Bodies star Amaka Okafor 'rarely felt represented' on screen before the Netflix show

The actor tells Yahoo UK she felt she was 'carrying a whole community with' her on set

Amaka Okafor as DS Hasan in Bodies (Netflix)
Amaka Okafor plays DS Hasan in Bodies, a time-travel crime drama where four detectives in different timelines find the same body (Netflix)

Bodies helped actor Amaka Okafor feel seen on screen, something of a rarity for the star who tells Yahoo UK that DS Shahara Hasan is one of the only roles she's had where she doesn't 'feel squashed' by the weight of other people's expectations of her.

The Netflix show, which premieres on Thursday, 19 October, follows four detectives over different timelines who are investigating the same murder. Part police procedural, part time-travel drama, it follows characters in 1890, 1941, 2023 and 2053, and Okafor's Hasan is the cop looking at the case in the present day.

Read more: Bodies review: Netflix's mind-bending sci-fi drama will keep you guessing

Hasan is a single mother and a muslim woman in the police force, but these are not things that define her or have any bearing on the case at hand — something Okafor felt moved by, particularly because of how closely it matched her own experience even if she felt she was "carrying a whole community" by playing the character.

"I'm also a single mum and my daughter is the same age as Jawad, [Hasan's son] in the show, and I was brought up by my dad, so I have a very close relationship with my dad and half my family are Muslim and I was brought up with faith," Okafor says.

"That was one of the reasons why I just never felt represented in stuff — or rarely I probably shouldn't say never — and so to get the script I was just like 'whatever I have to do to get this job, I need to be this woman.'"Amaka Okafor

Amaka Okafor as DS Hasan in Bodies (Netflix)
Amaka Okafor said she 'rarely felt represented' in cinema and TV before reading DS Hasan's role in Bodies (Netflix)

"Actually part of me was like even if I don't get this job I'm glad that this is happening, I'm glad that this is getting made."

Okafor describes playing Hasan as "the most nourishing job [she's] ever had" because of how seen she felt in the part, but she also praises how creator Paul Tomalin and writer Danusia Samal approached her character's faith and her role as a mother.

"It's not issue based, it's not about her faith; It's not about the fact that she's not white; It's not about the fact she's a single mum. But those things are all things that are true," Okafor says.

"It's about the fact that she's a detective with a big heart who just has an instinct and can't let it go, she's really complex and she's just an absolute joy to play.

"It's the writing, it's just done so well that I don't feel squashed."Amaka Okafor

"A lot of the time I feel squashed and like I'm trying to get out of this box that people think is the correct box for me, and it never fits because you can never put another person in a box.

"Whereas this show feels like it just like explodes the box, I've loved that about it so much."

Her fight to be heard on set

Amaka Okafor as DS Hasan in Bodies (Netflix)
Okafor describes playing Hasan as "the most nourishing job [she's] ever had" because of how seen she felt in the part (Netflix)

In order to portray Hasan as authentically as possible, Okafor was keen to have conversations with the show's producer Susie Liggat and Marco Kreuzpaintner, who directed the first four episodes of the eight-part series, about the character and how she should be.

Read more: Everything new on Netflix in October 2023

"We had intense conversations," Okafor says of her and Liggat's discussions of Hasan, going on to say of speaking with Kreuzpaintner: "We kind of had fights actually on set about certain things, stuff to do with faith and representation, and what we should see her do, what we should not see her do.

"It was heated, like I cried... because these things matter, and suddenly you feel like you're carrying a whole community with you and you wanna do right by them."Amaka Okafor

Okafor describes Liggat as being "really cool" with everything she was trying to say about how Hasan should be depicted, as was Kreuzpaintner, which she found helpful regardless of how heated their discussions may have been.

Shira Haas and Stephen Graham in Bodies (Netflix)
Part police procedural, part time-travel drama, it follows characters in 1890, 1941, 2023 and 2053. Shira Haas and Stephen Graham appear in the future timeline in Bodies (Netflix)

The actor adds: "I think that was what was great actually about that relationship between both of them is that nothing was off the table conversation wise, we had some really difficult conversations and it was a free environment to say what you thought without being scared of being cancelled, or shut down"

But while she was able to have these open and honest conversations with the team, Okafor admits to struggling with her own internal struggle during the course of the shoot.

Reflecting on some of the challenges of making the series, she says: "If I'm honest, silencing those voices that try and pull you down in your head.

Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Det. Charlie Whiteman in Bodies (Netflix)
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd portrays Det. Charlie Whiteman in the 1941 timeline of Bodies (Netflix)

"Those ones of like 'I can't believe you've got this job, you're gonna mess it up, this is the job where people are gonna find out you can't do it.' Those sort of imposter syndrome thoughts.

"That's not saying I drown in them or anything like that, I feel like I probably experienced the same as anybody else does.

"I think that was the challenge, to look at them and be like 'Can you shut up? Please I'm trying to work' and just get on with it."Amaka Okafor

Okafor says that Bodies has "been the best job of my life, so far", adding: "When we were filming my timeline I was the first one in, the last one to get wrapped and I never felt tired. I never clock watched, I honestly was like, 'right, what we do next? What we doing?' because I loved it so much."

Bodies premieres on Netflix on Thursday, 19 October.

Watch the trailer for Bodies: