10 Things You Never Knew About 'Gangs of London' Star Lucian Msamati
Zimbabwean actor Lucian Msamati has become a familiar face on British TV in recent years, taking on roles in prestige series including Luther, Game of Thrones, Taboo, Black Earth Rising, and His Dark Materials. He's now starring in AMC's riveting crime drama series Gangs of London as Ed Dumani, patriarch of a powerful criminal clan trying to plug the gap left by late kingpin Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney). If you're enjoying Msamati's searing performance – and how could you not be? – here are 10 things you might not know about this highly accomplished actor.
1. He was born in London to Tanzanian parents, then grew up mainly in Zimbabwe.
Msamati was eight when his parents — a nurse and a doctor — moved from Tanzania to Zimbabwe, which was then a newly established nation. "Zimbabwe was the boomtown of Africa in the Eighties and they wanted Black African expatriates to come in and move this nation, which was the spearhead of the front line states against apartheid South Africa," he told The Times of London. "It was a very big thing to go, 'Look at this progressive Black African nation.'"
2. He knew he wanted to be an actor from a young age.
"I remember about the age of nine doing some kind of sketch in an English lesson, standing in front of the class and getting this feeling: 'I'm good at this. I know what to do, I know how this works,'" he told The Times of London.
3. In 1994, he co-founded Over the Edge, one of Zimbabwe's most successful independent theater companies.
They became known for producing inventive reinterpretations of Shakespeare, as well as original Zimbabwean plays, and performed frequently at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
4. He moved to London to further his career in 2002, and has lived in the U.K. capital ever since.
"I had always maintained, and always knew that in order to make it in this profession I would have to leave Zimbabwe eventually," he told The Guardian in 2008.
5. In 2015, he made history by becoming the first Black actor to play Iago in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Othello.
Given that Iago is typically depicted as a white man driven by racist motives to betray his Black boss, this changed the play's dynamics considerably. "Within a matter of minutes [at] the workshop, it was absolutely clear to everybody that this was going to work," Msamati told Media Diversified at the time. "It is not an issue at all… And in actual fact, it addresses the character of Iago in a very different way. Because suddenly, it heightens – for me anyway – the sense of betrayal."
Msamati went on to earn rave review for his performance, which you can watch a snippet of below.
6. Thanks to his role as Salladhor Saan in Game of Thrones, he gets recognized all over the place.
"I remember watching the first series, loving it and thinking, ‘If ever they start casting Black folk in this, I wanna be in it. Be careful what you wish for," Msamati told The Times of London. "The getting recognized in random places always surprises me. Like someone sitting next to you on the Tube, and they show you, they're watching you on their phone. There was one guy, he was so polite, he said, 'Sorry, um, is that you?' I said, 'Yeah, that's me.' 'Oh cool, mate, cool, cool.' You’re, like, 'OK, this is delightfully, absurdly wonderful.'"
7. He's a Doctor Who guest star.
Msamati appears opposite Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in the 2010 episode "The Vampires of Venice," which also guest stars the late Helen McCrory.
8. From 2010 to 2014, he served as Artistic Director of Tiata Fahodzi, a British African theater company which aims to illuminate "what it is to be of African heritage in Britain today."
The company's name translates as "theater of the emancipated." Its alumni include Killing Eve actor Danny Sapani, A Discovery of Witches cast member Adetomiwa Edun, and award-winning playwright Bola Agbaje.
Msamati starred in Agbaje's 2012 play Belong at London's Royal Court Theatre.
9. He worked with late Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) on one of his final projects: the pilot episode for BBC/HBO series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
"Anthony was like a big kid, a big flirtatious kid," Msamati told The Guardian. "He was always laughing, joking, singing. It really added to the warm, creative atmosphere that we worked in."
10. And finally, he's a fine orator... though you may have already guessed this.
Check out Msamati's rendition of "I Am Prepared to Die," the incredibly poignant and stirring speech Nelson Mandela gave at the 1964 Rivonia Trial, at which he was given a life sentence.
You can check out a Q&A with Msamati over at AMC Talk to hear more from the actor himself and his role in Gangs of London.
Do you have a favorite Lucian Msamati performance?