Interview with Zak Ford-Williams who plays Owen in Better
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[First Published: 7 February 2023]
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Can you please tell us what Better is about and the role you’re playing?
What makes the scripts so compelling to read, and what was your initial reaction to reading them?
Reading the scripts really gave me a full sense of this world and these people, and there are so many jaw-dropping moments, and “oh my God, how are they going to get out of this?” moments, it was really exciting. I could imagine watching it on the telly and feeling all of that emotion. I also really liked Owen when I read him, he is a proper person with his own story, and his own thoughts and beliefs and ideas and I really liked his journey. I got very attached to him when reading it.
Why do you think Better is different from other gangster crime dramas?
A lot of crime dramas have these goodies and the baddies, heroes and the villains and it's very rare that we see the blurred lines between who is good and who is bad and are forced to question why we think of good and bad in that way and is anyone really good or evil? We've also seen a lot of stories about someone being twisted and slowly turning bad, but what does it mean for someone who doesn't think they're bad, but has done a lot of bad things, and is trying to be different? Those are the questions that Better poses that make it stand apart from other crime dramas.
What do you think are the other main key themes of the show?
Family is a huge theme in Better, the idea of how that sort of bond can bring you back to who you are. It examines that question of who is the person that you are and how is that informed by your circumstances and how you were raised? Are we a product of our environment? Or is it nature versus nurture?
What drew you to the character of Owen and made you want to be a part of this project?
I really felt for him. He goes through a lot of experiences in his life that are similar to some experiences I had when I was younger, and I got quite emotional when reading the scripts. I really understood this person and so I was very excited to explore him and to construct this character that I felt connected to.
Representation is important because as someone growing up who was always fascinated with wanting to be an actor, I struggled a lot, because I never really saw myself on screen, and when that happens, you get these doubts, saying, is this really for me? Am I welcome in this? Conscious or otherwise, the message that you get is I am not welcome in this space. This space is not for me. It's very important for me that these characters and disabled people are shown, because then people can be inspired by that and people like seeing themselves on screen and like having their stories told.
The really important thing with representation is we're always on the lookout for new stories to tell. We don't want to watch the same program fifty different times and one of the main ways to do that is to take loads of different people from different backgrounds, and places, and life experiences, and tell their stories. Use the breadth of human experience.
Where do we find Owen at the start of the series and what journey does he go on?
Owen’s journey is one of self-acceptance. Owen is at a time of his life that a lot of us are familiar with, a time where you're still finding yourself and exploring who you are and how other people view you and you've got all this anxiety. Then something happens, which changes Owen’s physical self quite dramatically and this is at a time in his life where he’s already worried about how he’s perceived and what he looks like and what people think of him. It can be very difficult, and I feel like it's a journey of finding yourself, of self-acceptance and dealing with a new version of yourself.
How do you think his health scare shapes his character? How does it impact him?
Speaking from my own experience, I had quite a similar health scare when I was his age and it changed me quite physically, and when you're that age it can pull you back into yourself, and you can get this desperate feeling of wanting to hide yourself away and because you're not sure who you are and what you're perceived as, there can be a huge disconnect between the way you see yourself and the way you are. You can go, “this isn't me”, but that's the thing, it is you and there's a lot that comes with the perception of disability and I feel Owen is more accepting of that than his parents possibly are.
They have more of a journey, he finds this person and accepts this person more, but the difficulty for them is because he's their son and they love him, they've known him since he was tiny, and they believe they know who he is. I feel it's quite common with parents of children who become disabled, they're like, “this is not the child that I know. This is not my child...”. Which is quite pertinent and not just for disability. When children find out things about themselves that have always been true, but that challenge their parents’ perception, or their friends’ perception of them, there can be quite a backlash towards that and creates great drama.
Can you describe Owen's relationship with his parents?
Lou likes to keep both sides of her life very separate, as sometimes people often do when they have secrets, we like to put things in boxes, and she has very defined boxes and likes to keep her dealings secret. The trouble is, she finds, when the story goes on, that she can't do that any longer. I feel like Owen’s always known something isn't right, but it really challenges his perception of his parents.
Are they different people than he knew? Is his mum the person that he knows, that raised him? Can this person that I love and who has cherished me, can they also do all of these things? It’s a tricky realisation that they are the same person and it’s a very interesting element to play.
How's it been working with Leila and Samuel?
Leila and Samuel are absolutely lovely people and the best compliment I can give them is that finding the family bond was not difficult in the slightest. We've become quite close; I loved working with them and building that familial rapport that we have together. They're great people and actors to explore that with. It's been a joy to work with Leila and Sam.
Do you think Owen has any idea what's going on with Lou and her double life? Do you think he has an inkling early on?
I think children are very aware when something's not right with their parents. They may not always know the reasoning behind it, but they can sense things and I feel like he's always had this sense that something's not quite right. However, I don't think he quite realises that his mother is doing all the morally dubious things that she does and so the realisation of that is quite shocking to him.
Can you describe Owen's relationship with James (Ceallach Spellman) and how that evolves?
However, what's tragic about this is that sense of understanding that Owen feels and gets from James is ultimately not what he thinks it is and this person that he loves isn't who he thinks they are and that's interesting to watch, it was definitely very interesting to play.
Who do you think are the real villains and heroes in this series?
Well, there are characters who we would describe as ‘evil’ or ‘bad’, but even they have their own justifications and reasons for doing what they do. These may be lies that they tell themselves to justify their actions. One of the things I particularly like about this drama is that even the ‘bad’ characters would still describe themselves as the heroes. In their minds, they have reasons for doing what they do, and that makes it really interesting to watch.
Episodes will air weekly on BBC One at 9pm from Monday 13th February, with all episodes also available to stream as a boxset on iPlayer.
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Source BBC One
February 21, 2023 4:00am ET by BBC One