more international in their telling because that’s what diverse stories are.
“They go across the globe because the experience is across the globe. And I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
Moreover, watching the flame ignite within Nathan as he shared more exceptional examples of Black filmmaking.
Aml Ameen’s Boxing Day; Reggie Yates’ Pirates; Nicôle Lecky’s Mood; Andrew Onwubolu’s Blue Story and Ronan Bennett’s Top Boy, all of whom have and continue, to create talented productions that highlight the importance of inclusion within the industry to give voice to Black creatives.
“I got my first professional adult credit and I was just buzzing.”
Though, referring back to Nathan, I would argue that this triple threat is as much an example of the talent within the Black British creative community as those he has listed.
All one has to do is look at Bloods as proof. Bloods, the show for which Nathan Bryon received a BAFTA nominee for his writing, is a Sky Comedy production and co-created with comedic actor Samson Kayo.
When asked about his greatest achievement since we last spoke, it was in fact Bloods that he called upon.
“The one that I’d always dreamt of, and always wanted, and always planned to have wanted, was the first day that Bloods was up on Now TV.
“And I saw it and I was just like: ‘Oh, this is like those YouTube sketches, all those fucking web series’, everything I had always wanted to have a TV show that I’d created up online. I couldn’t believe it.”
In fact, it was the series for which I met Nathan that launched the creative into working on the successful Sky production.
“After the Reality screening, a producer called Seb Barwell from Roughcut got in touch and he was like, ‘Oh, we really liked your web series. Thought it was great. We’d like to try to develop that into a TV show.’
“So we started trying to develop Reality into a TV show, but we couldn’t get it made.”
From this, Nathan Bryon had built a reputation with producer Seb Barwell, so when an opportunity presented itself to create a 10 minute short for Sky, the pair partnered once more working alongside Samson Kayo to create what later became Bloods.
“So I met Samson and his in for the short was: he was either going to be a paramedic or a getaway driver, but what if we put those two things together? And that kind of created the lead character Maleek.
“So then Samson and I had to kind of build Wendy and the rest of the show, but initially it was just a 10 minute short.”
Evidently the short found success, but during its creation, Nathan was flooded with memories of arriving on set and being swept up in the madness of larger-scale production.
“I thought it was good like, for me, the 10 minutes short was the icing on the cake. I got my first professional adult credit and I was just buzzing.”
“We filmed at Pinewood Studios. When we were there we saw Angelina Jolie drive-by dressed as Malefecient, like my fucking mind was blown.
“And then we screened the 10 minutes short and Sky were like ‘We’d like you to write a pilot’ and I’d never written a half-hour adult sitcom pilot before. So that was a whole new world”
Sharing his lessons of transforming a 10 minute short into a pilot episode, Nathan Bryon comedically got over-excited whilst writing, submitting the first draft of 45 pages.
Thankfully with Roughcut’s collaboration, and co-writer Paul Doolan, Nathan tweaked and edited the draft to a polished version. Including three jokes a page, and taking the page count down to 30.
Six months later and a series of Bloods had been made.
“Writing’s really lonely.”
It seems as though this was destined to be, with Nathan previously studying as a comedy writer at the National Film and Television School under the tutoring of Bill Dare, albeit for three months before being whisked overseas to star as Joey Ellis in ITV’s Benidorm.
“The three months I was there, I think what I learned really quickly for working in comedy is that you need to be able to write all sorts of comedy.”
“So if you want to earn a living, you need to learn to write sitcoms. I think all comedy writers want to write sitcoms. That’s a dream, it’s long-form, it’s big characters and it can go on for years.
“But you also need to know how to write sketches, so you can chip in on other people’s sketch shows.”
Having previously submitted sketches for BBC Three’s Famalam, The Lenny Henry Show, and his own line of sketches still available on YouTube, Nathan speaks with veracity and honesty having learned, and grafted, to gain momentum as a writer in the industry, whilst understanding the importance of collaboration.
Especially, as Nathan Bryon, himself states, “writing’s really lonely. So it’s really nice that I collaborate on everything”
“There are some artists out there who are kind of sole auteurs, or people who kind of go lock themselves in a cave and come out in six months and they have a really perfect piece of art to share.
“But that’s definitely not me. I’m very much, I want to meet people. I wanna work with people, as that’s what I find fun.”
Of course, the creative industry is well known to be a place of relationships, bonding, and networking.
Therefore, when I spoke to Nathan about his approach, it was refreshing to hear him speak in a way that ignores his successes, grounding him in the same position as someone looking to enter the industry.
