After a week-long takeover of our VERO account, we catch up with the versatile actor.
With stints on soaps like Eastenders, Emmerdale and Holby City, Nina Toussaint-White was a veteran of Britain’s small screen even before landing a lead role in 2018’s must-watch drama Bodyguard. Her latest project saw her star alongside Russell Tovey in the four-part psychological thriller The Sister, one of the most nail-biting programmes to grace UK television in years.
With The Sister expected to reach an even wider audience as it screens on Hulu later this month, we caught up with Nina to talk about her journey so far as an actor, how Black Panther changed her life, and what needs to change about her industry to ensure equal opportunities for all.
When did you first catch the acting bug?
Ever since I can remember I’ve loved to perform, dressing up and putting on mini shows for the family. I went to a few drama clubs from the ages of about 8 to 11, but once early puberty hit, my interest for most things disappeared. There were a few teenage years where I was I felt a bit lost and angry. I started to hang around with the wrong crowd and I lacked any drive or ambition to do or seek anything that wasn’t directly in front of me.
For A-levels, I took up the only lessons I believed I had the slightest chance of gaining any good results in: Art and Drama. It was here, I guess, you could say that I found the acting bug and have never looked back. I don’t want to sound dramatic but I think acting saved me. It gave me a new focus and direction and a new sense of purpose.
After college, you attended the Italia Conti Academy. How was your drama school experience?
Drama school was a funny one. Parts of it I loved, others not so much. The training itself was a mixed bag. I graduated in 2007 and, although I know the course curriculum has changed dramatically over the years, there were definitely some questionable lessons when I was there.
What were some of those questionable lessons you learnt?
We had a great voice and movement department but there was no preparation for screen work and audition technique or preparation. I don’t think drama school prepared us well enough for the realities of the acting industry and the ‘real’ world outside of its bubble, but looking back now I’m glad I went there when I did. But, overall, it was a fun experience. I gained a huge amount of confidence, signed with my first agent in the final year and met some of my best friends.
Tell us a film that changed your life?
That’s a good question… I think I would have to say, Black Panther. Honestly, my cinema night viewing would not normally have been a superhero movie and, as much as I’d love to star in one myself (a little side note to any casting director reading this), the whole superhero genre isn’t really for me. But, after watching Black Panther, and seeing strong Black women playing the lead roles, it really impacted me.
When I walked out of the cinema after Black Panther, I just felt empowered. I felt I could take on any role and had a completely different view of what I could achieve, and the roles that were “right” for me had completely changed. It wasn’t long after that that I landed probably my biggest role to date as Kate Hatfield, in Amazon Prime’s The Feed.
Touching on what you mentioned with Black Panther, how has your approach to roles changed in recent years?
In the past with auditions, if there were no reference to race, I lacked confidence in believing I could get the role. Reading for Kate, Hayley or Sophie in a casting breakdown, my mind would automatically see a tall, thin, white girl, with long flowing brown or blond hair. It was the same when I read books. I just didn’t “see “ myself in these roles.
Growing up, there weren’t many shows out there where the female, romantic lead had brown or black skin, curves and afro hair. The best friend, sure. The only Black person in the entire school, all the time. But I don’t think there was ever a time when I truly felt represented on screen or in magazines, or books. And the sad truth is, I never really questioned it. The things that I saw, the things that were in front of me my entire life, those were my “norms”.
Tell us your biggest “pinch me” of your career so far?
I know it’s a cliché, but I think I get the “pinch me” moment every time I’m offered a job. The arts and the acting world are so unpredictable, even more so now with the current situation. I haven’t worked in over a year, and last week found out that I’d landed a new gig. I literally cried actual tears down the phone to my agent, overwhelmed with pure elation and relief. For me, and I’m sure so many others, no matter how much you work, you always have that fear that this job might be your last.
Have you got any thoughts on the “reskill, rethink, reboot” debacle from last year?
At first, I was completely outraged at the audacity and sheer lack of respect for everyone within the arts. An ad campaign birthed to crush even more hopes and dreams. I mean, what even is “cyber”?!
From Fatima the dancer in the picture, to the makeup artist, costume and lighting designer or graphic designer, every hand in putting that piece together is the hand of an artist. Creatives and the arts are what make this world go round. It’s where we find our entertainment, culture, knowledge and escapism. Where would we be if people stopped believing in themselves, gave up on their dreams and retrained in cyber? I dread to even think…
What young actors are you most excited about right now?
I recently watched Rocks and fell in love with Kosar Ali. Such a funny and naturally laid back performance! She had me in stitches and I think she’s one to watch.
I loved Rocks, too — especially the fact that London was such a central part of the film! What’s your favourite place in the city?
Without wanting to sound like a hermit, it would have to be my flat in London. It’s my safe place. With the never-ending lockdown, it’s where I spend most of my time, where I feel comfortable and relaxed. It was my childhood home and, after moving about a bit, it’s where I’ve settled again with my husband, sleeping in the same room as I did when I was 2 years old.
Tell us one thing you’d like to see change in your industry?
One thing?! There are loads! More opportunities and representation of people of colour, not in a tokenistic way, but by doing the leg work and creating more equal opportunities on and off the stage, in front of and behind the camera. Equal pay for women of course. And a hard rule for all casting directors: to come back with responses, whether it be a “yes” or a “no”. I think all actors deserve some sort of answer after the effort that goes into preparing for auditions. The list goes on…
What are your long-term hopes for your career?
I’ve never been one to have a 5-year plan, even a 1-year plan for that matter. I guess that comes with the territory of never knowing when your next job might be and having to be flexible with future planning. My hope is that my acting work continues, that I grow as an actress, that I am fortunate enough to work in a variety of genres and roles, that the work doesn’t dry up and that I can continue to do what I love while supporting my family.
Any projects coming up that you’d like to shout out?
The Sister, ITV’s 4 part spooky, phycological thriller is finally being released to the American audience on Hulu on January 22.
The Sister premieres in the US on Friday, January 22, exclusively on Hulu. The full series can be viewed on ITV Hub in the UK.
VERO is an authentic social network — no ads, no algorithms, just great content. Go to vero.co to sign up and follow @hungermagazine for more exclusive content and to catch Nina’s takeover, which runs until 15 January.
15 January 2021