In Conversation with Danielle Walters (Isaie)
We met with actress Danielle Isaie Walters and enjoyed having an extensive discussion with the talented actress about her acting career, her recent project in ‘Little Darlings,’ motherhood, marriage, her role models, advice for aspiring actors, and what excellence means to her.
Photo: John Clark
Danielle Walters is a talented Black British actress famously known for her iconic role as Candice in the hilarious award-winning comedy series ‘Chewing Gum’ written by Black British actress, screenwriter, and director Michaela Coel. Danielle also has an impressive catalogue of roles she has played throughout the course of her career. Danielle is also a wife to Top Boy actor, rapper, and former So Solid crew member Ashley Walters. The power couple have been married for nine years and have eight kids together. In addition, Danielle is an incredible mother, role model, and entrepreneur. Get to know more about this remarkable woman who embodies what it means to be Black, British, authentic, and thriving.
PWR: What made you want to pursue acting as a career?
DW: From [a young age] between 5 and 6 years old, growing up here and half in St. Lucia I was always watching tv, in St. Lucia, they play a lot of sitcoms from America, so I was just drawn in, I loved seeing what they were doing and some of the time, I thought it was real what was happening and obviously my mum and dad explained no it’s not, it’s called acting, his not really hurt… and I was just intrigued by it. So that was what I wanted to do and then I was like yeah when I get older that’s what I want to do. When I was asked what I want to be when I’m older, I just always knew I wanted to be on Tv, I want to be on stage, and I want to act. So yeah, it was just in me from very, very young.
PWR: What are some key lessons you have learnt during your acting career?
DW: I think one of the main ones you have to really have a thick skin for this business, the number of knock-backs you get... I don’t think people understand, it’s like going for a job interview, like a normal 9-5 job, you go for the job interview, you might get a few Nos but then you finally get a job, and you stay in that job for maybe years at a time. With acting, every day, every other week you are getting rejected, No’s, No’s, No’s and then you get one yes and then you will get so many Nos and then yes. It weighs on your security within yourself… Am I good enough? Am I doing something wrong? All these questions and then you just have to say, No, No, No, they are missing out, I’m good and I’m going to keep pursuing this, this is my destiny. So, you just have to not let those things weigh you down.
DW: What I tend to do after I have done a casting or something like that, I will go and give myself a treat to the cinema or I might go and buy a chocolate bar or a new top or just something nice, because you know it’s just such a hard industry and you have got to learn to just perk yourself up and keep going. Another lesson, you have got to just keep going, because even with all these No’s, they will be a yes and you keep working at it and bettering yourself all the time and you will progress and eventually get to where you want to be.
PWR: What has been your proudest moment in your acting career so far?
DW: I would have to say playing Candice in ‘Chewing Gum’, that’s probably been my proudest moment because it was such a long rigorous process, many, many castings, went from the reading to doing the small snippets on Channel 4, of how ‘Chewing Gum’ might look if Channel 4 took it on as a proper programme, which they did eventually. I [also] had to go through this audition for Candice even though I played her in the snippets [of the show] and in the reading, they were still casting for every part, so they kind of opened it up to different actors? so I had to keep on coming back again and again, until eventually I got the job. I really enjoyed filming, it was fun, and I think that I was just really proud of all the hard work [I put it in] and getting the part and the job and then it went all to being such a success. So being involved and being part of ‘Chewing Gum’ is probably my proudest moment in my acting career so far.
PWR: Let’s talk about your recent project ‘Little Darlings’ the Tv series based on Jaqueline Wilson’s book, starring co-stars Jamelia and Lemar. How was it working with Black British R&B /pop icons Jamelia and Lemar on set?
