In Depth

Ariyon Bakare: The meaning of Life

The actor currently starring in sci-fi horror film Life on his early inspirations and understanding the world

I love a script where from the off you have a huge emotional reaction to it, and that was true of reading “Life”. I was completely locked in from the first pages.

The character I play, Hugh Derry, is a microbiologist who goes into space with a team of scientists to study a sample collected from Mars, but the life form proves way more intelligent than anyone expects.

Reading the script, I had no idea what the life form might look like, and even while filming, director Daniel Espinosa and the creators were continually re-working the life form, so cast were unaware what the final vision would look like on screen. We all had our own personal connection with the specimen. I guess, Hugh feels a paternal bond, he wants to nurture it and give life to it because he thinks it could, in someway, help mankind in the future.

At school, science was never my thing, but while filming Life I actually found the scientific element of looking at the different cell formations really interesting. Inevitably, I found myself asking the eternal question; are we alone? I mean life beyond earth hasn't been proven, but scientists have discovered another solar system not too dissimilar to ours, so if we could reach it then there’s the possibility of other life forms existing beyond our solar system.

Growing up, I always wanted to be an actor, even though my father wanted me to be a lawyer. One of my teachers, Mr Hutt, was in an amateur dramatics group and he often asked me if I wanted to help him learn his lines. I read Shakespeare and Chekhov plays with him, and he really inspired me. It was a big dream of mine to work at the National Theatre, especially after a school trip to see a production of Animal Farm. I remember if I couldn’t afford to see a play at the National Theatre, I would wait till the interval, sneak in and watch the second half. I saw half of many great productions.

I started my acting career in theatre, and landed my first job before I left drama school at the Royal Shakespeare Company opposite Jude Law. Soon after I was playing leads in film and TV. I won an in-house BBC competition to write a script for an existing show and for a new show, which catapulted me into writing, and then into directing, so I ended up writing and directing quite a few episodes of Doctors, and wrote and directed my own film as well.

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Both disciplines really informed me as an actor and also increased my understanding and respect for crews. Filmmaking is an immensely collaborative effort, and when you get the right team together, you make magic. The whole team on Life was brilliant, and it was amazing to be cast alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, who I have a huge respect for, Rebecca Ferguson, who is so talented, and Ryan Reynolds, who is inspirational on so many levels.

Every day on set was a challenge – trying to physically learn how to move in space was really tough; we were on wires all day, that’s painful in itself. Hugh doesn't have the use of his legs, so I spent two weeks in a wheelchair for research. Espinosa really pushed me to my limits, but this job came at the right time for me, because I proved that whatever obstacles are thrown at me, I can overcome them, because they're not as big as some of the obstacles I've faced in my life in the past. 

Life proves that we are always searching. We live in a world where we are hungry for knowledge to understand our own existence, where we come from and how we can survive. I suppose immortality is what we are all searching for, but the more we delve, it could be the death of us. So maybe the key message here is that sometimes we should be content and protect what we have here on earth.

ARIYON BAKARE is a British actor and director who has appeared on stage, featured in TV shows such as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Dancing on the Edge and in films including Rogue One and Jupiter Ascending. He stars in sci-fi horror film Life alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. Life is in cinemas nationwide now

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