Elliot Knight Sees The Big Picture
Elliot Knight sees both sides of the coin. The classically trained British actor is an LA transplant, but that doesn’t make him feel any less at home on the sunny west coast. Elliot is a son of a Jamaican Mother and British Father. Perhaps growing up as the result of a marriage of two different cultures gave him the unique ability to relate to so many different characters on screen. In my conversation with Elliot it became clear that he doesn’t see the past as what defines a person, but more so what informs them. People inform stories, and Elliot is a master storyteller.
At a young age, Elliot was putting on a show. He was an entertainer in the purest sense of the word. “Entertaining was always a passion of mine as a kid, even though I didn't understand what a passion was. I always gravitated towards some kind of performance, whether it was singing, dancing or anything that fits into that writing thing. I used to love writing stories, when I was a kid I used to write books. I never thought about doing it as a profession, I didn't know that was a thing until I landed myself in it, and then I realized I enjoy this, and I want to try and keep doing this.”
Elliot is a graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan School of Theatre where he was a standout, landing his first starring role while still in school. “I was in drama school which would be the equivalent of college out here studying acting, and that's when I got my first job. In my final year I got offered this role in Sinbad.” That’s right, while still in school learning how to act Elliot landed a leading role on a nationally broadcast TV show on the UK’s Sky1 network. “All I was hoping to get was audition experience because I had never really auditioned for anything before. When you are coming out of drama school that is the next step, you start to audition for professional projects, so I was just hoping to have a crack of getting in the room with a casting director and experience what that felt like. I didn’t ever expect to get the job at all, even though I really wanted to. It wasn’t what I thought was realistic, but it happened. I was in shock about that for a while, and then very, very happy!”
Essentially, Elliot was drafted first overall and asked to start as point guard for the Lakers and score 30 points a game. Where some of us may have backed away from the opportunity that would put him on the map, Elliot decided to do what life so often requires of us. He saw the bigger picture and then leaned into his chance to set himself apart. “Just seeing what was possible, even when you come in not really knowing anything and being a complete novice, It’s all about what you bring from within yourself, not necessarily how much you know or how experienced you are…”
What Elliot brought out of himself was the ability to act at a high level. “It’s never been a struggle for me to try to act or want to do it. Obviously, your work on different characters and everything that you approach is different than the previous thing, but it’s never been something I’ve had to battle from within myself to do. I’m almost more comfortable being in someone else’s skin, not necessarily out of insecurities but I find it so fascinating to engage in everything if you're trying to understand other people and trying to tell stories.”
The gift to see all sides and embody something or someone that isn’t you, to bring honesty to a story or role is what sets him apart. It’s the ability to be creatively amphibious and take on the identity of a character for the greater good of the story. “Bringing honesty to my work is a lot more intuitive than theoretical. The more I try and get into a process the more it puts a wall in front of me to what I'm trying to achieve. The kind of performances I like and the kind performer I want to be is more of a natural performer, where I’m evoking different energies that you see in people and in situations, rather than trying to plan out step by step how you want to do something. It’s a happy marriage of both and trying to find that balance.”
Bringing full honesty to a role is something that can be sacrificed at the altar of the box office. With more and more films being made to appeal to a mass audience, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that specific stories and situations carry universal truths. Movies like Black Panther offer hope to an ever-growing audience who wants to see a different perspective represented on the big screen. On this topic, Elliot had a lot say.
“I watched that movie (Black Panther) and it wasn’t until the very end that it just hit me. I realized how important this movie is. How this movie alone is going to change a whole generation of kids. Young black kids are going to see the potential within themselves of what they can be, and how they can be seen. When I was growing up there were very limited sources to find people to look up to and examples of how I can be happy, successful, celebrated and not demonized. My mom is very strong in expressing she never wanted me to portray negative characters or stereotypes just for the sake of it. And I avoid those roles because as much as I can, I like to be involved in projects that have a purpose and give people something to believe in and support. It was so great that Black Panther fit into an already successful series of movies as a stand-alone, celebrating black culture and black identity in a positive light without having to make a show of it. People can just enjoy it, instead of having to be part of this sort of gratuitous dialogue, I loved that so much and it was so important
The perspective that there is a purpose bigger than himself is what informs Elliot as a human being. Knowing that there is more to him than acting ironically is what makes him such a talented performer. “When every ounce of your being is put into perusing an industry, you are not leaving anything to just be yourself and remain content without it. And I feel it can be very dangerous to leave yourself almost with no reserve or defences left. At the end of the day, if you are not a happy person you cannot really bring your best self to your work.”
