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Malachi Kirby: ‘I used to go into auditions in character… I didn’t have the confidence to go in as myself’

After starring in Roots and as Darcus Howe in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, the actor is having fun in a new financial thriller and making sure his true voice is heard

“I’m used to always doing dramatic work,” says 31-year-old Malachi Kirby. “There is something about my face that people must enjoy seeing crying.” The London-born actor has made a name for himself in recent years playing a series of gut-wrenching, emotional heavyweights; first as Kunta Kinte in the 2016 remake of the wildly popular 1977 series Roots and then as real-life activist Darcus Howe in Mangrove, the opening episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series last year. Kirby seemed to empty all of himself into each character – from the rebellious slave Kinte to the fiercely hopeful Trinidadian orator Howe – not leaving a trace of his identity behind.

It is surprising, then, to encounter the real Kirby over video call: boyish, bearded and softly spoken. It is a side of himself he has worked hard at bringing out into the public over the years. “I was a very shy and introverted kid,” he says. “Acting was something that presented itself to me almost through a series of random occurrences and it showed me that I could communicate how I felt without saying it explicitly, since I could speak through the characters I was playing.”

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