New Faces: Archie Madekwe, See‘s Dystopian Leading Lad

The self-described “city kid” talks catching curveballs and working in the wilderness on See.

Maridelis Morales Rosado for W Magazine

There’s more than one British Archie who has become the talk of the town this year.

No, not that five-month old newborn living in a cottage at Windsor Castle. We’re talking about a 6’4″ Londoner named Archie Madekwe, and this one is poised to take over Hollywood.

When the news broke that Madekwe would have to share his name with the royal baby, he said he received a ton of “congratulations” texts from jokesters and friends. “I mean, cool,” he said. “I’m glad. My mum’s not so happy about it because she’s like, ‘Everybody’s going to be calling their baby Archie now and it was my idea first!’” He was laughing, but then he paused: “It’s okay. He’s a pretty good person to share a name with.”

At 24 years old, Madekwe is already quite accomplished (though any chat about getting any older might cause him to “slip into existential dread,” as he put it, so he doesn’t dwell on his age). The actor speaks with a deep, booming voice. “I’m a city kid, through and through,” he’ll say. But how does a city kid end up at the center of See, a sprawling dystopian action-epic set in the wilderness? The story starts in Madekwe’s teen years, when he first realized that acting was a viable career.

Madkewe’s cousin (Ashley Madekwe, an actress best known to American audiences for her role on the soapy series Revenge and Netflix‘s adaptation of Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy) had attended England’s only free performing arts academy, The BRIT School. He followed. “[Acting] was in my world, but I didn’t think about it as a career, seriously, because when you’re a kid you just enjoy acting,” Madekwe said, describing his tenure at the laissez-fair, free-spirited academy. “Their ethos was, we wore our own clothes and we could call teachers by their first names. It was very much like, ‘If you like making theater and art just do your thing.’ We’d put on plays, and there was no emphasis on the business side,” he explained. “I didn’t even know what an agent was until my very last year, when I was 18. We had a showcase and I signed with my agent then. I knew that you had to get an agent but I didn’t know it was actually hard to get an agent.”

He left drama school early to take on London’s West End, appearing in a controversial Edward Albee play called The Goat with Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo. The actor considered that particular experience on stage as “the best education” he’d ever had. “You can’t learn to do a play like that for four months, eight shows a week, every night, other than just doing it,” he said. “We were really thrown every kind of curveball under the sun. From the theater catching fire during a show—and this was also a few days after Grenfell, so it was super heightened—to one of our actors almost collapsing on stage,” he said. He then added: “I’ve never told this story, I don’t know why, but on opening night, five minutes before I walked on stage, I trod in a human poo. Someone had done a poo on the floor underneath the stage. I trod in it. We still don’t know who it was. It was poo-gate. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and they shouted ‘Archie!’ And I saw my cue and had to go on stage. Everything was thrown at us.”

With The Goat, Madekwe relished in the ability to subvert the expectations of a posh audience in a tony British setting. “You’d have a lot of older middle class patrons of the theater that paid a yearly fee to go and see everything, so they go to see a play called The Goat with no kind of synopsis with Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo, thinking they’re in for a nice night of entertainment, and it’s a play about a man who’s falling in love and having sex with a goat,” Madekwe explained. “You would have people walking out, slamming their chairs, telling us they thought it was disgusting, crying, laughing, you just never knew what to expect of the reaction. I think audiences enjoy being challenged in that way as well, maybe not consciously, but even those people that walked out without a doubt went and had a debate about it at the dinner table. If you’re able to provoke that in an audience then you’re doing your job right. That’s what makes it fun,” he said with a carefree laugh.

Archie Madekwe photographed by Maridelis Morales Rosado for W Magazine.

Earlier this summer, Madekwe had more fun with upending audience expectations when he snagged a supporting role in Ari Aster’s delightful horror flick, Midsommar. After watching the film, the actor admitted that he was “more freaked out than I expected to be,” since the energy on set was so different from the final cut. While co-star Will Poulter would crack jokes “because his character is such a doofus” during filming, Madekwe admitted that he didn’t expect Midsommar‘s comedic lean. “Ari layers his films so well. I saw it twice and there were things I saw the second time that I didn’t see the first. I saw something on Twitter the other day about it that I didn’t know existed. When Florence was being carried on the pedestal, in the trees. Actually I’m going to show you because this was wild,” he said, pulling out his phone to reveal a saved tweet that highlighted where the plants revealed Florence Pugh‘s character’s sister’s face from a prior scene in the movie. “Things like that, he layers his films beyond what we’re doing whilst we’re there. That’s what makes him so brilliant. That stuff fucked me up,” Madekwe laughed.

