Wonderland.

NOEL + ASHLEY

British TV icons and the stars of Sky’s Bulletproof unite to create an irresistible formula of success.

Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke feature in Rollacoasters SS20 issue Noel weara blue suit and Ashely wears beige suit

Ashley wears suit by MAISON MARGIELA at MATCHES FASHION, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY, shoes by DIOR. Noel wears all clothing by LOUIS VUITTON

Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke feature in Rollacoasters SS20 issue Noel weara blue suit and Ashely wears beige suit
Ashley wears suit by MAISON MARGIELA at MATCHES FASHION, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY, shoes by DIOR. Noel wears all clothing by LOUIS VUITTON

Taken from the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Rollacoaster. Order your copy now.

If walls could talk, the Starbucks in Tottenham Court Road would wax lyrical about the sights they have seen. Shortbread shared between shy reconciling friends. Shouty ear-piece conference calls over espressos. Teenage breakup tears spilled with a side of untouched Frappuccino. And years ago, the exact location was the innocuous setting which sparked the creative juices of two of Britain’s finest acting talents: Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters. Both screen heavyweights in their own rights, west London-hailed Noel Clarke had become synonymous with his dour ex-con character Sam Peel in the gritty London trilogy which blazed into public consciousness back in 2006 with Kidulthood, as well as his five-year tenure in Doctor Who as Billie Piper’s boyfriend Mickey Smith. And Peckham-born Ashley Walters had similarly enjoyed a swift ascent on Channel 4’s beloved series Top Boy, which like Kidulthood, offered (and still offers due to a Drake-bolstered Netflix return to our screens last year) a rare and abrasive vantage into London youth. And let’s not forget Walters’ illustrious career as a So Solid Crew spitter also firmly tucked under his belt. Walters and Clarke had known each other for 20 years, not as friends, but through traversing the same industry circles, and one day, a game-changing idea sparked from the odd realisation that the two had never shared a screen.

Their white peers were constantly teamed up for combined screen prowess, while two of London’s most prominent black actors couldn’t say the same. So they decided to take things into their own hands, and armed with co-creator, screenwriter and director Nick Love, Sky One’s buddy cop drama, Bulletproof, was born back in 2018. The bickering bromance banter, cop swagger, and high-octane moves of plainclothes police officers Pike (Walters) and Bishop (Clarke) made the show an instant hit, its irresistible formula even garnering comparisons to the eternally charming Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-fronted Bad Boys. “I’ve been calling you, what’s wrong? You’re moving like you want to break up with me or something!” Bishop jabs at Pike at the beginning of series two. Lightning-quick exchanges course through the veins of the script, which have seen Clarke and Walters contribute to, and even write full episodes for.

Season two returns on 20 March this year, and sees the buds tackling their biggest case yet, involving a million-pound drug deal, taking them from London to Cyprus to Amsterdam. Consider us positioned firmly and squarely on the edge of our seats. And fans can count their blessings, as a three-part Autumn special is very much in the works. We caught up with Walters and Clarke in the midst of filming in South Africa, and talked which one of them is the real king of quick comebacks, what they hope their respective successes mean for the future of diversity, and how they hope to inspire working-class kids…

Ashley Walks wears pinstripe shirt and cream trousers
Noel Clarke wears red jumper and white t-shirt

(LEFT) Ashley wears shirt by OUR LEGACY, jeans by ULLAC (RIGHT) Noel wears jumper by BOSS, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY

Ashley Walks wears pinstripe shirt and cream trousers
Ashley wears shirt by OUR LEGACY, jeans by ULLAC Noel wears jumper by BOSS, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY
Noel Clarke wears red jumper and white t-shirt

Hi Ashley and Noel! Congrats on S2 – how did you feel when you found out it was going to be renewed?
NC: Yeah, I mean, it was one of those things where we felt pretty confident it would be because of the success of the first season. We heard that the ratings were higher than almost any other show at the time when it came out, and it had by far the most social media engagement.
AW: When you have your baby and you’ve worked so hard on it, it’s just a really good feeling to see everyone else appreciate it, and the network that you’re working for believe in it too. And for the first season to be as successful as it was, and then to get a green light for season two so early on too.

