Freema Agyeman: “LGBT relationships on TV – I can feel a momentum shift”

North v South and Sense8 star Freema Agyeman talks nudity, transgender storylines and support from fans

North v South is another British gangster film!

It is fundamentally a gangster flick but what I really liked about the script is that it feels like a week in a life of a gangster.

Just a typical week in the life of a gangster?

It’s getting them at an apex in their gangster life. It’s also a love story. If people are not going to identify with pulling guns out at someone else, they might identify with that classic tale of love.

It’s almost a Romeo and Juliet story. If it was Romeo and Juliet, which character from the play would your North v South character be?

The nurse. She’s reluctant to play that part but as the woman of the group you have to be that maternal figure. It awakens something in her.

Why are we so often attracted to people we can’t have?

It’s a base, human urge – the same thing with gangster films. Why are we drawn to them? It’s tribalism, human nature to combat and conquer.

You are from London but are on the North’s side in the film.

I’ve never yet in my whole career played a role that’s true to my upbringing, my background and where I come from. It’s important to diversify if you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to play a spectrum of characters. I didn’t go to drama school, I’m learning on the job. That’s seen as a dirty phrase – you’re supposed to come fully equipped – but how are you supposed to unless you get to learn in each environment?

Your biggest role of the year was as Amanita in the Wachowskis’ epic Netflix drama Sense8.

That was shot like a 12-hour movie. The Wachowskis have always been massive heroes of mine. It was a significant chapter in my career on so many levels, playing a part that was so far out of my comfort zone. It scared me in so many ways – it was my first American role, my first nudity, my first real love relationship. The pressure to convey that emotion authentically was a huge challenge.

Out of all of these things, which was the scariest?

You know what, once you take your clothes off and dive in it’s strange how quickly it becomes comfortable. Fear is just a word.

Amanita has a relationship with a transgender character – what has audience feedback been like?

My inbox is flooded with people expressing gratitude, which blows my mind. I feel so honoured and proud to tell a story that people feel is truly representative of them in an area that’s so lacking in television.

Why have transgender issues been overlooked for so long?

There are a lot of channels that would argue they have LGBT relationships but we’re not talking about touching on it and moving on, it’s about fully exploring it. Netflix is out there dancing to its own drumbeat. I can feel a momentum shift. TV is becoming so much more complex than it once was.

TV on demand is becoming more popular while your old show Doctor Who, for example, relies on generating hype. Can a Christmas special be as exciting when people get used to watching things when they want?

The binge culture is definitely a new way of watching television but it’s a response to the demand. We’re all living such busy lives. TV is moving in a different direction but there’s room for everything existing concurrently right now.

North v South is in cinemas now