Sylvester Williams: On Life After Mick
By Larry Jaffee
Upon reaching Sylvester Williams on the telephone to congratulate him
on his debut feature film, Jingle Blues Jingle Bells, the first
Christmas movie to feature a black British cast, I tell him besides
publishing the Walford Gazette that I am also currently managing a New
York jazz musician, and that Sylvester's character Mick McFarlane
played a mean saxophone on EastEnders for about six years (from
1996-2002 in the U.K. episodes).
"Those were the days," he quips, adding that he's embarrassed that
after all these years he wasn't aware of the Walford Gazette.
I also mention that Mick is still fairly fresh in American fans'
memories since we're at least five years behind the current BBC-1
When asked what he missed most about EastEnders, Williams
half-seriously jokes, "the money."
Williams admits that when he left EastEnders — which was a mutual
decision — things didn't work out for him regarding new acting
opportunities as easily as he had hoped.
That's why he launched two years ago Ebonywood Productions to
concentrate on making his own feature films, the first being Jingle
Blues Jingle Bells, which he wrote, produced and directed.
It was preceded by Simple, a short film he made and starred in 2002
that landed Williams a best actor award from bfm (Black Filmmaker)
magazine. Simple was co-produced with Troy Titus-Adams (EastEnders'
Nina, who also played Mick's one-time girlfriend). The 10-minute short
film is about a writer who gets writer's block. Stuck at his computer
with a deadline to meet, Wesley is accused by Pamela (Titus-Adams) of
being a two-timing cheat. He says he is not — she says he is. But the
answer is really . . . Simple!
Titus-Adams told the Walford Gazette four years ago in an interview
that she was also disappointed how EastEnders didn't better develop
storylines for minority characters, and lamented that her relationship
with Mick could have been better developed.
Although Williams was a first-time feature film director with Jingle
Blues, he has much experience directing fringe theatre productions.
"I've been in the game for 32 years," says Williams, who caught the
acting bug as a child in Anna Scher's troupe.
In fact, he used Scher's theatre/agency as a model for his own drama
school/talent agency called Characters, which he launched in 2001 and
trains young actors in East London.
Jingle Blues Jingle Bells was shot in the East End over 24 days in
September 2007. He raised £40,000 from family and friends for the
production. The film is currently available on DVD through the U.K.,
and is working on U.S. distribution.
Williams chuckles over the irony that he had to trek to America for
the Hollywood to go to the Hollywood Black Film Festival this past
June to find a British DVD distributor, Jetstar, for the U.K. market.
Distribution through cinemas remains a harder nut to crack.
But he expects a future Ebonywood production to go that route. The
company's next film, for which he's finished a first draft of the
script and hopes to put into production in 2009, will be a love
story/comedy about a music producer and target 19-to-32-year-olds,
featuring "sweet soul music."
He bristles over the images of how blacks have been depicted in
British film, especially males virtually always carrying knives and
"I like a big action picture as much as the next guy, but..."
says Williams, who can't fathom how there can be such a dearth of
family-oriented films for blacks in Britain. So in that sense, Jingle
Blues Jingle Bells represents "a milestone," of which he's proud.
He agrees with many of the black actors with whom the Walford
Gazette has interviewed over the years that EastEnders often falls
into tokenism, and that the plots didn't fully explore the
"I always suggested that my character, Mick should own the cafe.
They'd say, 'great idea,' and then it would never go anywhere."
"Why couldn't they tell a variety of stories from different
perspectives? Why do they always have to look for 'a black story.' Why
couldn't the same story apply to Grant, Barry or Mick? My colour could
do the rest."
In the U.S., Williams says he's impressed how blacks now
regularly play judges and doctors, which is not the case in Britain.
"Sammy Davis, Jr. once said on [the U.K. talk show] Parkinson
that in America black actors had 'opportunity without equality, while
in England it's equality without opportunity' That's still a good
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