Meet the cast of BBC’s new incredible drama, I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel who stars as Arabella also wrote and co-directed the series
I May Destroy You is the new BBC series that people can’t stop talking about. The show centres around the main character, Arabella, and her journey through processing a sexual assault that happens after she’s spiked in a club. Everyone’s completely obsessed with it because of its incredibly raw depiction of sexual assault, trauma and black experiences, all of which is based on very real moments in Michaela Coel’s own life who wrote and co-directed it.
The cast is made up of well-known actors, such as Aml Ameen and Stephen Wight, and up and coming stars like Marouane Zotti. A lot of them have starred in other British TV series, like Bad Education and Doctor Who, and nearly all of them currently live in London, so hopefully they’re all actually mates offset as well. Meet the cast of I May Destroy You:
Michaela Coel – Arabella
Not only did Michaela write I May Destroy You as a semi-fiction based on her experience of sexual assault, but she also stars in it as the main character, Arabella. Michaela studied English at Birmingham uni, then went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Since then, she’s starred in Chewing Gum (which she also wrote), two Black Mirror episodes, Top Boy and Black Earth Rising. On top of acting in, directing and writing incredible series, she’s a singer, songwriter, poet and playwright. She’s also won BAFTA awards for her previous work.
In a Radio One interview, Michaela spoke about her own sexual assault and how this became the basis for I May Destroy You. “It took me two and a half years all in all to write it and I didn’t do any other job,” she said. “It’s been quite hard but cathartic because I’m reflecting on a dark time rather than feeling it is happening to me right now”.
It's been a wonderful 18 months of writing and now I have finished. pic.twitter.com/NineqijlbB
— Michaela Coel (@MichaelaCoel) August 18, 2019
She added that the series explores different stages of trauma, including denial, humour and blame, and how this mirrored her own experience of processing what she went through. “We respond to trauma and triggering situations in many different ways, it’s not always a pity party,” she said. “Sometimes we’re in deep denial and it’s not that we’re begging people to believe us, but actually people are pleading for us to believe them about what’s happened to us”.
— Michaela Coel (@MichaelaCoel) June 23, 2019
Paapa Essiedu – Kwame
Paapa Essiedu plays Arabella’s best friend, Kwame, who also experiences a sexual assault. If you recognise him, it may be because he’s been in Gangs of London and Murder on the Orient Express, as well as performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear and Hamlet. Like Michaela, Paapa also studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Among many things, the series has been praised for its depiction of sexual assault between two men – Paapa’s character and a man he meets on Grindr. Paapa spoke to Esquire about his sense of responsibility in showing a sexual assault he’d never seen on TV. “I thought it was something I’d never seen on television before. It felt like the crystallization of an experience a lot of people have had, so I felt a sense of responsibility, but also a sense of privilege, to be able to delve into that and do it justice”.
He added: “I did some research and spoke to people I know who’ve had comparable experiences. I spoke to Michaela and to the other actors in the scene. We were working with an intimacy coordinator to choreograph the physicality of the scene. We processed and rehearsed that four or five months before we ever actually shot it, which allowed us to be more relaxed and focused on the acting when we were shooting the scene because we felt safe, comfortable, and confident in what we were doing”.
Weruche Opia – Terry
Weruche plays Terry, Arabella’s best friend and housemate. Alongside Kwame, Terry supports Arabella through reporting her sexual assault. Weruche studied Drama and Sociology at the University of the West of England and then went on to feature in Bad Education and, like Michaela, Top Boy.
Weruche told W Magazine that the second time her and Michaela met, at the I May Destroy You audition, the chemistry between them was instant: “I remember her staring at me, and I was like, ‘Okay…’, then we did the scene and there was this electricity. It was this chemistry. I remember leaving and I was like, what the hell was that? It felt like an amazing date that I’d just been on”.
She also explained the importance she felt this show holds in sharing black people’s experiences: “I’m glad this show is coming on in the States, so that people can see Black people all over the world experience a lot of the same things. A lot of the themes are fairly global. It just happens to be set in London. But it could be three best friends in the States in the same situation. It’s exciting in that sense where it unifies us.”
Aml Ameen – Simon
Aml Ameen plays Simon who was with her on the night she’s assaulted. When Michaela tries to piece together her assault, Simon lies to her and pretends he walked her home. When they learn the truth, Michaela, Terry and Kwama cut him off.
Like many of the cast, Aml has been in loads of incredible things before this, including Kidulthood, The Maze Runner, Yardie and Sense 8.
Stephen Wight – Ben
Stephen Wight plays the third housemate in Arabella and Terry’s London flat. He smokes a lot of weed with Arabella and shows up at random points, like when she’s on the loo or about to take a guy into her bedroom. Apparently, the character of Ben is actually based on an old roommate of Michaela’s who used to “support her like an old piece of furniture”.
Stephen Wight can be recognised from roles in Men in Black, Ashes to Ashes, Sherlock, New Tricks, Misfits, Casualty and loads more Brit TV dramas.
Karan Gill – Zain
Zain is the Cambridge grad who comes to help Arabella write her book. The two start seeing each other more, sleep together and he stealths her (removes the condom without telling her). Because she doesn’t know this is rape, when Arabella finds out what happened she continues seeing him and then realises she has been assaulted and publically calls him out.
Karan Gill is the actor behind this character. Before I May Destroy You, Karan Gill performed in Boogie Man, Flesh and Blood and The Prince of Blood.
Marouane Zotti – Biagio
Biagio is Arabella’s painfully attractive semi-boyfriend who she meets in Italy. He initially appears considerate and trusting (despite his drug-dealing) but then turns out to be a massive commitmentphobe and the type of guy who responds with “why didn’t you watch your drink?!” when he learns Arabella got spiked.
Marouane Zotti plays Biagio. He doesn’t have a huge filmography, but you might recognise him from The Red Door or The Space Between. He’s so unknown his age isn’t even on Google and his Insta only has 1.8k followers.
Adam James and Natalie Walter – Julian and Francine
Julian works with Francine as Arabella’s book agents. Julian and Francine are meant to help Arabella get her book published and promoted, whilst juggling her very chaotic and last-minute deadlines. Adam James plays Julian and has been in Johnny English, Doctor Foster, Belgravia and Mother of Tears.
Natalie Walter, who plays Francine, is easily recognised from Horrible Histories, Jonathan Creek, Doctor Who, I want Candy and Remember Me.
— Natalie Walter (@natwalter) January 22, 2018
For more resources and advice on sexual assault and trauma, you can find support here.