From the sheer gravity of the snake-tongued Lord Boreal in the latest adaption of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Material – with his rather fitting animal companion – to voicing ratty con artist in the Amazing Maurice, Ariyon Bakare seems to not only have a direct line to my own childhood reading material but is very much on the ascendency.
From starting out as a staple of British TV, his project list this year alone is downright exhausting. Alongside the aforementioned Terry Pratchett adaptation, he’s also starring in intense crime drama Karen Pirie and the second season of the Paul Theroux-penned The Mosquito Coast, with plenty more projects in the works. Somehow, through all of that, he’s found time to sit down and chat with me – mid-way through moving house, I have to add.
“I play an old friend from the past that’s going to change the family’s whole trajectory”, he explains of his Mosquito Coast role. “He’s an environmental activist, but his commitment to that activism leads him down a really dangerous, dark path.” It’s an intense role for sure, and one that Bakare sees reflected in the real world via soup throwing – “if he was around now, he’d be right in the middle of the Just Stop Oil protests”.
Fortunately, it’s not an extreme that Bakare himself particularly agrees with: “I’m more of a pacifist. I think there are other ways than using violence, of doing anything that could cause harm to anybody else.” The show lives up to its name, with the majority of the action happening in the jungle, mosquitoes and all. It was a drastic change of scene for London- based Bakare, and one that formed the biggest challenge of filming.
“All the time you’re sodden and trying not to look like you’re sweating, it’s a difficult environment. Plus, I got bitten by a very dangerous spider – everyone said it was a black widow – and my leg doubled in size so I couldn’t walk for three days!” It’s probably a good thing then that his ratty role on the Amazing Maurice is all voiceovers. Though that brings its own challenges too – “you need to go as big as possible to get everything across in just your voice! It’s a great experience.”
Given the actor’s theatre training – one of his first breaks was on stage opposite Jude Law – getting emotion across with his voice is second nature. As apparently is working alongside some phenomenal talent. Directly after working with Law, he starred opposite Paul Bettany in his first feature film After the Rain.
“Everyone I work with always seems to get nominated for Oscars!,” says Bakare. “Jake Gyllanhal, Ryan Reynolds, Sally Hawkins, Chiwetel Ejiofor, I’ve had great opportunities to work with some legendary actors.” Despite six degrees of Ariyon Bakare being all too easy though, there are still some actors on his wishlist: “I’d love to work with Samuel L Jackson, Ewan McGregor – he’s just a great actor, everything he does is classy. You just watch him and think you’re good, you’re so good!”
Now, this being a watch magazine, it was impossible to ignore all through our conversation Bakare’s own bit of wrist candy. Though honestly a Panerai Luminor isn’t easy to miss on any wrist, especially with the gorgeous blue dial of Bakare’s example.
“I just bought it!”, he says, brandishing it to the camera. I started on a high note with this and a Daytona. I’ve always liked the brand. I have big hands so I need a big, manly watch. For me, I was going through so many bad things in my life – I was homeless, had just ended a relationship, I was in a really bad place – I promised myself that when I reached a certain point in my life I’d get myself a Panerai. While I was in LA recently I decided that point was now and I went and got it. I bought my trophy – this is my Oscar!”
“It’s not my dream watch though. There’s another Panerai I’d love to get but my dream watch would be a Patek Philippe. A Nautilus would be so great…,” he says wistfully. “Though honestly there are too many to decide. When I was younger my dad had one, until he lost it.” So not exactly looking after it for the next generation, there.
It’s not just watches either. Bakare’s a man who appreciates aesthetics, in two very different ways. First is the collection of world class photography he’s yet to finish unpacking: “I’ve got about 30 different pieces. I used to like portraits a lot but now I’m more into social commentary shots, images with a story behind them, where you need to find out more.” The second of his great loves, and something that runs in the family, is fashion.
“When I was younger one of my uncles used to be a model, so I’ve always been really into fashion. I tend to go for really classic streetwear. I don’t like people to know the labels, I like it to be understated and when I go out I like the full suited and booted vibe with a nice shirt. The last thing I bought was a beautiful Armani velvet jacket, it’s really sumptuous. At the moment I’m into labels with a kind of retro vibe too.” So, if modelling runs in the family, will we see Bakare in an Armani campaign any time soon? “Have you seen me? My nephew’s a model, I’ll leave it to him.”
You can see Ariyon Bakare in Mosquito Coast Season 2, available on Apple TV+.