Archie Madekwe doesn’t get enough sleep. A self-professed night owl, he will get up at dawn if work dictates. Like today, for this interview. “Also,” Madekwe adds, “if I do wake up late, I’d feel gross [for wasting the day]. I often don’t but I’m working on getting better at it.”
We caught up with him at his London home, in his bedroom, possibly. He’s attired in a long-sleeved sweater and light blue denim jeans. A five o’clock shadow does little to weather his boyish looks.
His parents named him “Archie” after Archie Bell & The Drells. “My mom and dad are big Motown fans,” Madekwe says. “My mom got really set on that name. If not ‘Archie’, it would have been ‘Art’, and I’m glad that wasn’t the case.
“‘Archie’ is more subtle.”
Subtlety seems to be the theme of Archie Madekwe’s acting career. His roles, at least the ones that matter, seem to be carefully curated. He may not be a household name but he’s slowly becoming a familiar face on the screens, big and small.
In the early days, his UK agents, Olivia Woodward and Alex Sedgley, worked with Madekwe to be deliberate about the roles he took on. “Our aim was to make sure I’d be considered for the everyman part.
“I’ve been really lucky in that a lot of those initial jobs I took fell under that last category,” Madekwe says. “They could have easily cast a white actor for [Edward Albee’s play, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?], I was in Les Misérables, which could have had an all-white cast.”
It was The Secret Life of Bees that informed him that it was possible for a person of colour to grace the screen. More specifically, Sophie Okonedo. “[She] was so unbelievable in it,” Madekwe had said in a conversation with fellow thespian Josh O’Connor, “I remember looking her up, seeing that she was from London and that she was mixed race—she was a North Star for me. In my mind, she was the validation that I could do it, that there were people like me doing it.”
Years later, Madekwe would join the cast of Albee’s The Goat. Okonedo was in it as well and she played his mom. He told her about how inspirational she was in his formative years. “Sophie remains a really good friend and we actually just worked together again so I remind her about that a lot,” Madekwe says with a smile on his face. “It’s important to remind people of the impact they’ve had on you. Especially in this industry, where it is so easy to feel dismissed. And that happens to some of the biggest actors I’ve worked with.”
His West End tenure was also where Madekwe cut his teeth. It was an education that years at the BRIT School or The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art could not impart. What drama schools taught him was confidence, especially when auditioning in a room full of strangers. But does that assurance spill over into other aspects of his life? “It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he says, “but I do try to apply it to most situations. It’s definitely something that I had to learn throughout my career and try to appear confident even in situations where I don’t feel it. You kinda need to trick yourself into feeling that courage.”
He still finds it hard to watch himself in films. By the time we spoke, he’d only recently watched the finished version of Saltburn at a premiere. “I think there was maybe 2,000 in attendance and it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to put myself through,” Madekwe says, cringing at the memory. “You become so attuned to the audience’s reaction. ‘Why didn’t they laugh at that? Was that bit not funny? Well, I thought it was funny.’ You become hypercritical and now you’re contesting with your own thoughts as opposed to just watching it with the audience.”
Madekwe is jealous of any actor who can watch something of theirs without feeling judgmental. “Must be a lovely feeling.” He did, however, come close to that. He was privy to an early cut of Saltburn and he lost himself, carried away by the story. “At least for a little bit. There were still a couple of clips of myself that I couldn’t get past, but it was the closest I’d come to feeling like an outsider watching my own work.”
Madekwe and Ari Aster became friends during the making of Midsommar. In this horror-in-the-daylight film, Madewke plays Simon, one of the unwitting victims of a Scandinavian folk ritual. Madewke subsequently made an appearance in Aster’s follow-up, Beau is Afraid.
“[Ari and I] became really good friends after Midsommar and we’d been talking about working together again in some capacity. I was filming in Canada and Ari was shooting Beau. I’d asked to meet so we could discuss a potential project. That’s when Ari said, ‘Dude, we should just get you into one of these scenes’.”
That scene is something of a chef’s kiss, an Aster egg (sorry, not sorry). Context is needed: In Midsommar, Madekwe’s Simon was frantically screaming for an elderly couple not to leap off a cliff but in Beau is Afraid, Madekwe’s character (the credit lists him simply as “Laughing Man”) is encouraging a man to jump to his death. Other than having fun on the set with Aster and his producers Tyler Campellone and Lars Knudsen, Madekwe even got to watch Joaquin Phoenix act. “Even if it was for a short moment. I mean, it was so cool.”
Social media is a love-hate affair for him. On one hand, it’s a way to connect with his friends and family; it’s an exposure to other cultures, fashion and art. On the other, he doesn’t like the hold it has on him.
