BBC One Small Axe: Lovers Rock star Amarah-Jae St Aubyn

Small Axe star Amarah-Jae St Aubyn: “Filming Lovers Rock felt like coming back to myself”

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As the buzzed-about BBC One anthology Small Axe continues with second film Lovers Rock this weekend, its star Amarah-Jae St Aubyn talks to Stylist about Steve McQueen, British-Caribbean culture and musical escapism.     

In a handful of years, Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, breakout star of Steve McQueen’s new BBC One anthology Small Axe, has gone from the Brit school to one of the West End’s biggest ever productions – and now she’s lighting up the primetime spot on BBC One.

The actor stars alongside Top Boy’s Micheal Ward in Lovers Rock, the joyful second instalment of Small Axe that centres on a west London house party in 1980. A far cry from her work on Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, in the hour-long film St Aubyn plays the defiant, dreamy Martha, who sneaks out of bed for a night of romance that ends just in time for Sunday Mass. 

As the child of a Jamaican and Cuban mother and a Guyanese father, St Aubyn’s connection to both her character and the British-Caribbean culture celebrated in Lovers Rock runs deep. Here, she talks to Stylist about working with the revered 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen and the importance of telling Black British stories now.

What was it like working on Lovers Rock?

We filmed it all in this beautiful big house, and when I went in and all the supporting artists were in their costumes, dancing in a smoky room, the energy was just there. Straight away it was like the outside world didn’t matter. And I think that’s what really touched my heart: that’s how it must’ve been back then. When you’re in those parties surrounded by good energy you forget about what’s outside. It doesn’t matter. This is us. This is our time. 

Did filming make you miss house parties in a year when they’ve been off the cards?

Oh, 100%. That is all everyone on set kept saying. But you know, house parties now are different, people just kind of sit around and talk – I want some house parties like Lovers Rock in my life. Like back in the day, when everyone’s feeling the energy and there’s a proper DJ with decks in your living room. Incredible.

BBC One's Small Axe: Lovers Rock stars Amarah-Jae St Aubyn and Micheal Ward
Amarah-Jae St Aubyn stars alongside Micheal Ward in Lovers Rock.

Did you feel a personal connection with the story?

Very much so, it felt like coming back to myself and my family. When I was filming, I sent my mum a picture of myself with my wig and outfit on and she was like, ‘You look like me! Wow!’ I think it really took her back. She used to tell me stories of these parties she went to, about how couples would be “peeling off the wallpaper” because they’d be so packed in and rubbing up against the walls. So when I took her to see Lovers Rock at London Film Festival and she saw the scene where Martha and Franklyn are dancing in the corner, and it’s really slow and intimate, she just looked at me and said, “That’s peeling off the wallpaper.”

Also, funnily enough, when us actors were in a table read rehearsal there was a big moodboard in front of us, and there was a picture of my dad just chilling by a sound system on it. He used to be a reggae artist, but they had no idea he was my dad – so it’s a story that’s close to him, too.

What was it like working with Steve McQueen?

Just incredible. I mean, he’s a genius. We only filmed for two weeks, and I learned so much from him. What I love about Steve is that he’s so open to ideas and trusting of his actors, as long as the foundation of his vision stays strong. Coming from something like Harry Potter in the West End, everything’s very precise – if you’re not on the right mark on the fifth count of the fifth bar, everything’s going to go to crap. Whereas with Steve, he’s just like, “OK, you know the script, let’s see what happens.” And that’s when we get those beautiful moments.

What else has inspired you lately?

The Untethered Soul by Michael A Singer, a book about how we approach self-love. I’m obsessed with This Is Us too, I’d love to be in a show like that, it’s just so warm and the stories are so important. I’m also just trying to find moments where I can laugh till my belly hurts – when I was a teenager at the Brit school, the way me and my friends used to laugh uncontrollably, that felt good. I’m trying to get that feeling back whenever I can.

Lovers Rock is available on iPlayer now. Small Axe continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One.

Images: Joseph Sinclair, BBC

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.

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