DW: It was really good... Firstly I didn’t meet Lemar on set, because we did not have any scenes together, I didn’t get to meet him until the premier, I’m a bit disappointed because I wanted to work with everyone really, but can’t do sometimes, when you just got certain scenes, but I did get to work with Jamelia and she is amazing, such a beautiful, positive spirit, as a person, as an actress, as a singer. I have admired her for years and getting to meet her and work with her was really good, it was a great experience. We talked, we chatted, we got along, many, many similarities in the way we were brought up, with our kids and where we were in life at this moment in time. I really enjoyed working with Jamelia. ‘Little Darlings’ was again a really fun, uplifting, heartfelt story behind it and it was really fun to work on.
Photo: Titus Powell
PWR: What does excellence mean to you, and would you say this is something you have achieved in both your professional and personal life?
DW: So, excellence, what does that mean to me? Excellence I guess means when you get everything right, when in your head you feel like you got everything right and when you just try your hardest. I think that’s the biggest thing about excellence I guess, everyone has their own perception of what it is, but to me, I just think it’s trying your best, because nothing can be perfect, but putting everything you do into what you do and giving things your time and paying attention to mini details, that’s excellence to me. Just trying, trying your best, that’s all I ever ask from my kids, for myself, for anyone is just trying your best, so that’s excellence.
DW: Have I achieved it, erm… definitely not, I have a long way to go in my professional career, erm... my personal life, I don’t feel I’ve achieved excellence but you know it’s pretty good, my kids are really well behaved, they are doing really good at school, my oldest son, his doing as well as you can do for a 20 year old, his moved out years ago, financially supporting himself and living his dream, in a good relationship and really happy and my youngests are doing the same. My household is generally a happy household and myself. I'm quite happy with where I am in my life and what I’ve achieved in my nearly 40 years on this earth, but it’s definitely not excellent. There are also things that you could do better, always things that you could do to change things and make them better, so it’s good but not excellent. And my professional career, no, no I haven’t achieved excellence, I feel that I’ve done maybe 20% of what I’m capable of and what I want to achieve in life when it comes to my career and I have a long, long, way to go, there is so much more I could do.
DW: Every day I wake up and I’ve got other things to do that don’t involve my career and I think oh my gosh, I need to put more into this, you need to start going back to acting classes, wake up an hour earlier and practice accents, you need to book more sessions with your acting coach. There is so much more, you can do and sometimes I feel there is not enough hours in the day, but what it is, I sometimes have to prioritise other things and I think that is one thing I should work on a lot, prioritising my career more and putting it first and foremost really to gain and to achieve what I want to achieve. It’s hard having a home-work balance as it is with any job, I’m sure but especially [with acting] where you may be away sometimes, [away] from home and not being there for your kids, it’s difficult, but I don’t think I will ever achieve excellence or perfection like that, because life doesn’t work like that, all you can do is keep on striving and every step you take make it better than your last.
PWR: It seems that you are very supportive in encouraging your children to live out their dreams. Would you say your parents and those around you, growing up, helped support your dreams to be an actress?
DW: Yes and no, yes, I’m very supportive in encouraging my children to live out their dreams because I just feel like you got one life and no one should be able to tell you what to do with that life. Obviously when you are a small child, yes, you have to listen to your parents, to know what’s right and what’s wrong and you have to make decisions for small children, but as they get older, they can start making their own decisions and even though you are not necessarily happy with all of them. I’ve learnt through having oldest son, that you have to kind of let go, because they will do what they want to do in the end anyway, as I’m sure we did when we were children, so as long as it’s not like anything bad or they are not hurting anyone or not doing anything illegal, I will always encourage them to do what they want to do and ultimately that’s what makes you happy, living out your dreams and doing what you want to do and each of us are individuals and my children are very much individuals, so they all have their own path and I will encourage each and every of them. We’ve got 8 between us, me and Ashley and each and every of them are encouraged to live out their dream … and put all their heart, effort and time into it, so they can achieve.
