Samson Kayo introduces his paramedic-set comedy, Bloods.
How does it feel to be finally bringing your show Bloods to the screen?
I'm so excited! It's so timely, especially in the world that we're in at the moment, and to be able to create it with a friend of mine, Nathan Bryon, just makes it all that sweeter.
Where did the inspiration come from?
Well, when I was about 18, I applied to be an ambulance support driver. But back then you didn't have to be a paramedic. You could just drive the ambulances and support the paramedics. So, I applied for that years ago and then I literally just thought, "Imagine what would have happened if I'd carried on with that plan?" Luckily, I became an actor and got to do it on screen instead!
What happened with that application?
I got through! I did a little bit of training and then I got an acting job and I was like... "I'll give this acting thing a go instead." But I've always appreciated paramedics and always wanted to do something in that field. I thought that would be my career at one point, it was never supposed to be acting!
How would you describe Bloods?
It's a show set in the South East London ambulance depot, and it's literally the day-to-day goings on of two paramedics who are matched up but they're not exactly each other's type. It's how these two people from two different worlds can join together to try and save lives, essentially.
Jane Horrocks' character Wendy, who's from up North, comes down to London and she's paired up with my character, Maleek, who's like a maverick and just wants to go it alone. She teaches my character a lot about himself, and I teach her too. So, it becomes a lovely friendship and partnership that you'll see on screen.
What research did you do before you created the show?
A few of my friends are paramedics. So when we were writing, we leant on one of my friends in particular who's a paramedic in South East London. I've been friends with her and her sister for years and they're both paramedics. They came in and gave us some tips, factual stories and broke things down for us.
We actually had a few paramedics come in and give us a few life lessons. The thing that came across is that they all seemed to have quite a dark sense of humour sometimes, because they're dealing with such weird situations that you have to have that humour to get through it. They have a saying, "If I don't laugh, I'll cry", and in some cases it's true because they go through so much. It's like if they can't find some joy in the work that they do, it's going to be a big struggle and no one will want to do it for long.
Given that you said you've got friends in the service, did you feel a sense of responsibility to make sure that you got the tone right?
Yeah, absolutely. The main energy, and it was so key for me, was to make sure that we don't make the NHS paramedics look as if they don't know how to do their job. We really take that seriously, especially in these tough times. Maleek, he could have been a useless paramedic that's always getting things wrong but he's not. He's actually really good at what he does.
Funny situations may happen but ultimately you see that they're here to save lives and they are serious professionals who take their work seriously. That's what I wanted to express in amongst all the madness and silliness that they find themselves in. The comedy comes from their personal lives and personalities rather than their profession.
When you were bringing this show to life did you ever dream that you'd end up with such a brilliant cast?
Oh my god, it's just insane! When people were saying yes, I was like, "Yo!" Because Adrian Scarborough, he's one of my favourite actors. I'm a big, big, big, big fan and I've watched a lot of his stuff. So, when he came on board, for me that was a really big deal. As well as Julian Barratt and Lucy Punch.
And then Jane Horrocks, who is like a national treasure! She's so dope, man. Working with her and learning from her and just having such a cool and close relationship with her was amazing, even though she doesn't stop going on about bees! She loves bees, and now she's made me love bees. I'm signing bee petitions everywhere, it's mental!
How would you describe your character, Maleek?
Maleek is literally that kind of guy that's a lone ranger. He feels as though he doesn't need help when he definitely needs help! He's one of those people that thinks he can do everything by himself. He's actually quite shy underneath all the bravado. But he's also very good at his job and he knows exactly the lay of the land, especially because he grew up in that area of London. He's a lovable character once you settle with him. It helps that Wendy comes in and gives him home truths about himself and allows him to find himself.
What does he make of Wendy?
It's a big culture shock for both of them actually because neither of them has been to where the other is from, he's an out and out Londoner and she's from the North. For both of them it's like, "You what?" It's a lot of, "What did you just say?" and trying to understand each other's lingo and cultures. That's one thing that I really loved about the show, that we wanted to bring to it, to make sure that it's very authentic London but still allow you to see that even though we're from different walks of life you can find comfort in your surroundings and relationships can make you that much more comfortable.
