Daniel Rusteau Speaks to TBB’s Nora Denis About Life as An Actor, Director & Writer…
Screen Nation recently released the listings of nominees for their coming Digital iS Awards. The awards aim to acknowledge and celebrate the work of online content creators. Daniel Rusteau, an actor, writer and director who’s online credits range from the crime drama, Redemptions End, to the highly acclaimed series, Brothers With No Game, is nominated in multiple categories for his web series Wedding Dates, as well as the short film Blighty: BFF.
The regular fixture on the BWNG TV YouTube channel sat down with TBB to talk about his move into acting, the inspiration for the relationship comedy-drama, Wedding Dates and up and coming projects in the works…
Most people will know you as smooth-talking Leon from Brothers With No Game, what was your experience like working on the show?
Really good. Exciting. I was a big fan of the show. I didn’t hear of it just because of the audition, I genuinely loved watching that show. So when the auditions came up I was so gassed. I auditioned for it and everything – funny enough I auditioned for a TV show the week before, I was like cool yeah whatever but when I when I had the BWNG one, I knew that’s the one I wanted.
So did you come on as just an actor or writer as well?
Actor, but they knew I wrote. I think they’d seen this small web series I did called Redemptions End...
With Claudius Peters?
Yeah, he created it, and we bounced some ideas around and I wrote and directed. So, they knew me from that but I came on specifically as an actor.
How long have you been writing?
On and off since I was a kid. All my heroes growing up were writer/directors: Tarrentino, Rodriguez, Kevin Smith. But I assumed I couldn’t do that. Then I saw this film that we all know and love called Kidulthood (2006). After doing my research I realised that the bully boy was the writer. I was like, no way he’s the writer of the film, I can’t even believe that, and that’s what inspired me to write – I was like, I can do this. If he can do it, I can do it. So he’s a huge inspiration, Noel Clarke.
What about acting, how did that come about?
Acting was because I loved film so much growing up. I did the basics: GCSEs and stuff like that. I always wanted to [act] but then I phased away and got distracted by other career stuff in my early 20s and then finally took that step.
Did you take the professional route to acting – did you attend drama school?
Somewhat. I did the usual GCSE then A Level Performing Arts. I did a joint degree of Performing Arts with Marketing. What I should have done after that – what they say you should do – is then go do your masters at an accredited drama school but I didn’t want to do that. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do anymore and when I did want to I just decided to study part-time at Identity [School of Acting], The Actors Temple […], different courses here and there.
Redemptions End is pretty dark compared to the work you’re doing now. Do you think it’s important to have range?
As long as you’re doing what you love doing, I think it’s important to vary. But I think if the same person is writing it, it’s going to be from the same perspective. It’s going to work just as long as it’s within you and it’s something you want to do. Yeah, Redemptions is very different from Wedding Dates but it’s all from me, I know I’m doing what I love.
I noticed that you like pop-culture references (and that’s apparent in Blighty: BFF as well) is that something you enjoy infusing into your work?
God, yeah, so much! Because I try to write— with Blighty… obviously there is a level of poetry to it, so it’s not real but you want there to be a realism to it. So for me when I talk with my friends, we talk with pop-culture references. We’re always quoting everything from Kidulthood to Superbad (2007), to Knocked Up (2007), Top Boy (2011-), The Wire(2002-2008), whatever and any age my friend may be, whether they’re young or a parent, we all understand these little references. I wanted to have that within the stuff I wrote because for me the stuff I love the most also does that – Kevin Smith does that a lot, Tarrentino does that a lot.
I’m kind flirting with ideas in season 1 with them allowing each other to go on dates but we’re really going to start pushing levels now with season 2. Without giving too much away… we really wanted to ask the question‘could you let someone you’re seeing go on a date with someone else?’ Now we’re going to really ask some deeper questions like ‘could you let them do other stuff?’, ‘What does it mean if you love someone but you’re sexual attraction for them has diminished?’, ‘How can you fix that?’, ‘Does it mean you don’t love them no more?’, ‘Does it mean you should try something new?’ So, we’re really going to start upping the levels on that front.
That’s not really something you see in Black entertainment, are you aware that you are pushing the boundaries?
Yeah. BWNG told me they were going to start creating a channel… they said ‘if you have any ideas, let [us] know’. So, I just brainstormed a bunch of them and all of them were this sort of level; this sort of like, broadening the scope as far as relationship structures are. I really wanted to get people thinking about new ideas but not throw it in their face. Still, it looks quite traditional: just a guy and a girl engaged but then with these subtle little things happening. I don’t necessarily think that there’s one way that is the right way, I just like the idea of having things open for debate.
Do you go out of your way to break stereotypes?
Well, I write what I know. When I look at my pieces, I’m like, oh that’s different from what you see on-screen. I don’t really try and intentionally do it – I try to go against what you’re supposed to do as far as stereotypes are concerned, so I guess you could say I do. To say that I was intentionally going against stereotypes would mean that it was like affecting what I was doing artistically.