DW: With my parents, my dad… I always say my dad was supportive and my mum wasn’t, and it wasn’t that, I think my dad is more of a free spirit, free thinker and [he would say] to do whatever makes you happy. ‘’I don’t care what it is, I want you to be happy. He supported me from day one. “Whatever you want to do Dan, you are going to be brilliant, you are gonna be great, you are the best’’. Every day he drilled into me, ‘’there is nothing you can’t do, you know you're beautiful, you're talented’’. He was really like, I guess my biggest fan and in my corner. Whereas my mum, she was but in a different way, she didn’t really support my career, as in she didn’t want me to be an actress, because she knew about all the heartache it will cause or the No’s, the financial insecurities, sometimes you might not work for months and not make any money and I guess she just wanted me to be secure in my life, like maybe her and my dad were not necessarily, they had good jobs, my mum was a teacher and my dad was a bricklayer, so they were okay, we were okay, we weren’t rich, we wasn’t middle class but we were working class and I think she wanted more for me and she didn’t thinking acting was the way to go, she thought it was too risky. So when I was younger she kind of encouraged it, she would take me to drama school, I remember it was this ‘Mojo Theatre’ all the way in Kent, we lived in London, it was like a 2 hour drive; every Sunday she would bring me and I will spend the whole day practicing for this show at the ‘Lewisham Theatre’ and we would do those things, so that was sacrifice, that was time, but I was a child, so you know she wanted to do that for me as a extracurricular activity but, when I came to adulthood and I said this is what I’m doing [as a career], she started to discourage me and said no, get a trade, go to uni or do this or do that but it was all born out of love, because she wasn’t sure where this acting career will take me. Whereas my dad was like believe in your heart, believe in yourself and you do whatever you want to do. That was the support I had growing up and both my brothers, I’ve got two brothers, both younger than me, one is three years younger than me and the other twelve years younger than me and they have always been very supportive of my acting career.
PWR: With increasingly more black British actors and actresses moving to America to further pursue their acting career, do you think the acting scene in the UK is still relevant?
DW: It’s still very relevant because people are making new things all the time, you’ve got new production companies popping up all the time, new black-owned production companies as well and they are making content that is for black people in the UK and things that are funny to us that make us laugh, for our humour, not just the wider UK humour. So the UK is very relevant, you can go to America and feel like a very small fish in a big pound, because there is so many people trying to do out there and I guess just like here, but I don’t see any need to go to America unless kind of America is calling you, so you know you go for a casting for something in America and you get the job and obviously you film it but to move there, I don’t know I don’t feel any need to do that right now, I think there is enough things to do in the UK for us all to be a part of, but I do understand we are still working towards it, obviously there is not as many black roles and especially black roles for females in the UK as there should be, I understand that and I definitely see it, but at the same time we are moving towards that and I guess everyone has to do what’s right for them. For me moving to America right now is just not in the picture, unless obviously I get a job over there, I will move but right now I’m just concentrating on myself and me being based in the UK. I did go to America actually, for 3 months back in I think was 2009 and it was just very difficult, I got an agent out there, going for castings and there was like 20-30 people in the waiting room, waiting to cast for this one job and yeah it was a different world but there are opportunities out there, definitely, there is loads of opportunities because they are making so much more content than the UK but there is still a lot of opportunity here. With more writers and more young black writers coming out, there will be more content in the coming years for us black British actors but also you can write your own stuff as well and put that to a production company and write things for yourself, but yeah, the UK is still relevant.
Photo: Titus Powell
PWR: Is there a woman of colour in the acting scene, currently that you are rooting for and who you think deserves their flowers?