At the heart of the show is this hilarious buddy banter. How much of that was ad-libbed?
NC: I’ll be honest with you, half of the stuff is stuff that we put in. A lot of it is ad-libbed. It’s just part of our personality. [Walters] is in tears all the time. He laughs a lot. I mean, I laugh a lot but I’d say generally 80% of the time it will be me making him laugh. Sometimes we’ll say stuff and just start laughing. I think Bulletproof has always been a very happy set and a happy crew generally. Hard, hard work, but generally they’re happy so we’re kind of proud of that.
AW: Yeah 100%. I get in trouble a lot for that. I find it really difficult not laughing when we’re filming, but it just shows that the relationship that we have is like roughly the same relationship as we do onscreen, and it kind of sells the show to a certain point. You know, we keep up that banter. Noel is probably the best improviser I know. So, when you’re working with him, you always have to be prepared that he might just say something different, and you have to be ready with a comeback.

Tell us what we can expect from season two, and you both delving into the undercover world…
AW: We wrote the characters from the beginning and tried to stay as true to them as possible. But, season two is probably the place where the lines start to get slightly blurred because of the nature of what we’re doing. Us being undercover and taking on these other personas means that my character becomes a bit more like Bishop, and Bishop becomes a bit more like my character in a sense. And naturally, in that sort of job, all of that goes wrong.

Ashley Walters wears a beige suit with white t-shirt and Noel clarke wears blue suit
Ashley Walters wears a beige suit with white t-shirt and Noel clarke wears blue suit

Ashley wears suit by MAISON MARGIELA at MATCHES FASHION, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY, shoes by DIOR. Noel wears all cloting by LOUIS VUITTON.

Ashley Walters wears a beige suit with white t-shirt and Noel clarke wears blue suit
Ashley wears suit by MAISON MARGIELA at MATCHES FASHION, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY, shoes by DIOR. Noel wears all cloting by LOUIS VUITTON.
Ashley Walters wears a beige suit with white t-shirt and Noel clarke wears blue suit

How do you feel about people comparing the show to Bad Boys?
NC: Bad Boys was such a massively commercial movie like all three movies. It was massive. I thought it was excellent so if we’re being compared to that, I’m fine with it.
AW: I have no qualms about that. I think it’s a really good comparison, and usually
I’d be one of those people that don’t want to compare it to something else. But our idea was kind of built around us growing up watching shows like that. We quickly realised that as much as we’ve got some love for UK cop dramas and shows, they’re usually more psychological thrillers, slow-paced, leaning toward dramas. What we wanted to achieve is fun, action-packed show that actually at the end of the day you laugh, you have the drama, but it’s more about entertainment.

What do you think about this shift with you guys playing characters on the wrong side of the law, into now playing law enforcers. Do you think it’s something that has come with age? Or is the industry widening its scope and expectation of black actors?
NC: It was always the plan to play different roles and not be doing the same things that we’ve always done. It also came from us being in a position where we’ve both done so much in the business so we’re respected enough that someone would consider us for a job like this, and essentially both of us together was quite a powerful unit. You know, we want to be police. We want to show young black youth and young working-class youth that actually, you don’t always have to play the criminal. There’s more that you can do. They just wanted to see us playing crooks and criminals, which is good because we need to tell their stories but I’ve told their stories twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, Kidulthood came out, then Adulthood came out. It’s time to move on. Bulletproof is taking that audience and going, there’s more.
AW: Yeah, I feel like it was our fight to have. This is not me being egotistical, but if we hadn’t pushed for this, it wouldn’t have happened. So we had to fight for it, and I hope in that beyond us having success with the show, it’s opened other people’s eyes more to what they can achieve by being a bit more diverse. For us as well. We were sick of being offered the same roles. I love those shows. I would never shun it, but at the same time, it was good for me to portray a character that maybe my kids can aspire to. There’s something about making these two black males really responsible and law-abiding. They create the rules a lot. We’re always within our limits and we do the best that we can. We’re not trying to entice people to join the police force or anything. It’s the first time that you’ve seen police and thought “well, actually, I can do that” or “I might want to do that.”

Noel clarke in blue shirt and trousers
Ashley Walters in knitted white to
Noel clarke in blue shirt and trousers
Ashley wears suit by MAISON MARGIELA at MATCHES FASHION, t-shirt by OUR LEGACY, shoes by DIOR. Noel wears all cloting by LOUIS VUITTON.
Ashley Walters in knitted white to
Photography
Danny Kasirye
Words
Maybelle Morgan
Fashion
Bo Dubé 
Editorial Director
Huw Gwyther
Hair
London Barber Shop
Grooming
Natasha Lakic
Production
Federica Barletta
NOEL + ASHLEY