“In rooms where you’re networking, you’re often surrounded by loads of people who are in the exact same boat as you”, Nathan succinctly summarises.
Though, Nathan warns that approaching networking with the wrong frame of mind can instead hinder your growth.
By focussing on a specific individual, or outcome, from a room you are in fact removing the oppurtunity to interact with others you’re yet to engage with.
Additionally, as he adds, by focussing on a specific outcome, “you put all these pressures and things, amounting on your shoulders.
“And also, quite often the person you think is the most important person that you feel that you need to talk to, isn’t the most important person really.”
Nathan Bryon goes on to provide a solution to this, by suggesting that when presented in a room of “filmmakers, writers,(or) editors, it’s actually way more important to collaborate with those guys, to get something, to share with a commissioner than it is for you to run up to that commissioner and be like, ‘Hi, I’m Me’.”
“All my sort of favourite networking events generally revolve around booze and talking to people quite often about what they like in a film, talking about our creative vibes.
“It’s very rarely me being like ‘Day one I want to work with you.’ It’s not about me setting that intention, it’s about me being like, ‘Oh, can I be your friend?'”
Instead, Nathan spends time speaking to an individual using what they share in common as a springboard for conversation.
“Try and make friends and be really relaxed. Like have a beer, chill the fuck out. There’s no pressure.”
“My job as an artist is to bring joy.”
With Nathan’s laissez-faire approach being a staple of who this writer is today, I wanted to talk about the journey that led him to this approach.
Calling back to the initial treatment of his shows, the actor, and his outlook, Nathan reflected and provided transparency for his outlook now.
“I was in an angry place as a creative, I was just pissed off, loads of shit had happened around that time of racism directed at me and it just was a bit of a mad one.
“But my voice has changed in a way I now know, I want my words to be about joy. So all the projects I’m working on: Bloods, Rye Lane, Little Darlings, the books are about joy and are about becoming joyful.
Mentioning Rye Lane, Nathan divulged about the upcoming feature film he, and Tom Melia had worked on, directed by Raine Allen Miller, who together, show their love letter to London.
“It’s black joy. It’s Black love. You walk and hopefully fall in love with these two characters who meet on a day in London.”
“That’s partly for me, is that when I’m writing, I don’t just merge myself in a ditch, but also I feel in this world, my job as an artist is to bring joy.”
But realistically, constantly bringing joy to audiences Nathan understands the mammoth task, reassuring me that “I put that on myself, and some of the stories I’m telling might not start joyful, but they’re always going to end somewhat joyful.”
He then continues, adding comedic charm in true fashion.
“You never know, I might fucking go through some real shit in the next few years. And I come out as a bitter old, motherfucker. I don’t know. Maybe.
“Currently, all my shit is joyful and I’m really loving that. Cause then when you share your work. Like when I share Bloods with a group of people, you see that we give them joy and then you see their joy.”
There is one thing that can’t be denied about the now 30-year old’s career.
He certainly has brought joy, inspiring kids over the country with Dapo Adeola reminding the next generation that their voice is not only important but should be listened to, as told with Rocket, a Black female lead from his Look Up! novel trilogy.
“Same when we go around the country, reading our books to school kids. You really do see their joy.
“And I hope when people see the rom-com, Rye Lane, they feel love. I guess I’m in that sort of hippy stage where I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s about love and peace baby.'”
What was fascinating to me, was the openness with which Nathan embraced emotional development.
He understood the way in which his voice, his performances, and his motivations have shifted over the last five years, but also knew how to harness the power of those projects to relay them into future ideas.
Similarly, Nathan was able, almost instantly, to provide valuable insights to share his details and journey as a writer, to inspire those looking to join the TV or publishing world.
“Don’t take rejection as a sign of your skill.”
“Take it as an inspiration that you are in the right place to get rejected. I’ve had a billion rejections in the TV industry. I mean, some hurt a bit deeper, but now it’s literally water off a duck’s back.
“It means I’m in the right place. So for those who are in the industry, work on enough stuff. Keep enough plates spinning, enough fingers in pies.
“(If) one pie burns or one plate falls. You got another 10. So that’d be one – just don’t take rejection.”
The actor famous for his zany afro appearance stops, thinks and continues with sage words of controversy as his second tip for success.
“You have to fundamentally not have a backup plan.”
“You have got to go: ‘I’m doing this! This is what I’m doing for the rest of my life. I am going to make Hollywood movies. I am going to work with the biggest movie stars. I am going to have a Sunday Times best-selling book.””