DW: There’s a few wonderful black actresses out there in the UK at the moment, I would say the first one, would probably be Lashana Lynch, so she has worked really hard over the last three years and I’m sure well before that as well, to get herself into the position that she is in, she just won a ‘BAFTA’ for ‘Rising Star 2022’ which is amazing for her and well deserved, and yeah she has just gone from strength to strength and keeps doing really amazing things. Another person is Susan Wokoma, Susie, she obviously worked on ‘Chewing Gum’ with me, so I’ve loved her from then, but since then she just doesn’t stop working, like she wouldn’t stop working, it’s job, after, job, she is just really funny and she’s having a great career and I respect her a lot, for her work ethic and all the grind that she puts into her career. Wumi is one as well, Wumi Mosaku, Wumi is just like… she’s amazing, so I’ve been kind of watching her back in 2013, Ashley (Walters), did a show called ‘Truckers’ just before we got married and she was playing his wife in it, and yeah she was just really good and he was saying she was really good from back then, I watched ‘Truckers’ her performances were so real and naturalistic and I really appreciated that and more recently she did that film ‘His House’ and we really enjoyed watching her in that and she is just an amazing actress, and yeah all 3 of these women deserve their flowers and I’m proud of them all.
PWR: How was it being a young mum whilst also pursuing your acting career as a black woman in the industry at the time?
DW: That was difficult, that was really difficult because as I’m sure you know there ain’t that many parts and especially back then when my son was young, he was born in 2001, a good 20 years ago and I was on my grind with casting, doing bits and bob’s here, doing filming for this and that. It was difficult, it was difficult, it wasn’t just you know go for a casting see if you get the job and that’s it, I had so much things to do, in order to facilitate my career it was unbelievable, I had to make sure that each and every casting, I had to make sure to have someone to look after my son, I had to make sure I had money to get to my castings and some of these castings you get called back twice, three, four times and you don’t get paid any money for it, you are having to pay to get to the casting and back each and every time and also find someone to look after your child at the same time or pay a babysitter and it was just difficult, balancing everything and I also had like two jobs to be able to kind of live and support us. That was not an easy period at the time, and I had to find time to practice lines, when I was filming, get childcare and still be there and present for my son as well as doing everything with my career, so it was a difficult time but again, as I said you get through it. If you have got a heart and if you have got passion for something, continue on your journey and continue doing what you need to do in order to fulfill your dreams and that’s what I did and now that boy is a 20-year-old man, 21 this year. He's doing really, really well.
PWR: With both you and your husband Ashley Walters being in the acting scene, would you say it is important to have a supportive partner when pursuing your dreams?
DW: Yes! Of course, that’s like 100%, there is no compromising there, you have to have a supportive partner, when you are in this industry. You kind of simply won’t survive or the relationship won’t survive, you know one or the other, you are not going to get very far or the relationship won’t survive, if [your partner] is not supporting you in what you are doing and I think that goes for any career but especially this one, you kinda have to support and kind of stand and give them the freedom to do what they need to do. So, for example, you know, Ashley sometimes goes away from months at a time, and I hold down the household, with the kids and taking them where they need to be, basically being a full-on mum to them and doing everything else, sorting out our renting properties and whatever and his away working. Sometimes people may feel resentment in that in a relationship, but I don’t because I know my husband has gone away to work and to better our future and our life and his own and so he should, his talented and he's got the opportunity to go out there and live a dream that many people will die for and so of course you go and you do what you need to do and then when it’s my time, which it has been before and he supports me the same way, ‘’go babe, do what you need to do’’ and not just supporting in that way but we also help each other do tapes, we critique each other, we go through the scenes together and kind of talk about it, talk about characters and how they are feeling and we just try and help each other as , much as we can, because if we are not each other’s best friend then who is, if we are not supporting each other then who is gonna support you.
DW: It’s imperative that you have a partner that supports you and that is on your side or else if you have someone that is always pushing you down, depressing you or not helping you or making your life harder, then what is the point of that person being around? Because life is hard as it is. So, you definitely need a supportive person in your life or you are not going to get very far in whatever career you are going to have.
Photo: Titus Powell
PWR: What are the top three core values that you and Ashley hold in your marriage that has made you two stand the test of time over the years?
