Rakie Ayola’s TV Passions: The Pact star on eccentric detectives, diversity on TV and 'exhausting' box-ticking

Currently starring as DS Holland in BBC One’s The Pact, we hear from Rakie Ayola about race, diversity and her TV passions.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 24 May 2021 - 2.39pm
Rakie Ayola in BBC One's The Pact

It’s already been a busy 2021 for Rakie Ayola. She’s currently starring in BBC One’s addictive thriller The Pact as detective superintendent Holland and earlier this year she appeared alongside John Simm and Richie Campbell in ITV’s popular crime adaptation Grace.

The actress, who has previously starred in Noughts + Crosses, Doctor Who, Black Mirror and as Kyla Tyson in Holby City, has been a passionate advocate for diversity on screen throughout her career.

BT TV caught up with Rakie to find out about her TV Passions…

The Pact is about…

Rakie Ayola as DS Holland in The Pact alongside Jason Hughes BBC

A group of five women who work together in a brewery in Wales. And ‘the pact’ they make is to decide not to say anything about an event that brings them all together. They decide to keep quiet about it. And that turns out to be their biggest mistake as things spiral out from that decision.

I play Detective Superintendent Holland who comes into to investigate this suspicious death.

She’s a quirky detective. She’s a little bit... eccentric.

I like playing TV detectives when...

What I always look for is whether the writer is interested in what you’re thinking. Do I get a sense that the writer and audience care what you’re thinking when you’re not speaking?

If it’s purely procedural, then sometimes it doesn’t matter what you’re thinking.

When the writer cares about what’s going on between the lines and around them, that’s what interests me. And I think [The Pact’s writer] Pete McTighe was very interested in Holland and what she wasn’t saying.

The Pact felt unusual because…

They found a way to have women at a centre of the story, which isn’t centred on sex. I watched some great shows last year with women, but I just thought – do women not get together other than to discuss sex or because they work in the sex industry? Do they never just get together?

Surely there must be a reason women can appear in a show that isn’t connected to men.

I loved that The Pact found a place where lots of women work, a factory, and they come together from different walks of life to work.

My lockdown TV loves were…

I got really into Succession. I watched the whole of that a couple of times because I just loved the writing. This Is Us, I’ve been watching from the beginning. I watched the whole of Modern Family; Adult Material, Harlots, I May Destroy You, Small Axe, Normal People - it will be easier to tell you what I didn’t watch in lockdown. Oh and Mrs America with Cate Blanchett, and The Queen’s Gambit. So many incredible performances.

There has been positive change with diversity on TV…

The fact I’m working now and the fact I worked in lockdown, I have definitely been a beneficiary of the change. Is there still a long way to go? Definitely. I’ve been doing this job for 32 years, so why at this point are we only suddenly having this conversation.

People who’ve known me all this time are suddenly saying, "Oh I didn’t know this about your hair and your skin". We’ve been doing this job for the same amount of time, why has it taken all this prodding and prodding to consider these things.

That progress is only happening now. Because the progress in front of camera, we’re only just starting to catch up behind camera.

There will be a backlash against diversity...

Rakie Ayola at a red carpet launch Getty

There will be rumblings that there is too much of it. To use a vegan analogy, my daughter said the other day, "There’s no meat on this plate again" . You’ve had 22 meals this week, just because one doesn’t have meat, suddenly your life turns upside down.

There will be that backlash, but people need to stand back for a moment.

People who think all the black actors and Asian actors are getting more work, I don’t remember these people piping up when we weren’t.

We’re not getting all the work, we’re just getting some of the things you’ve been getting all of for a long while. Calm yourself down. We’re just trying to make the circle bigger, we’re not trying to take over the circle.

Let’s talk about race…

People say "I don’t see colour". If you don’t see colour that means you don’t see it when it’s not there. If you say you never see the colour pink, how do you know there’s no pink in the room?

If you don’t see colour you don’t notice when it’s not there, that is the point. Nobody is asking to be ignored, nobody is asking not to be seen, people want to be treated the same way they treat everybody else. But that involves understanding.

I don’t want to be treated different, but I’m having to insist on being treated the same. People say, "Oh you’re making it all about colour", but what they can’t see and appreciate is that the thing they claim to not see, means they are treating me differently.

Let’s talk about it, get it out on the table. Stop treating me differently. I am black, I am a woman.

TV commissioners don’t have the breadth of life experience…

They think they understand. They think if it’s a black story we need guns, gangs and drugs. Those stories do need to be told, but there are others.

I wish people would just breathe in a life other than their own before making massive generalisations. And then when they get scripts they wouldn't say, "that doesn’t happen in the Asian community" or "that doesn’t happen in the Indian community". Well, it does. Your version of what happens dates back to the 1970s.

Box-ticking is exhausting…

Rakie Ayola in ITV's Grace ITV

Try telling a story from another angle. I could point you to a family that has white Welsh, Filipino, black African, transgender and gay people, in the same family. When are you going to see that family on television? Never. But I know these people personally, they are out there.

But you’ll never see their story, because it’s either a story about mixed race relationships, a story about transgender, a story about gay people, but they apparently never happen in the same family together. They really do happen.

We need to go out and find people who never see themselves on screen. People who never see their stories on TV. We need to be braver. We need to stop worrying about the people who say that would never happen. It only needs to happen once for it to be true.

People will get so upset that something isn’t real. And yet people will completely breath in characters who can fly, disappear and turn into cats and dogs. But challenge their idea on the social norms and they get all upset.

Watch every episode of The Pact on BBC iPlayer.

Grace is now available to watch on BritBox.

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