“I hate that I’m not in control of when and how I use it. It’s like muscle memory. I’ve deleted the app before and I’ve found myself tapping my finger on the space where the app used to be.”
Madekwe wishes he had spent less time on it but confesses to enjoying a “weird validation” when people send messages and like his posts. These little interactions become a serotonin boost. “I wish I didn’t rely on that so much. I’m trying to strike a healthy balance with it.”
Being memed is another thing that Madekwe is trying to get used to. The recent one was a Tik-Tok clip of his character, Farleigh Smart, singing Pet Shop Boys’ “Rent” during a karaoke session. It was only six seconds long but it took social media by storm; with fans wanting to see Madekwe sing a cover of it (there won’t be one, Madekwe has confirmed in a separate interview).
“It’s the character Farleigh singing it, so it feels strange when people ask me to sing it again, because I can’t see a context in which recording that would make sense,” Madekwe explains. “I’m still working out my feelings with going viral. There’s something really fun about it and I love that film can have a life of its own, but the exposure is on another level on social media. I’ve really felt that. You feel more eyes on you or people coming over asking for pictures. That’s something that comes with the job, I suppose. No one really teaches you on how to deal with that. It’s something that you had to learn very quickly on your own.”
But Madekwe does have some pipes on him. He loves singing and will be doing so in his next project. “I’m not Ben Platt or an actor that can carry a Broadway show… but singing is something that I’ve always enjoyed.”
Art is another endeavour that Madekwe enjoys as well. Other than the ceramics classes he is taking, Madekwe showcases artists and their work on his Instagram account.
“I have an immense appreciation for art. I love the stories that jump out at me; I love the craft. Over the years, I’ve grown to love it more and I’m excited for it to occupy a larger part of my time.”
He’ll be curating an art show in Atlanta, a project that he’s excited about. As acting can be an all-encompassing force, it sometimes leads Madekwe to neglect and forget about the things that inspire him. “At the end of the day, all those things will feed into the work to make you a better actor, let alone human being.”
There is one particular artwork that left a mark on the actor: Arthur Jafa’s “Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death”. Created in 2016, the seven-minute video essay depicts scenes of the Black Experience. From the elation of Obama singing “Amazing Grace” to the low of police brutality; it’s a kaleidoscope of emotions felt as Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” plays.
“After I first saw it, I went back, maybe 20 more times,” Madekwe says. “I’d constantly bring friends and force them to watch. It’s one of the most impactful pieces of art I’ve ever seen.”
To hammer the point home, he takes out a slim black hardback book that a friend gifted him recently. He opens to the front cover and points to the inscription on it: it’s addressed to Madekwe and signed by Arthur Jafa.
Madekwe's 1.95cm height has become an identifying trait for the actor in articles and interviews. “[My height] has always been an anxiety for me,” Madekwe says. “When I was younger, somebody warned me that my height would get in the way of my acting career and I thought, ‘How the hell can I control how tall I grow?’” His disquietude ballooned until he was consumed with Googling ways to stunt his growth, including but not limited to height reduction surgery.
There have been one or two instances in his life where a casting director explained a lead actor didn’t want to be captured with someone as tall as him. “But overall, I’ve never found a lack of work because of my height.”
However, a lack of work did occur during the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike. When the SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) couldn’t agree on labour, IP rights and compensation, actors working on American productions were asked to refrain from working on or promoting any finished films or TV shows.
“With every kind of fibre of my being, I was in support of the strike,” Madekwe says. “And yet… personally and selfishly, [Gran Turismo] was supposed to be one of the most exciting moments of my career and I was unable to talk about the project at all.”
It was frustrating as this was his first leading role. “If I’m honest, the worst part of it was not being able to laude the crew and cast that worked so hard on the film,” Madekwe says. “But, in the end, it’s a small sacrifice to pay when you’re working towards fair compensation.”
In 2023, Perri Nemiroff, a senior producer for the online entertainment site, Collider, remarked that Madekwe was having the best year with Gran Turismo and Saltburn. And she’s right. To lead a major studio film and be part of an exceptional ensemble, all within the span of a year, that is no small feat.
He’s in the zone now; a flow state. With a slate of projects in development, a new film in the pipeline and exciting forays into fashion and art, it seems that the actor has “miles to go before [he sleeps again]”.
He stands at the threshold, between the past and what-will-happen; a place of possibilities.
Photography: Charlie Gray
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Adele Cany
Grooming: Maya Man at STELLA CREATIVE ARTISTS using CURLSMITH and 111SKIN
Styling Assistant: Zoe Glanville