Wendy turns out to be a bit of a minx who doesn't mind being open about her sex life, what does he make of that?
Yeah, it's a shock to him! He's quite awkward in those situations because it's almost like your mum telling you that she's about to have sex and you're like... "Woah, what do I need with that information?" It's never going to be comfortable, is it?!
It's funny though because he doesn't know how to deal with it so he just goes into his defensive shell. But she loves that and she sees that within Maleek, so she's determined to make him understand that sex is a fun part of life and not something to be uncomfortable or shy about, just embrace it. He needs to grow up, essentially!
They both push each other out of their comfort zones, don't they?
Yeah, absolutely. That's what brings them close, and the fact that when it matters they've got each other's back. That's the most important thing because it brings their relationship closer, it brings their friendship closer. It brings trust, especially as a partner in such a serious, fast-paced job.
What was it like working so closely with Jane?
Oh, it was amazing. As a person, she's so smart and so cool. She's such a people person. She wanted to know about me. She wanted to know everything about me, about my family, about my culture, about my life. She's such a lovely person to be around. There was no negative energy. She was just great from day one. Those are the types of people you want to work with, people you can learn from and also be cool with.
Obviously it's a north/south divide for the characters. Was there any funny moments between you and Jane in real life?
Oh, there's loads! We actually put some in the show. So there's loads of South London lingo that we were bantering with in between takes that sometimes fell into the shot. I think they've kept it in, it's funny, man. And then just cultural stuff, for example, she couldn't kiss her teeth like we do in Afro-Caribbean culture. We like to kiss our teeth a lot. So, I'd be like, "Come on man, come on Jane, you got to really kiss it," and she couldn't do it! It was the funniest thing ever. And we were singing some Caribbean songs. She actually introduced me to some Caribbean songs, which was dope. She's really educated in her music genres.
The show flicks between big, dramatic action scenes and then really funny moments, was it always important to you to have both those layers running through the show?
Absolutely. One of the main things that I stressed with the show from the very beginning was that we wanted to make the comedy really funny but take the reality of it very serious, if that makes sense. We're not here to make fun out of the situations the paramedics find themselves in at work and 999 calls that actually happen, we take their job very seriously. But at the same time it was equally important to blend really quite slapstick comedy within serious moments because that's often how real paramedics cope, finding that light in the darkness. As they said, "you either laugh or you cry". I think that's what added to the authenticity of the series.
There's an incredible stunt which sees a man engulfed in flames, what was that like to film?
It was epic! It was insane, I didn't think it was going to be so big! Everyone was holding their breath, hoping that the stuntman was going to be okay. Then he came out covered in fire, did the scene and everyone gave him a big round of applause because it looked incredible. That is such an amazing scene and they're so good, the stunt team! They were so amazing, crazy, but amazing! There's no way you're going to get me doing stunts! No way! I'll leave that to the professionals.
Viewers will see Maleek take charge of a rather dramatic birth, what was that like to film?
It was really cool! It was so emotional! I really wanted to take those moments seriously because bringing life into this world is incredible. My friend who is a paramedic says when they have to deliver a baby it is intense because you're not necessarily prepped for delivery, you know? So, when it's an emergency and it's successful, it's like a big ball of emotion comes over you because you feel like you've achieved something and you've brought life successfully into the world. And you've shared a moment with a family that were so worried and so afraid. It's also a moment between Wendy and Maleek where she really boosts his confidence that he can not only handle a situation like that but actually take charge in the moment. That's the courage that she's trying to instil within him, to believe that he can do things even though he pretends he can't. That's what a real friendship is, that's what a real partnership is, to push the other to be great and that's what she does.
He also gets to do open heart surgery as well!
Oh my god, that shot's disgusting! I knew it wasn't a real heart that I had in my hands but it just felt too real. The production team were so good, they created this fake heart that was covered in fake blood and more kept being poured over it, so gross! But it was such a cool scene.
That whole episode is so cool, there's even a helicopter and all of that sort of stuff. It was so exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing that one on screen. It was nuts but it was really fun. It was really exciting.
