Icons / February 2018

Rake-in-Progress: Nathaniel Martello-White

Nathaniel Martello-White, the British actor, writer and director, has had to wait longer for his big break than some of his contemporaries. But his patience is about to be rewarded in spectacular fashion…

Mink brown double-breasted shearling coat, Cromford Leather at The Rake; navy Merino wool long sleeve polo shirt, Oscar Jacobson at Fenwick of Bond Street.

Why settle for one profession when you can excel at three? That’s what Nathaniel Martello-White has done. He began his career as an actor, but has since become a successful playwright and an award-winning director before the age of 34.

Martello-White graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, a school whose doors have welcomed Anthony Hopkins, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Roger Moore and Tom Hiddleston as students over the years. But having RADA on his résumé hasn’t guaranteed success, and Martello-White has had enough setbacks to know you can appreciate a good job when it comes around. This perhaps explains why he’s turned his hand to other disciplines, although when you have as much to offer as the south London native, such multitasking was perhaps inevitable. For instance, Martello-White’s first play, Blackta, satirised the problematic audition processes faced by black actors; his second, Torn, looked at the difficulties faced by a mixed-raced south London family; and the short film he wrote and directed that won best U.K. short at Raindance in 2017, Cla’am, hit back at gentrification in his hometown of Brixton. But for the immediate future at least, 2018 is shaping up to be the year of acting for Martello-White. First comes Kiri, a four-part Channel 4 drama by Jack Thorne that examines the mysterious death of a young black girl who was set to be adopted by a white foster family. Then there’s Collateral, a gripping state-of-the-nation BBC drama in which Martello-White stars as a detective alongside Carey Mulligan. Filming will also begin for Martello-White’s biggest role to date, as a private investigator in the CBS drama $1, which tackles race and gentrification in Pittsburgh.

Martello-White gravitates towards politically charged roles, yet his innate talent, confidence and charisma has granted him success at virtually anything he’s turned his hand to. He is a handy footballer, an accomplished whisky drinker and a dab hand at Street Fighter, and The Rake was charmed upon meeting him on a cold December morning in London.

Was Blackta inspired by your own experiences?
I wrote Blackta at what I felt was a very low point for me — I was quite disillusioned about the industry as an actor, and I was [constantly] waiting for the phone to ring. I was hanging out with three guys I had graduated with from RADA and could feel the one-upmanship and the competitiveness [between us]. I also felt it was interesting to investigate race and second-generation black males and their sexuality, but the irony was that when that play was programmed, and it was on, I started to get more heat as an actor as well, which was fun.

That was written in 2012. Have you noticed a difference in your experiences of the industry since then?
I think there have been big improvements, actually. I still think America’s further ahead in terms of screen time if you’re a black actor, but I think the conversation is out there. What is really exciting is [for] someone that makes content as well, because I feel there’s a real appetite for filmmakers from different backgrounds.

In Blackta there was a constant striving from the characters to ‘make it’. Do you feel you’re at that point now?
It’s funny, because literally last night I found out I booked the lead in this CBS show ($1), which is a 10-part series that’s going to shoot in Pittsburgh. It’s interesting that you ask that because when I booked it, you kind of think, ‘When is that moment?’, and it probably is even another level up from Collateral. I don’t know when you’ve ‘made it’, but I think it’s important to make sure that you always check in with yourself and that ultimately no matter how high you climb the mountain, you’re happy in yourself and you’ve got something very ‘real’ around you.

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Charlie Thomas

Charlie Thomas is a former staffer at The Rake.