He also resisted drawing comparisons between Midsommar and Aster’s previous horror film, Hereditary, and explained what he believes is the genius behind the filmmaker’s destabilizing methods. “Hereditary is a drama about grief and this family falling apart as they trace their way through this grief, and then the horror slips in underneath,” Madekwe said. “He’s able to shake genre up in a way, and play with what we understand the conventions of horror to be, in a way that we haven’t really seen before. I think after seeing Hereditary, people expected to come out of Midsommar truly disturbed and some people were disturbed, but it’s a very different film. He flipped the genre on its head in a way we hadn’t seen before. He’s not a one trick pony.”

Curveballs were thrown at Madekwe once again on his latest project: See, an Apple TV+ drama series about twins who grow up in a dystopian future where everyone else besides them is blind. True to Apple fashion, not much information about the series has been revealed ahead of its November 1 launch date on the new streaming platform, but the log line reads a little something like this: “A virus has decimated humankind. Those who survived emerged blind. Jason Momoa stars as the father of twins born centuries later with the mythic ability to see—who must protect his tribe against a threatened queen.” Madekwe and Nesta Cooper play Kofun and Haniwa, Momoa‘s twin children.

Momoa is not the only A-list talent attached to See: Alfre Woodard, who plays a grandmother figure to the two characters is, according to Madekwe, “a soothsayer kind of guide, a wise woman, in real life as well as in the show.”

“She is everything that you would want Alfre Woodard to be,” he said. “Not including my own mother, she is maybe the greatest person I have ever met in my life. She is honestly amazing.”

The series, which was shot over the course of eight months in British Columbia, brought Madekwe close to nature in ways he had never been before. “Everything that you see is real, natural light. It looks so visually striking. Francis Lawrence, our director, is out of this world,” Madekwe whistled. “He knows what he’s doing when it comes to those epic, world-building environments. That was a takeaway for me. After watching the trailer, I was like, I had to remember that we were there and that we shot that because it looks like CGI,” he went on. “I think a lot of people couldn’t believe that those places were real, but that’s literally where we were shooting for eight months. We were on the tops of mountains and waterfalls and in the middle of forests, in literally the best of what nature could offer. It was breathtaking.”

“I’d never experienced nature in that way,” he admitted. “I was so grateful for it and I loved it. Hearing bears and cougars and ‘Close the bin lids because there are bears in here’—those were new parts of my vocabulary!” he laughed. “I was like, ‘Excuse me? There’s actually a bear?’ We’d be on our way to work and bears would run in front of people’s cars and we’d have to clear the set because a bear would come on. We shut down the set for rain, snow, wind. Everything mother nature could throw at us, she threw with full force,” Madekwe continued. “It made it all part of the challenge, and it by no means was an easy shoot, but when we finished it, it felt so worth it. It felt like we made something we really put blood sweat and tears into.”

The herculean effort of building a fully realized world is what drew Madekwe to the role of Kofun in the first place. “There are so many streaming services and so many scripts floating around. It’s so easy at the moment, because so much stuff is being made, for everything to fall onto a similar canvas sometimes. This script felt so different,” he explained. “I’d never read a script where the world felt so visceral from the page. Like, my heart was beating, my eyes were watering, I had goosebumps just reading that first script. For every actor, that’s probably what they look for when they first read a script. You want to feel that gut reaction. And I had that tenfold.”

“What was different about See was that we had so much room to invent. We’re season one, so this includes everything from how kids play to how people cook to how people communicate. We had like a month and a half of rehearsal and building time, building that world. It felt really theatrical in that sense,” he said.

While Madekwe and Cooper do not play blind characters, the series employed a blindness consultant named Joe Strechay to ensure an accurate portrayal of living without eyesight. “Joe Strechay is a god amongst men. He’s not only the kindest, most patient person and guide, but the work that he did was phenomenal,” Madekwe said. “He would go onto any of our sets, all of our sets, before we step onto them. There’s one moment that really sticks in my mind, where we were doing a scene on a raft, on a boat. Joe was on the boat and he was clicking his fingers and was like, ‘Oh yeah, you can hear the sides of the raft.’ He is a man who is blind, and he just knew because of echolocation and hearing,” he actor explained. “There was a lot of vigorous training for the actors who were playing blind.”

His next role after See will be another dystopian drama, but heavier on the sci-fi. In Voyagers, which Madekwe describes as “a Lord of the Flies-esque set-up in space,” he will star alongside Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, and Tye Sheridan. “These kids that are raised as test tube babies are part of a mission to explore the planet when all hell breaks loose on the ship,” he explained. It is another one of those intense dramas that builds an entire separate world that attracted the actor to join the cast. But before audiences see Madekwe travel from the post-apocalyptic wastelands of North America to the depths of outer space, he’ll have to go back to building a world of his own in his brand new South London apartment. “I think it’s nice having a home that feels like home,” he said with a smile.

Related: Lily-Rose Depp, In Bloom: Hollywood’s Most Intriguing New Star Takes Charge