That's the thing about Bloods, no one day on set was the same. There's so many different scenes and every episode it's a completely different situation, a different emergency. That's the truth with the ambulance service. They're usually only standing or sitting down for about four minutes and then there's another emergency. They don't even have a chance to rest. It's such a fast-paced job and it has to be because there's so many things going on at the moment.
What was the camaraderie like on set between the cast?
It was really good because we've obviously got the COVID situation going on, and when we started filming this it came after a few weeks where no one had been able to work because of lockdown. So you feel joy in that, the fact that everyone's been indoors for months like everyone else, it felt like a breath of fresh air to just be around people and fellow actors, to work again. Everyone was so lovely because it was like, "We're allowed out!" It was great.
How did it feel to be filming a show about paramedics when the country's in the middle of a national health crisis?
Yeah, it was a lot, but I feel like it was quite timely. It was important because you want to pay homage to them in our own way, show that we appreciate them for all their hard work. We just wanted to show a little bit of light in these tumultuous times. That's why I say it was really timely because when we created Bloods it was a few years back and no one was anticipating this situation now. So it just all came together and was like, "This is a good thing to do." We wanted to be able to make people smile in such a sad world at the moment and hopefully we have done the paramedics proud.
You mentioned your mental health, how have you looked after yours during the pandemic?
The same way that I check on everyone, everyone checked in on me. Thank goodness for PlayStation, because all of my friends were on our headsets most of the time, just talking to each other through computer games and stuff like that.
I've got a group where we have a lot of Zoom conversations just to check on our mental health, see if we're all good and just say a little prayer for each other, it goes a long way. I was playing a lot of Zoom Mafia with friends. It's actually how I met one of the cast members, Aasiya. We were playing Zoom Mafia. It's this weird game with Villagers and Werewolves. We were playing and Aasiya came on, she's a friend of a friend. She was so bad at the game but she was so funny! When we came up with the show, I just remembered that she was really funny. We were looking for a specific type of actor and she came in and smashed it and got the role.
You've had such a crazy career to date, when people stop you in the street, what's the show that they most want to talk to you about?
It's weird. I get a lot of Famalam fans. I get a lot of Horrible Histories fans; the younger ones love them. Recently, I've been getting the Death To 2020 fans coming up to me because obviously that was the most recent.
What's on your bucket list career-wise?
I don't know. It's weird. I just take every day as it goes. I get inspired like with Bloods, I had this idea of, "Why don't we make this into a show?" and then I did. I'd love to do a biopic one day, maybe of Louis Armstrong, that would be good. But yeah, I take everything as it comes.
I want to work on stuff that I'd love to watch, basically. In terms of a character, I played about 70 characters in Famalam so I think that's all ticked off. But I'd actually like to play a Prime Minister one day, that would be cool. I have no idea what I'm going to do as Prime Minister but yeah, that's the first thing that came to my mind!
When it comes to writing, would you ever want to write for a franchise like James Bond?
I mean, who wouldn't?! I'd love to write for Bond. I've never really thought about those sort of things because I only just started writing a few years ago, so I'm still taking it all in and just enjoying the art of writing before it becomes stressful. I'd love to be in Bond actually. I would love to be Bond. There you go, there's a character that I'd want to play. I'll play Bond! I want to be driving either a Porsche Carrera or an Aston Martin. It's got to be one of those lovely cars! I'd love to do like a Daniel Craig type of Bond, you know where there's a lot of action? A lot of fighting and stuff. I'd love to do that. My ideal Bond girl? Cynthia Erivo. That would be awesome, she's amazing.
If you could pick anything to happen to Maleek in a second series, what would you want to happen to him?
What would I want him to do? There's so many things! Maybe a fire. I don't mean he starts one! Maybe he has to attend a huge building fire, it would be a cool scene to film. More stunts, more stunts. Absolutely more stunts.
Did I mention I want stunts?! It's such a broad show. We could literally go anywhere, we could invite anyone in. He could change jobs for a few days, it just depends on where we want to go with it. We've got a few ideas for another season already so let's just see what happens with this series, hopefully the fans will love it as much as we do.
Bloods is on Sky One on Wednesdays at 10pm.