However, Nathan Bryon realistically speaks of being aware that being so unapologetically focused will make those around you disgruntled. He counters easily, reframing my mindset.
“If you don’t believe it, then it ain’t happening. It’s just fundamentally not. You have to trick yourself to believe that that shit is going to happen because that will make you make it happen.”
“I want to own my own fucking film studio, where we can make movies. That’s miles away from where I’m currently at. As a young creative don’t let anyone put your vision and make it small so it’s achievable. You don’t always need achievable goals.
“Achievable goals are cool. Then you achieve them. Then what? My goals are quite often never achievable, which sometimes sucks. And I’m often sat with my arms crossed, but that’s what pushes me to get the next thing, and the next thing, because I’ve got to keep going. So have goals that are fucking humongous and that feel daunting.”
His final piece of advice rung especially true for me – someone who has grown over the years as a critic.
“If you’ve got bad shit to say. Don’t say it. Like I know there’s a lot of people in this day and age, they’ll go and watch a film and they’ll go on the internet and they’ll cuss out that film.
“As somebody who’s making work now, I’m like ‘Be careful because when your film comes out people can then cuss it online in return’. Remember that.”
Personally, this is something I’m conscious of. As Nathan himself states, “nobody makes anything thinking it’s going to be shit. Everybody puts their best intentions into the work.”
So whenever I critique or review, I am aware that many worked on a project and sought to do so to create something they were proud of, putting in their hardest work, pushing themselves further, and longer than they may be needed to, and we should all be conscious of it when we share our opinions in any capacity.
“If you want to be part of this art giving community, which is hard enough, make sure that you’re putting in positivity, make sure that you’re supporting people, make sure you’re helping other people’s dreams come true and they’ll help make your dreams come true.
And then the rejections won’t feel that bad. It’s all linked, basically just have a fucking sick time.”
“Enjoy it, because it’s shit at times, and then sometimes it’s not, but you’ve just got to enjoy the shit with the great times. And great times might not always come that often, but when they do they’re seismic.”
One great time has definitely arrived for this London actor. In truth to his words, a seismic groundbreaking event.
“I got nominated for a BAFTA last week. What the fuck is going on?”
Having met Nathan five years prior I am delighted to have remained in contact with someone so talented. To watch him grow, mould, and shape his craft over the years is a delight, but to watch him get nominated for a BAFTA brought me so much second-hand joy I wanted to know how he felt.
“It was just too much. It was too overwhelming.”
In fairness to the writer, he had been celebrating the night prior at the Royal Television Society awards, where co-creator Samson Kayo won an award for Best Actor, so it is fair to understand why the gargantuan news was overwhelming when partnered with his tumultuous hangover.
When his hangover subsided, Nathan shared with me how he shared the rest of the day. Meetings, planning, and more fingers in more metaphoric pies.
“This news is really great and amazing. Without this news, I was still having an amazing day creating this sort of work in the industry.”
“I’ve already won in my head in a sense of like it doesn’t matter because who gives a fuck it’s gonna be great. I’m taking all the free shit. Everything I see, I’m taking.
“We get free dinner. We get free booze. We have to put on a nice frock. Who gives a fuck what happens next?”
Ironically, his family, he revealed, may have had a different approach to their son gaining a nomination.
“I think my Mum said, “Oh yeah, well done about the BAFTA thing, but I’ve been reading some of your tweets. You need to be careful on Twitter. You’re going too mad.
“Tone your swearing down on Twitter and I was like, ‘What why?!’
“But it’s that isn’t it. It’s just, it’s fab, none of it matters. It’s all brilliant. Just whatever carries on your inspiration and whatever also allows you to make things, right. We just wanna make more shit.”
In truth, anyone would struggle to find a lesser deserved winner of an award than Nathan Bryon. His sensibility, honesty, and passion for the art are worth high praise indeed.
The way in which he conducted himself, then in our interview in 2017, and now, with carefree humour and detailed response to every poised question indicated a brilliance that I believe isn’t yet fully tapped.
Personally, I am excited to watch the next five years for this Black creative to showcase his talent to the world, highlighting the brilliance of the Black filmmaking industry, and inspiring many more after him to rise up and pursue a career similar to his own.
Nathan’s next book, Speak Up! is available to pre-order now, set to release in September 2022. Additionally, both Little Darlings: The Movie and the two series of Bloods are available to watch now on NOW TV.
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