That happy dispositions he carries did him well on the CW’s hit show Life sentence where he stars as Lucy Hale’s love interest. Life Sentence is a show that infuses humor and lightheartedness into the heavy topics it handles. It’s a show that deals with both sides of life; the tragic events and revelations that come with being human as well as the joyful moments that come with existing in a family. “It was a very fun set, actually the most fun set I’ve ever been a part of, it makes working so enjoyable when you love the work that you do, and you actually love going to work as well as being with the people you’re with.”
That chemistry followed the stars off-screen as well. If you follow Elliot and his co-stars on Twitter or Instagram you’ll know just how much fun the set is, with many posts of pranks and jump scares. “Lucy, I got her really good. Actually, to be fair she has gotten me as well and that’s what started it off. She got me once so I was like alright I'm going to get you. Just the nature of the show we have so much time together while we were filming and we get on so well, so there were a lot of those moments.”
There was a lot of anticipation for the show to finally premiere as it has the potential to be something special. “There’s a lot of issues that we tackle but the main overarching point that the show attempts to make is a lot about living life as a kid or young adult in today's day and age. It’s is very different than how it was in the last two decades, where certain things are expected of you. The sort of different life cycles that you go through, the things you're supposed to do, you're supposed to live life a certain way pursuing happiness and all this stuff. By exploring that through the eyes of someone in a very specific situation we are able to flip everything on its head. It’s a different kind of love story as it’s not just between people, its a love story with life. It deals with the fact that your happily ever after isn’t necessarily the way that it’s been laid out for you by your parents or the people that are around you. It’s about finding your way through things, and everyone in the show has that journey. Everyone is searching for identity and happiness and a sense of contentedness. Everyone is finding out that it's not where they originally looked, it's not where it’s expected to be. Hopefully, that encourages people who watch the show to go deep into themselves and to really do what they want in life.”
Where most people have the ability to read the writing on the wall, Elliot has the ability to see why the writing is on the wall. He then re-orders the words to communicate the meaning to anyone who will listen. Maybe that desire to spread honesty and truth through his work comes from his parents who are both teachers. Though he is a bit more apprehensive to credit them with his artistic capabilities. “Both of my parents, especially my dad try to find ways to claim the creative edge in me, but my parents taught English and P.E., so it never crossed my mind that either one gave me a heavy influence to get into this industry. Although my dad just came to visit and we spent a lot of time together, I realized he’s a performer a lot more than I give him credit for.”
One thing is clear, his parents raised him well. And though he may not credit them for his artistic endeavors, he definitely inherited a higher calling from them. It’s crucially important to Elliot that he passes along the knowledge he has gained working in show business to those who are coming after him.
“One of my best friends is in her final year of drama school. I was talking to her about what drama school teaches you, and every school is different, but a lot of the time the practical advice that I would offer to my friends would not be advice that would be passed on from the tutors at school, since they are focusing on developing your craft and you as an actor. When I was in school I was not given much practical preparation for the business side of being an actor, or the industry. You are given advice on how to hone your craft, what books to read and what shows to see. And that is a very important part but I honestly believe it’s crucial to have a source that you can talk to and understand not only what it takes to survive as an actor, but how to survive as a person while you are acting. I was hoping to go back and chat with the students there and see if they have any questions. Even silly questions on the funny things that people want to know, like how long does it take to shoot this and how much do you get paid to do this…the more information you have about it as a career the more you can decide if it’s right for you or not.”
Roughly 450 years ago Michelangelo was asked how he created such a beautiful intricate sculpture. His response was “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”Like a master craftsman, Elliot Knight doesn’t just see both sides of the coin, he sees the bigger picture.
Catch Elliot starring in Life Sentence Friday nights on the CW.
Talent: Elliot Knight
Photographer: Noah Asanias
Article by: David Karuhije
Hair by: Jade Kugelman
Makeup by: Dani Dyrland
Styling: Derek Perrette