Tuesday 15 September 2015

Still from Danny and the Human Zoo

​With a sparkling performance in the lead role of a primetime television hit under his belt, Kascion Franklin looks destined for stardom.

But acting wasn’t even a serious career consideration for the University of Northampton graduate until he was half-way through his degree.

The offers for screen and stage work are starting to flood in for the 26-year-old West Midlander since his critically acclaimed performance in Danny and the Human Zoo, Lenny Henry’s semi-autobiographical drama which was aired on BBC1 last month.

But, Kascion reveals it could have been so different, were it not for one day during his middle year at Northampton.

“I went to the University of Northampton to study drama, with the intention of becoming a drama teacher,” he said. “But in the second year we had a module where my friend Dave Bowen and I were paired together to act out End Game by Samuel Beckett.

“We left it until the very last minute and threw something together, so we weren’t feeling too prepared. But we ended up getting one of the highest grades our tutor had awarded in 23 years. It was then that I thought that perhaps I wasn’t too bad an actor and in the third year I really decided to give acting a serious thought.”

After graduating in 2010, Kascion spent a year at drama school in Birmingham before securing a number of small acting roles, while supplementing his income with part-time jobs.

Then, in 2014, his agent told him about auditions that were taking place for Danny and the Human Zoo, which was set in 1970s Dudley – a stone’s throw from Kascion’s family home in Wednesdbury. While he had the talent and local geography on his side, Kascion was no shoe-in for the role of Danny Fearon – a character based on Henry’s young self.

“It was a 10-month process, with my first audition in July 2014, and I was called back five times to read for the role,” said Kascion. “With it being based in the West Midlands, where I grew up, I put so much pressure on myself to get the role, and when I finally got the call from my agent to say I had the part, I went through every emotion.”

Almost three-and-a-half million viewers tuned in to watch Danny and the Human Zoo, and since its airing, Kascion has had a taste of being ‘that man off the telly’.

“It’s been a bit weird since it was broadcast,” he said. “There’s been quite a few people recognising me in the street, but I’ve not been mobbed, so it’s not been too bad.”

One of Kascion’s biggest fans, though, is Henry himself, who said: “He’s so talented, he’ll break your heart and make you want to cry.”

Speaking in a tone which suggests he still can’t quite believe the plaudits coming his way, Kascion said: “It feels good, as an actor, to hear such incredible words. To work in close proximity with Lenny was very nerve-wracking. I kept thinking ‘I hope I’ve not butchered his script’.

“This was my first TV gig, and to work with such a stellar cast and crew was intimidating at first, I was just thinking ‘this has been years in the planning, I don’t want to let anyone down’.”

Playing a young Lenny Henry in front of the real Lenny Henry was a huge test of Kascion’s character – and nerve – but he had his own way of dealing with the situation.

He said: “I made a decision to not put that pressure on myself – I just made sure I never thought ‘I’m playing a young Lenny Henry’. I focused on playing the character Danny, and kept the idea that it was actually Lenny out of my mind. I had to.”

His transformation from an unknown jobbing actor to being one of the UK’s hottest young talents has given Kascion the professional freedom every actor craves.

“Since Danny and the Human Zoo, I’ve had offers of work, but there’s nothing that has interested me yet,” he said. “At the moment I’m in the privileged position that I can be more selective with the roles I’m offered, but I’m aware that won’t last forever.

“If I accept a role just depends on the story, whether it inspires me, whether it compels me.”

He’s come a long way since his days at the University of Northampton, but it’s a place Kascion holds close to his heart.

“I loved Avenue Campus, which is home to the School of The Arts,” said Kascion. “There’s a real tight-knit community there: everyone’s arty and there’s plenty of characters – it has a really nice, creative atmosphere.

“Northampton too, is a great town. It’s not too big and it’s not too small – it’s got a real homely feel to it, which as a student living away from home, is something I appreciated.

“My advice for students at the University is to set yourself realistic goals, things that you can measure. Things won’t happen overnight, but bit by bit you’ll see yourself progressing.

“If you want something, go for it. Work hard and keep on keeping on and you’ll make things happen.”​

Danny and the Human Zoo can be viewed on BBC iPlayer until ​the end of September​.

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