You Don't Know Me's Bukky Bakray: "These characters are so incredibly flawed"

Photo credit: BAFTA
Photo credit: BAFTA

She was BAFTA's Rising Star of 2021 and Bukky Bakray is shining even brighter as one of the UK's most sought-after actors.

The 19-year-old is joining an unmatched cast of black talent for the new BBC crime drama You Don't Know Me, playing Bless, a girl whose brother finds himself on trial for a murder he insists he didn't commit.

After this, she's set to gain international recognition by joining Eva Green in the Apple TV+ thriller Liaison.

In an exclusive interview with Digital Spy, Bukky looks back on the past year, how she plans to take on the acting world and gives her insight into the complicated life of Bless and brother Hero in the gripping new Sunday-night tale.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Starting with your win at the BAFTAs this year with your Rising Star award, it's safe to say you've had one hell of a 2021 – how have you found it all?

It's been really exciting. I've really enjoyed being able to fulfil my goals. The industry took a hit with COVID, so I feel really blessed and privileged to be in film and enjoy meeting new people and create some film and TV. It's been really enjoyable.

You're now back on our screens with You Don't Know Me. What drew you to the project, and did you read the book before being approached?

I found out about the project, found out that Samuel [Adewunmi] was going to be in it, and I really loved The Last Tree. So I was looking forward to potentially working with Samuel.

Then during the audition process, I read the book as prep and I thought it was really interesting. It isn't a book that I would typically pick up but in reading it, I was really engrossed in the story and it was difficult to put down at times, so I think it was a really interesting book.

During a table read after getting the project and realising that all the like funny and cool people that were involved – I think it was that moment that slowly solidified me wanting to do the project.

Bless is a slow burn of a role, starting out on the outskirts of Hero's story. How did you approach her as a character?

I guess in approaching it, I kind of looked at it as my character's own film and created the character's own arc. I remember speaking to [Sarmad Masud] the director, and I asked him something about Bless and Kurt's character, and his response was: "It doesn't concern you."

It was about something making sense and Bless wasn't actually in the picture at that point. So when he said "that doesn't concern you" – he said it in the most polite way, by the way! – but it just reminded me of my own character's line and her own little world that she creates for herself and her sunder experiences.

Even though this is a bigger scope of story and I have access to all the parts, in real life I wouldn't have access to every part and see how a character would be thinking. I wouldn't know what's happening next. So I guess, in creating your own nuance, it's just focusing on the character and all the entities.

As part of the story's narrative, you're never quite sure what to believe, with the odds stacked against them and the prosecution quite ruthless. How did you feel watching that play out?

We didn't intentionally shoot in chronological order, but we had shot all the evidence before during the courtroom scene. So everything had almost played out already. So the guilt that Bless was feeling, that was basically the main feeling on my mind throughout the whole time we were filming.

I guess approaching those feelings with gravitas, it was much easier – hard, but easier – because we already saw events because we had already acted it. So it wasn't about imagination anymore. It was just about memory.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

What are your feelings on the characters and their actions?

I feel all the characters are so incredibly flawed. That the way Kyra would act with Hero, I'm like: "How could you do that?!" And then sometimes the way Hero would act with Kyra, I would think as a younger sister, how could you do that to your significant other? In some ways, I don't even see Jamil as a villain. I think that goes towards the way Roger [Nsengiyumva] played it as well. I said to Roger, he played him like he was Tupac.

I feel like Curt (Tuwaine Barrett) is the most innocent character in the film, even more innocent than Bless in a way. I know everyone is trying to box Bless into being the most innocent and naive character, but I see a huge innocence in Curt.

The series is debuting on the big Sunday-night drama spot – what are your thoughts on the show occupying such a fought-after slot?

I feel really cool about it. I'm interested to see what that audience thinks because I've never really been in that audience before. So I'm interested to see their thoughts. I'm not really a primetime television watcher! The only primetime television I've watched is EastEnders back in the day, so I'm really interested to be a person to entertain that audience. I feel like that's a very loyal audience, and I hope the show's pleasing.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

The show feels very real – do you consider yourself much of a true-crime fan with this sort of story in mind?

I love crime. I'm literally reading The Dirty South by John Connolly. I proper love crime, I love Mindhunter, my favourite film is Seven. I've always wanted to be in a courtroom. Yeah. I think that's the part I was mostly interested in. Being in a courtroom.

The show touches upon racism in the judicial system, with the prosecution interpreting the term 'waste man' as a death threat, for example. How do you feel the show portrays the judicial system in the UK?

I think the way it's been portrayed in the show mirrors how racism is portrayed in the real world. I think that's what's honest about the show – like it mirrors real life. A lot of people think that racism in the UK isn't as big as it is in America, but it's just manifested in different ways.

And this, in the courtroom drama, it shows the small ways, and I guess the understated ways that racism is explored.

I think that's why this drama has its own voice. It's not trying to replicate American drama. Some people might watch it and think that the court parts are boring, but the only way we could have been honest about it was just to show its true nature. Yeah, and I think this show has focused on who the characters are as opposed to what they are.

You Don’t Know Me airs 5th, 6th, 12th and 13th December at 9pm on BBC One. You can catch up on BBC iPlayer.

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