DW: Ah, that’s a good question, okay top three core values, I would say the first one not necessarily the most important because all of the points I’m going to make are as important as each other but ‘Laughter’ , just laughter and fun, making each other laugh, as much as you can is like the top of our list, because we have fun, we have a lot, a lot of fun and I think that is kind of what you need in a relationship, as well as everything else, you need to have a best friend, someone you really actually enjoy being around with, not just oh, you have to be around them because they’re your husband or wife or partner but really enjoy being around them. Yeah making each other laugh, we always laugh... You know some of the jokes that come from our house I tell you. We always make each other laugh, we always make fun of each other, always cracking a joke, so yeah that is really important to us.
DW: Second one, keeping the love alive, keeping the romance alive because after like years and years of marriage and relationships, sometimes people just get bog down with day to day, going to work, coming home, dealing with the kids, dealing with this and that and it’s more like a job of keeping the ship afloat and I think we make sure that’s a priority for us. So, for example if he goes away for a job or I go away for a job where I’m away from home for a certain period of time, we always make it a priority to go and visit each other and see each other, whether it’s for a few days or few weeks, depending on how long [we are away], we always make sure we see each other and make time for each other. … Like I said romance, Ashley does a lot of things for me, like surprises, he showers me with all the love and affection in the world and vice versa and I think you can’t really lose that in a successful marriage or relationship, because i think that is what makes the relationship different to other relationships, that romantic side, so you must keep that going. The Third one … is supporting each other, you know you have to be your partner’s biggest fan, you have to be pushing the person and want their dreams to come true, even more than them sometimes and do everything you can to facilitate and make their life easier. We take each other’s slack, he takes mine, I take his, when he can’t do it, I fill in for him, if I can’t do it, he fills in for me and that’s how it should be. And you know what when they fulfil their dreams they are happier people and they in turn make you happy and you have a happy life and you know there is no greater joy in me seeing Ashley achieve and work hard for something and get what he wants from it, there is no greater joy than that for me and he does the same for me, he helps me so much with my acting and my script and my writing and he just fully supports me.. We just try to make life easier for each other to do what we need to do to flourish. So yeah, I guess those three things, fun and laughter, love and romance and support, communication and understanding.
PWR: Who is your greatest role model?
DW: I know this might sound cliche but I would have to say my mum, she is battling cancer at the moment, kidney cancer and it has taken every single thing out of her, she has had back surgery and radiotherapy, she has had immunotherapy, she is sick, she is fighting for her life and she still tries to never complain, she tries to be positive all the time, she always tries to look at the bright side of everything and still push us, still ask us her children how we are doing, how our day is, what’s going on with us and she is always more considered about everyone else than what she is going through and she fights and she keeps fighting quietly but progressively fighting every single day. And the strength I have seen in that woman is nothing that I have ever seen in this lifetime, so yes, she is definitely my role model, but also watching her grow up, she’s never not worked a day in her life (but when she got cancer she stopped), she’s always worked from 18 to 60 years old, she’s shown us good morals, values and stay married to my dad and been a good wife to him, showed us how a marriage is supposed to look like, she’s always been like the heart of our family, the breathe of our family, keeping us all together, giving us all good advice and always just being there for us no matter what, so yeah, she’s my role model.
PWR: What is one thing you would tell your younger self?
DW: Buy shares in Facebook when it comes out or actually buy Facebook, I’m joking, erm... What would I tell my younger self, probably stop being so anxious and so quick moving, like wanting to do things all the time, wanting everything Now! Now! and realising things take time, anything worth keeping takes time, anything worth having takes time and takes your time and effort to things slowly and surely and all your dreams will come true it will all come to fruition if you just take your time. I think I would tell her to slow down. I know life is not long life is short but, I think my younger self just moved way to fast and I’m guessing [in the years in my life] I’ve learnt to calm down a little bit, my husband says I’m like a whirlwind, when my father-in-law first met me, he said I’m like the Tasmanian Devil, so erm... So yeah, I think I would just tell her to take every day as it comes, plan Yes! But don’t be so anxious about everything, things will happen the way they are supposed to happen and just keep working hard and you will be fine. Stop worrying about everything, stop trying to do 10 years’ worth of work in a year, so yeah, that’s what I would tell my younger self.
