When Vivian Oparah was 10 years old, she met actress Freema Agyeman at her church in Manor House in north London. Agyeman is best known for role on BBC’s 'Doctor Who,' where she played Martha opposite David Tennant.
“I was just really excited that someone I knew in real life was on TV, and I wanted to be like her,” Oparah tells us.
Years later, when Oparah saw an open casting call for a new sci-fi series on BBC America that cited Doctor Who, she knew she had to audition—though she’d never acted professionally before.
Class, a Doctor Who spin-off, whose last episode airs on May 27, was created by Patrick Ness and produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin (executive producers behind the original Doctor Who series). The show follows four teenagers navigating the trials of adolescence while simultaneously fighting the supernatural. In it, Oparah plays Tanya, the youngest of the group but wise beyond her years, with a knack for physics that comes in handy throughout the show.
Though it was filmed in Wales, the series is set in London’s Coal Hill School (fans of the original will knows its significance), and portrays life in Shoreditch in east London.
“I just loved how diverse it is; it’s not trying to tick any boxes,” says Oparah. “If it was set in Shoreditch and you had four white kids, I don’t know what you’re talking about because that’s not the Shoreditch I know,” she says. “The show makes sense and it’s current; [it’s] something that I believe in and think is truthful…minus all the aliens,” she says, adding, “but who knows, to be honest.”
Below, Oparah tells us about growing up in Tottenham (a district in London’s Haringey borough in the north), where to find the cheapest drinks in London, and what it’s like to see a Tardis in the middle of the road.
Everything that’s good and bad about London, all in one place
“When I go back to Tottenham it looks really different but it still feels like home. You just have really interesting characters, interesting shops with the weirdest trinkets. It’s a good sense of community … to me, Tottenham is everything that’s good and bad about London all in one place [laughs]. It’s so authentic. You’ll find struggle a bit more, but struggle, in my opinion, births the right kind of people, and you get these amazing characters and loving people who are so about community. You can have a neighbor who’s Turkish, a neighbor who’s black, a neighbor who’s Asian, but there’s just such a communal spirit.”
“You have the old men who if I wanted to know if I looked good they would offer their advice, even if I wasn’t asking for it. It’s annoying but it’s sort of part of the scenery. Then you have the kids, and people who can live there for years and years and years and you never learn their names, but they feel like family.”
Tottenham’s wide range of cuisine
“You can have a Caribbean shop next to a chicken and chips shop next to a Chinese shop and that’s like a win-win-win. I love food [laughs] so having that available was great. [This shaped] me as a kid, seeing these people around and seeing what they had to offer. In my head I put everyone on equal footing. You see everyone’s work and what they bring to the community.”
The best places to eat and drink in London
“Tally-ho pub in North Finchley. It’s a Wetherspoons; the drinks are dirt cheap, which is perfect if you’re a young person, or if you’re any age. Who doesn’t like cheap drinks? Simmons in Mornington Crescent is another place you can get great cheap drinks. In general there’s always a spot to chill and be able to sit and see nice stuff. Boxpark [in Shoreditch], that’s a good place to eat, especially if you’re veggie or vegan.”
Skip the London Eye, look for the peacocks
“[At Holland Park] they have peacocks, and I was literally astonished because they’re so beautiful. This is their park; it’s like you’re visiting their house. There’s [also] a really beautiful waterfall.”
A Tardis in the road
“We went to Wales University to film the school [scenes], and the Tardis was plopped there for one episode. People’s reactions to seeing a Tardis, even in Wales, which is like the home of Doctor Who…[their] pure awe and wonderment was hilarious.
On playing Tanya
“She’s small in her character description; I’m actually tall—well I’d like to think I am [laughs]— small, brainy; she hangs around with people older than her, but the only thing that separates her from them is her age, because she’s quite smart intellectually. When I was 14 a lot of my friends were already 16 or 17, and I think I felt like I was quite intellectually advanced; I felt like I was on their level in every way, but I quickly learned that I wasn’t. Having lived through it and seeing myself now and realizing how immature I actually was, it’s nice to sort of bring the two sides of that coin to a character.”
If the Tardis was real…
“[I’d] definitely travel to the future … I just want to know what’s going to happen to my precious London [laughs].”
Class airs Saturdays at 10/9c on BBC America.
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Stomping Grounds is an ongoing interview series with artists, musicians, authors, directors, and more on the cities they love, all across the world.