“I’m so scared to speak,” says Archie Madekwe, sitting down to do just that during a brief stint in New York. It’s hard to do press for the breakout moment in your career when the project is so huge — and so fiercely guarded — that the space between what you can and can’t say is rather shallow.
“You just want to scream from the rooftops, but you’re only allowed to say two sentences,” Madekwe adds.
The 24-year-old Londoner is at the center of “See,” one of the new series launching from Apple TV+ on Nov. 1. The blockbuster series is set in a postapocalyptic-type society where the only people who remain are blind — except for a set of twins, played by Madekwe and fellow newcomer Nesta Cooper.
About every cast member on the press tour for “See” has said they were drawn to the project because it is unlike anything else, and because of its sheer scale.
Madekwe was initially called on for another character before being paired with Cooper, as the leading twins. Instead of a usual test day at a studio with a table full of crew as an audience, the test for “See” was a full day of proper shooting — on location, in the middle of a forest outside Vancouver with an entire camera crew.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is…it’s going to be something different than I’ve never been a part of,’” Madekwe says.
He, of course, can’t say much about his character, Kofun. “I can say that he is incredibly smart and sensitive and compassionate. He is fiercely loyal, I think, incredibly brave,” Madekwe offers. “I think he definitely goes on, as you hope all characters do, a journey of self. But I think he’s got an incredibly good soul. And that doesn’t always work out in the best ways for him, but I think at his core he has a strong sense of values.”
Developing a twin-like connection with Cooper was immediately natural, he says.
“[She] felt like my twin in real life. I’ve never had that kind of a connection, not just in work, but in life where we were just so quickly like, ‘Whoa, you’re the same person,’” he says. It also helped having a buddy, a fellow new face in Hollywood, as they deal with the storm of being at the helm of a mega-production from a launching platform.
“I think it’s rare. This was so new for Nesta and me, and sometimes deeply overwhelming, and we always knew that we had each other,” he says.
Madekwe, who is from London, attended the performing arts institution the BRIT School from age 14 to 18, specifically to study theater, before moving to a classical drama school. Even before he found his way there, he always knew he wanted to work in the creative industries.
“I wasn’t always the most popular and I wasn’t all As, especially my secondary school,” he says. “I knew that I loved acting, and I went to an all-boys rugby school. And so there was maybe three of us a year of like 300, 400 that did acting. And so it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t an easy sail through the all-boys sports school.”
His professional debut was in the West End production of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” alongside Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo.
“It was constantly a lesson,” he says. From there he got American agents and met casting directors who would go on to cast him in his next projects, including alongside Elle Fanning in Max Minghella’s “Teen Spirit,” a BBC adaptation of “Les Miserables” with Olivia Colman and David Oyelowo and most recently, “Midsommar.”
“I’ve kind of been living out of a suitcase for the past two years, which has been fun,” he says. “’Crazy’ is definitely the right word. When you’re a kid you’re like, ‘I want to be an actor.’ You don’t think that means being on planes all the time. But it’s been such an amazing bonus. It’s been so dope to see so many insane parts of the world. I’m just sitting in New York right now and I was in L.A. last week and Vancouver a week before that and Romania before that. It’s like you’re constantly seeing the different bits of the world.”
“See” worked with many guests stars, extras and crew members who are blind or visually impaired, and Madekwe says being part of a show that normalized blindness is a huge part of his positive takeaway.
“I can only speak as to what they have told me about the community and how that experience was for them, but from what I was told, they felt so proud to see a TV show about people who are blind, and about blindness, showing people as more than just people who are blind,” he says. “People with sexualities and desires and passions and being a human. That was one of the things that struck me the most, after maybe a month — I actually forgot that everybody in the show is blind. Because it’s a show about humans and human behavior. Before anything, we’re human.”
The sentiment connects later when he speaks about his upbringing and how he found his community in the acting space.
“I think what I was always struck by, and from a very early age as a kid, was that any drama class or singing class I’d ever went into was just the sense of community and just all being a part of something and just made you feel safe. I just always enjoyed learning about other human beings,” he says. “As I got older, that manifested into a lot of just trying to be empathetic and compassionate. And I guess also part of that was going to a school where people picked on people for wanting to be in acting and things like that. We’re just going through s–t and what is the s–t that makes people different and makes people go off on other people? I just was always very aware of things like that.”