Adam Deacon: the new face of youth cinema

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After ‘Anuvahood’, Adam Deacon is an actor and director truly down with the kids. Cath Clarke meets him. Photography Rob Greig

Adam Deacon is walking across London Fields. This is a couple of weeks ago, halfway through a mini-heatwave. It’s Friday afternoon and he has arrived with a mate. At first this seems a bit much: an entourage? Really? Half of trendy Hackney is out in the sun. No one gives Deacon, 28, a second glance. Then a kid on a bike passes, slows down: ‘When’s the new film?’ he calls out. Fifty yards on, another one: ‘I see you doing your tunes, man.’ ‘Thanks, man, you have a good day.’ ‘You too, bruvver.’  As Deacon sits down on a bench, four girls – they must be about 14 – edge over to ask if they can take a picture on their phones. Deacon’s mate gives me the nod: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out.’ Now I get it. He’s crowd control.

Here, in a nutshell, is the urban movie phenomenon – films about teenagers that teenagers want to watch. It started with ‘Kidulthood’, in which Deacon played Jay; its sequel, ‘Adulthood’, took £3.4 million. He recently wrote, directed and starred in a comedy spin-off, ‘Anuvahood’. Slated by critics, he says it made back its budget on opening night. Not that Deacon gives a stuff about critics: ‘I just care if the young people went to the cinema and laughed. If not, it would have gone round like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: the film’s crap, don’t go to see it.’

If you are over 25, frankly, you’re probably too old. Watching these films is like listening to kids on the  bus: funny, cringey, filthy, head-splittingly loud, talking in nasty-sounding slang. Teenagers say they love them because they are real. Undoubtedly, their influence has trickled into the mainstream. Deacon says he noticed ‘Hollyoaks’ trying to go a bit street after ‘Kidulthood’: ‘It was like they watched the film, wrote down the words and got it all wrong.’

He is meant to be talking about ‘Everywhere and Nowhere’, a new film by ‘Kidulthood’ director Menhaj Huda, in which he has a supporting role. ‘Everywhere and Nowhere’ is quieter than ‘Kidulthood’, exploring the double-lives of  second-generation British Asians. Deacon is Zaf, who acts the big man, but is a real softy, tenderly caring for his elderly, sick dad. In the past, Deacon has played nasty pieces of work, kids full of attitude (he tends to make their bravado look ridiculous, insecure).

Adam-Deacon-as-Kay.jpg

Which is funny, because he is a charmer, unflaggingly friendly to the people coming up to him. And he talks for England. He grew up just down the road in a now-demolished Hackney estate, the only child of an English mum and Egyptian dad, who walked out when he was two. ‘I’ve had a bit of an up-and-down relationship with my mum: didn’t get on with my stepdad.’ He moved out at 15, slept on a friend’s sofa for a year before moving into a hostel: ‘That’s when I really learned about the street.’

He was never a bad kid, more the class joker. Acting kept him out of trouble – he started aged 12 when a drama teacher suggested he try out for the Anna Scher theatre school in Islington. Sweetly, Deacon says he owes everything to Scher. He got parts in ‘The Bill’ and ‘EastEnders’. He’d get in trouble for slipping the odd ‘blud’ into his lines.  For all their mischief, you can’t fault the urban movies for their portrayal of London – a million miles from the airbrushed city of Woody Allen or Richard Curtis. ‘London is a massive melting pot,’ says Deacon. ‘That’s what I wanted to get across with “Anuvahood”.’

He wrote the film in his flat with a school friend, Michael Vu, who works as a youth worker at their old school. Both of them appear in the film, with Deacon playing Kay, who ditches his supermarket job and takes up drug dealing. It took the pair two months to write the script: ‘A lot of lot of late nights, a lot of Red Bull.’

Anuvahood’ has been hugely successful in London. Not everyone is best pleased. It ignited a feud between Deacon and his friend Noel Clarke – the actor/writer behind the two ‘Kidulthood’ films. Clarke posted a blog last year, indirectly attacking Deacon for appropriating the ‘-hood’ suffix. ‘It’s called stealing,’ he wrote. ‘Or, as the lawyers have been calling it, copyright infringement (look it up).’ The release reignited the spat, with a round of tit-for-tat Twitter posts. Deacon says he was under the impression he had Clarke’s blessing and the pair have patched up their difference. Still, Deacon can’t resist a cheeky dig: ‘No one’s got any rights to the word “hood”,’ he says with a big grin. ‘You’ve got Robin Hood, Little Red Riding Hood.’ Has he seen Clarke? ‘No, but we spoke on the phone.’

Deacon has played so many dealers and thugs, does he worry about being stereotyped? Not really: ‘There’s not many actors who can say they haven’t. Look at Hugh Grant.’ Still, people do mistake him for his characters, and the faces of casting directors drop at auditions, he says. ‘You think: maybe their kid got robbed at a bus stop. They think, “He’s responsible.”’

Does he ever think where his life might have gone without the acting? ‘I count my blessings. I hate actors who just go on like they’re the best thing since sliced bread. You're only as good as your last job. Be humble. Even now, I’m on my estate. I’m not rich. My whole life hasn’t changed. It’s a bit of a surreal life.’



Read our review of 'Anuvahood'

Author: Cath Clarke



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