Welcome to Inside Red, a series of exclusive interviews with actors, writers, directors and the other talented people who create the Red shows you love. Today we’re talking to Kascion Franklin, the young star of ‘Danny & The Human Zoo’ on BBC One. Written by Lenny Henry, the semi-autobiographical follows the rise of Danny (played by Kascion) as he rises to fame as an impressionist in the 1970s.
RED: This is your first major TV acting role. What was the experience like for you?
KASCION: All in all the experience was brilliant. I truly had the time of my life working on ‘Danny’, and I guess that in large has to be attributed to the phenomenal cast, crew and creatives that we had attached to the project. Everyone was great, there was so much laughter on set, it never ever felt like work. At times I felt slightly overwhelmed walking on to set knowing that everybody there was at the top of their game and brought heaps of experience with them but having said that, knowing that everybody was genuinely nice and were all behind me really helped me to relax and just focus on my job at hand.
RED: How did you approach playing the character of Danny?
KASCION: I approached Danny in the same way I do all my characters. As an actor I look at the character and I look at myself. I highlight the differences but more importantly the similarities. I think from there it’s easier to empathise with the character you’re playing, that’s where the truth lies and as an actor, where your journey, or rather process, begins.
RED: Did you take inspiration from the real Lenny?
KASCION: Yes. Although I didn’t base Danny on Lenny, I acknowledge that the character I was playing goes through similar situations Lenny did on his journey into showbiz and left it there. I approached Danny as his own person and I thank Lenny for being supportive in giving me the creative freedom to bring Danny to screen how I envisioned. It was also great having him around to talk to. He’d share stories of how events actually happened and how he felt at the time. Which for me really contextualised the 70’s era for me. So yes I took inspiration from the ‘real’ Lenny.
RED: Much like Lenny, Danny is a talented impressionist. How did you prepare to portray this skill?
KASCION: Unlike Lenny, I am not an impressionist and landing the role three weeks before filming began put the fear of God in me. I found it incredibly difficult preparing for this. If I’m completely honest I didn’t have a clue who most of the people were that Danny had to impersonate. So that meant hours upon hours of trawling through YouTube and boxsets to try and find suitable footage that I could use to prepare. Also finding enough footage to try and find the signature moves, idioms or anything to inform the audience of who I (Danny) was trying to take off. I really struggled.
In the end I sought help from a friend, Denny Hedge, an actor/comedian who funnily enough used to do warm up gigs for Lenny during the filming of his 90’s TV show Chef. So that really helped me to get started, but I still struggled and with the pressure of time, I nearly buckled. The greatest help came from the man himself, Lenny. He gave me some masterclasses and also let me film him doing impressions on my phone so I could go away and keep going over them, but I think the turning point for me was Lenny’s advice: “Think of the impressions as an actor taking on different characters and approach it that way”. Almost immediately things clicked, they started to make sense and just work for me. In retrospect it sounds so obvious to me now. It was like one of those ‘master teaches student’ movies where the master comes out with that one line. “Daniel Son!”
RED: Danny is well versed in the entertainment of his time, with a huge knowledge of TV actors, sports stars and music. How much of a connection do you have to 1970s culture?
KASCION: Not that much, almost none at all. For me, that’s where having Lenny around to talk to was invaluable and also having conversations with anybody who lived through those times was obviously very helpful.
RED: What’s your favourite memory from the making of ‘Danny & The Human Zoo’?
KASCION: There are far too many to mention. My best day on set was shooting on location at Dudley Zoo and for once the sun came out in Dudley and we had a great day filming. It felt like a school trip for me and the boys (Reis Brue, Mike Crump and Lee Hodge), who play Bern, Terry and Georgie. We shot a scene using the cable cars and our director, Destiny Ekaragha, gave us the direction to just improvise the scene and have fun all the way up. We started off great at the bottom with loads of high energy, jokes, banter and laughs all the way up, until the cable cars got about half way up and suddenly all the high energy laughs and banter we started off with disappeared, leaving Destiny with footage of just four guys with blank expressions silently hanging onto the rails for dear life. I think it’s fair to say none of us were too good with heights.