EXCLUSIVE: Clare-Hope Ashitey on her ‘Seven Seconds’ role and race relations in the UK

The London-born actress explains how she prepared for the gritty Netflix crime series.

(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

There is a new star emerging in Hollywood and her name is Clare-Hope Ashitey.

The London-born actress is in Netflix’s new crime series, Seven Seconds and plays an assistant district attorney who is fighting her own demons while seeking truth and justice.

“She is flawed which is real. She’s layered and multi-faceted and I think that was important to be true to. We all make good choices and poor choices and do good things and bad things and we wanted to be realistic about that,” said Ashitey in an exclusive interview with TheGrio.

“We come to her in the story at a moment when she feels an awakening. Like a lot of us, we go along trying to avoid certain issues and then reach a point where you decide, ‘I’m not gonna do this anymore.’ This situation and the people she is surrounded by really allows her to grow.”

Keeping it real

According to Ashitey, the complexity of her character is part of what makes her story so powerful. It allows her to be seen as a real-life super hero as opposed to the fantastical images portrayed in projects like Black Panther.

“Sometimes you want your heroes to be straight forward, but if you’re asking people to look at heroes in the real world, you have to be more authentic about the approach,” said Ashley. “It can be frustrating to watch characters who don’t seem like real people. They’re asking us to believe they’re doing real things so we have to show the real complexities and conflicting traits that make up an individual. No one does everything wrong every single day or right every single time.”

She hopes Seven Seconds shows people that they have a voice and have power to fight against injustice in their own lives.

“The series depicts real people who found themselves dealing with the consequences of their choices. Sometimes people don’t understand the bias in situations until they see it reflected back at them. Recognizing inequality in your real life isn’t always possible until you see it play out through other people.”

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Race relations in the United Kingdom

For Ashitey, who was born and raised in London and raised by Ghanaian parents, there was a steep learning curve while preparing for this role.

“I’m not from here [the United States] and a lot is alien to me as far as the judicial system and the legal system and on the societal side. I did a lot of research to try to understand everything in that respect while also fleshing out this character as a person. It’s not just about the things we see on screen, but what I have in my head because I wanted her to be a well-rounded person,” noted Ashitey.

The actress explains that while race relations across the pond are far from perfect, the disparity between Blacks and whites in the U.K. are very different from the dynamics in the U.S.

“Understanding the reality [of being an African American today] is what drove everyone on the team. Something is really broken here and anything anyone can do to add to the dialogue is helpful,” she said. “Relations between Blacks and other minority groups and police in the U.K. are not perfect and sometimes it is definitely dysfunctional.”

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One aspect of the disparity that doesn’t transcend to the United Kingdom is the rate of violence against people of color. Ashitey believes that it is less extreme there because local police aren’t armed with guns. Instead, they use de-escalation tactics to manage high-risk situations.

A pleasant experience

While the subject matter of Seven Seconds is dark and intense, there were some happy moments on the set and one of the highlights for Ashitey was getting to work with Regina King.

“Aside from being a wonderful actress, Regina is a really nice person. That sounds basic but this not always the case in the industry. She is very easy to get along with and she’s funny and easy to approach. She’s giving as an actor and as a colleague,” she says. “There are a lot of egos in this industry and it can be hard to navigate but that was not the case with her.”

Seven Seconds is streaming now on Netflix.