On the phone Zawe Ashton is open and cheerful - quite the
reverse of the rather beleaguered character she plays in her latest
film, the gritty British crime caper Blitz.
The young British actress (her name reflects her mum's Ugandan
origins and is pronounced ZAW- EE) takes the role of WPC Falls, a
former member of the Drug Squad, lately out of rehab and still
struggling with addiction issues.
After a demented cop-killer (Aiden Gillen, Queer As Folk) makes
an attempt on her life, and her mentor Brant (Jason Statham,Snatch)
teams up with demoted gay DC Porter Nash (Paddy Considine, My
Summer of Love) to track him down, Falls descends into a personal
Blitz is straight out of the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
mould - a real boys' film, in which London's looking good (in a
dirty, realistic way) and sexism's looking frankly fantastic:
funny, clever and every man's best friend.
I have to admit I squirmed my way through the preview screening,
while Statham's swaggering rogue cop Brant spewed one "hilarious"
sexist put-down after another, so I'm curious to get Zawe's
DIVA: You were great in Blitz. What drew you to the
script and the character of Falls?
ZAWE: I just thought it was brilliant to see a
woman stand alone in a film which has these really strong male
characters and not be a token. She has her own story, which is
detailed and complex. And she's a strong black woman, and that
doesn't often get specified, what race a character should be.
Your character did get a bit of a pasting, didn't she?
The guys were like these kind of super-heroes, swaggering about and
fighting and chasing each other, but poor old WPC Falls really goes
through the mill. I was dying to see her land a punch of her own,
but instead we kind of saw her in "my drugs hell"…
I think so but that's why I liked it, because she was allowed to
be extremely vulnerable and very complex. You see her in her
stronger moments too, but at the same time there's this
vulnerability under the surface. She's not "one of the guys", which
I think can be as untruthful as "I'm small and meek and can't
defend myself". She was very attractive on the page.
I felt like she could have breathed more in a longer
story… I wanted to see something good happen to her, or to see her
land a punch of her own.
Well, watch the deleted scenes, because there are quite a few! I
had quite a few scenes with Paddy Considine that didn't make it
into the final film, so I can see why you feel she's been condensed
- she has. But I feel that what's left is still very meaty in terms
of her story. But it's funny because in the book she's actually the
one who catches the killer!
Wow, really? How did you feel about that being
Well, a book's a book and there are a lot of things that have to
change for it to work on the screen. The book is great on a lot of
levels but the screenplay had to be how it was in the end.
I wanted to ask you what you thought of the sexism in
the film. Brant is a very unreconstructed geezer and he comes out
with a lot of classic sexist and homophobic crap, which the film
invites us to laugh at. Does that work for you? Are we in a new era
where discrimination is so "over" that we can afford to laugh at
it, or am I missing the joke?
I understand where you're coming from, but I think the point of
a film is to create a debate and a dialogue between people. You've
been to see a really rubbish film if you only talk about where to
go for dinner afterwards! I want people talking about what they
liked and disliked in equal measure.
It's interesting as well because you see Brant's
homophobia (and therefore the homophobic response of the audience)
kind of dismantled by his friendship with DC Nash, but the sexism
was never really challenged.
I spent months preparing for the role, spending time in south
London where Falls is from and talking to former addicts. I wanted
her to be as rounded as possible so that amongst all the jibes and
the sexism, which I think are probably truthful to existing on a
police force, I hope there are enough characters who are working
their inner lives in that way in the story. I do agree with you
that there is a lot of sexism and homophobia in the script, but
it's written as dialogue.
But there's not much racism, interestingly.
Well, it's interesting because the character that Falls
protects, Metal, is a racist. He's a bit of a troublemaker, he lets
a racial slur out, but my character doesn't give up on him. She
wants him to become something because he's showed her kindness.
There's a lot of complexity in the film. And ultimately I can only
take care of my character. Hopefully she comes across well enough
to counterbalance some of that stuff.
What sort of characters attract you generally, and what
kind of roles do you hope to play in future?
With women you get so many one-dimensional scripts - you know,
the woman is a mother or she's a whore. These little boxes - I
don't know why people think we live in only one of them as women.
We are complex human beings and deserve to be portrayed that way. I
pride myself on being a chameleon and not getting stuck in any one
kind of role. This year I've got this role in Blitz and then a
series in which I play a lovely, fun secretary character, and at
the end of the year, a film called Dreams of a Life, based on a
true story, in which I play a woman who died in her flat and wasn't
discovered for three years. It's a documentary feature by [gay
filmmaker] Carol Morley.
Does it worry you that historically the roles black
British actresses have been allowed to play have been quite
limited? Do you think that's changing now?
Not fast enough for my liking! I'm also a writer, so I'm not
sitting on the sofa waiting for the phone to ring or the climate to
change. It feels good to be able to say that I'm doing my bit to
speed up the process.
Tell us what you're working on at the
I'm in meetings about my first feature film script, and I've
been approached by Idris Elba (Luther) to work on something for the
BBC which has a great woman at the centre of it. There's loads
going on! I feel I'm really doing my best to be true to my ethics.
When I pick up a script, I am looking for a woman who is complex
and human and specific. Anything generalised I can sniff out a mile
away. I don't want to play someone I think we've all seen
Have you ever played gay and, if not, would you consider
playing a lesbian character in the future?
I played Ann Marie Duff's lesbian lover in a radio play of The
Carhullan Army, so yes, but not in the moving image yet! I've
always had gay and lesbian friends and was going on Pride marches
at 15 - that used to be one of the highlights of the summer. I'd
love to play gay if that doesn't sound desperate…! It's something I
haven't done before, but it's a world I've been part of and think I
understand. And because of my need for things to be as complex as
they are in life, I'd love to bring a gay character to life that
the gay community felt was truthful in ways they hadn't seen
before. I tell my gay girlfriends all the time that I'd love to be
a lesbian icon but it's just not happening. I think there's a
We're signing. Thank you, Zawe, it's been a pleasure
talking to you.
Blitz opens in cinemas on Friday 20 May