You don’t want to think too much about it and then forget what you’re doing. I see it more as being very careful, in the sense of sometimes I write something and then go back and go, okay, well that’s an obvious female character… let’s try and change that a bit. So it comes more, I guess, in the redraft… most of my friends are writers and creatives and we just make what we want to make and it just happens to be against the stereotype, which is good. It’s what we want to see.
Your character is a geek and that’s fun to see…
He’s a TV geek who’s scared of his girl… like a lot of people.
How did the cast come together?
So Chinuwe, who plays my lead, I knew her but she still read. I put out a casting call through BWNG and Casting Call Pro, and I just called in about 3 or 4 people per character. Everyone read and it was quite quick and easy actually. I just knew… it was important that people got the characters but also were open to improv because there is some improv in there. We’ll have two pages of script and we’ll record the scene but we’ll also have room to go away from it, as long as we make our way back. Some of the best stuff is found that way. Got some amazing footage of the auditions when we’re just running improv scenes and that’s how all of them [the cast] came about.
What do you think is in store for Black British entertainment in the UK?
It’s really exciting. I think the Internet is an amazing tool. We’re seeing things like BWNG, Venus vs Mars, All About the McKenzies… I think it’s great because before this you would have to meet some TV commissioner, pitch it to someone and hope they agree with it, and they have to invest all this money that they’re scared of losing, understandably. Now you can build your audience yourself, get investors and still make it yourself or sell the idea to a channel. I think it’s great because the Internet is really showing there’s an audience for it and I’m in that small minority of people who feel that there’s an audience for everything, they just have to know it’s there.
What is your current favourite TV show?
I’d say Game of Thrones because I love ensemble pieces with many characters. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy but most people who watch GoT aren’t, are they. It’s quite broad in its audience. I think the writing is so clever. It’s so philosophical and there so many perspectives and so many characters of different ages, genders and I love the intensity of it. It can also be hilarious as well.
What’s the last book you read?
It’s called Mating in Captivity. It’s by Esther Perel; she is a relationship/sexual psychologist, I think is the exact term, you might have to look that up to confirm that, don’t quote me on that one. She’s written an amazing book about infidelity and sexual monogamy, and maintaining sexual passion within a relationship… with loads of case studies.
Would you say Wedding Dates is a must-watch for anyone thinking of getting married?
Yeah, definitely, I think it’s a must-watch for people thinking about getting married, for people that have been in a long-term relationship… It’s for people who enjoy relationship shows because you have a lot of shows where the core is about a couple trying to make it work, trying to figure it out; every episode has a (hopefully not too obvious) lesson in there about how you can maybe adjust what’s going on. Things like that and also if you just love fast-paced comedy with loads of pop-culture references.
In regards to directing, acting and writing, which is your strength, and which do you prefer and want to move forward with?
It took me a while before I realised. I think deep down I’m a writer first because I always get asked this and I’m like, it’s all the same, but it’s not true. If I couldn’t act tomorrow I’d be upset… but if I couldn’t write tomorrow I’d be p*ssed and that’s just a nice way of saying it. Writing you can do any time, any day you want. It’s not like acting where most of the time you need to get cast and someone has to believe in you.
What are your thoughts on being nominated in multiple categories, including ‘Best Web Series Actor’, for the Screen Nation Digital iS Awards?
It’s an honour to be nominated amongst such talented individuals whose work I admire and enjoy watching as a true fan. It would be great if I won best actor but I can’t explain how much I really, really want to see Chinwe up on stage accepting an award for playing Jamie. Both Wedding Dates and Blighty:BFF were released on BWNG TV who are doing some really exciting things with their channel, so it’s a great example of how impactful it is. Ceremonies like Screen Nation Digital Awards are so important to our new industry as it shines a deserved light on usually overlooked creators, actors, presenters and publications. Recognising these artists and seeing that there is a future in entertainment that transcends broadcast TV and cinematic film will solidify the importance of online content. I hope that all the noms and any wins we may get will shine a brighter light on our small show and it’s a real motivator for us now while we’re prepping our second season.
You have also released a new podcast…
My passion for TV and film is also in just talking about TV and film so I created a podcast where I do just that with friends and family. Every episode I’ll have a different guest to discuss their favorite films or TV shows, what they’ve seen recently and what they thought of it. I love it. From actors such as Claudius Peters, Clifford Samuel and David Avery to my sisters and cousins. We debate, we learn each others tastes, we reminisce, it’s so much fun. What I’ve found is, in everyday life, I rarely sit down with someone with phones off and no distractions and just talk for a couple of hours. I doubt any of us do these days. So podcasting is not only fun but its really bringing me closer to the people I know.
Keep up to date with Daniel’s projects:
- Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/daniel-rusteaus-podcast-actor/id991593693
- Webseries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0QzcH0YNmE