Photo: John Clark
PWR: What is a typical day in the life of Danielle Walters?
DW: I get up, get the kids up, make breakfast for everyone and get them ready for school, wash them, dress them and do their hair, make up all the lunches and fruits, cut up all the fruits and everything and then drive them to school. After I’ve done that, come home, spend a bit of time with myself, thinking about what I’m doing today, what’s good for me, what is best to prioritise and then I just go about my day, doing that. I have like a plan of what I’m going to do for the day, and I tick it off as I get things done. You know I have a zoom meeting about certain projects or a phone call or maybe a casting or start working on a script, learning my lines or I might have a session with my acting coach for an hour and then once I’ve done all of that, I might do some washing of clothes, fold some clothes, do a little bit of cleaning, make dinner and then pick up the kids from school and do the whole bed time routine of reading with them, doing a bit of homework, giving them a shower before putting them to bed, say their prayers and after that probably watch a movie with hubby and go to my bed and make a plan for the next day and go to bed. Since we have moved up to Kent I tend to go to bed a lot earlier than we use to in London, I guess there isn’t that much of a nightlife events going on around there but we tend to go to be around 9:30pm or 11 O’clock really, we are definitely in bed by 9:30 and fall asleep by 10pm, 10:30pm the latest, whereas in London, it was always after 1pm, but yeah that is a typical day in my life.
PWR: What top 3 advice would you give to young aspiring black women and men who want to pursue acting as a career to live by?
DW: The first thing, always keeping honing your craft and your skills, you always, always got to keep on top of things, you always need to keep on improving yourself, find new ways of improving yourself, your acting every day, every week , every month, every year, whether it’s you know my headshots are 2-3 years old, let me go and book a new set of headshots so I can have update headshots of myself. Acting classes, let me go and enroll myself in someone-to-one acting classes or group acting classes or if you haven’t trained, maybe go to drama school, enrol yourself in a drama school for three years or two years. Keep your mind, body, clear of all negativities, like any negativity is not good for you, your career, your life, so try to keep your mind and body clear of that. Train, go to the gym, eat well, mediate all of that is self-love and self-care, which in turn makes you better and ready to accept and receive the blessings that will surely come to you with hard work. So that’s the first thing prepare, prepare for your opportunities and preparing can mean, honing your craft, reading scripts every week and just read it and perform it to yourself in the mirror or just record it and critique yourself and do it again next week and see if you have got any better, there is so many things that you could do for self-improvement in your acting and make sure that every day you do 10-minutes even if it’s just watching a film, seeing how other actors perform, reading a script, writing something, just honing your skills as much as you can and be prepared for the opportunities that may come your way.
DW: Another one, try and create opportunities for yourself, don’t just wait for it to come to you, try and create your own opportunities, so write something for you to star in or if you can’t write maybe you know a friend that’s a writer or can write a script, doesn’t have to be the best script in the world but write something for yourself and try to act it out and keep doing that [each] month and maybe try to post something on social media if you think it’s good enough, see what feedback you get from that and if you do think it’s good enough, pitch it to a production company, they might want to make it into a short film. You know there are always people willing to give money to up and coming actors that have good ideas for short 20 minute / half an hour movie or even a full-length one if you have a good enough idea. Write your own stuff and create your own opportunities.
DW: And the last one, don’t give up and have self-belief, no matter how hard it gets, just never give up, always believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if your mum, dad, brothers, sisters, husband, wife, partner, whoever it is doesn’t believe in you, as long as you believe in yourself that’s all that matters and half of the kind of victory is just being quite, doing what you need to do, to better yourself and your career and then proof is in the pudding. So, when you come out the other end and you are on top, everyone can just see all that you have achieved, but you can’t give up otherwise you will never get to that day, so don’t give up and always have self-belief.
Interviewed by: Fadeke Banjo