Former Hustle and Outcasts star Ashley Walters heads the cast of Channel 4’s powerful new London-set gangland drama Top Boy, screening over four consecutive nights from today (Monday). We caught up with the actor to find out more…

How would you describe Top Boy?
“Essentially it is about the youth of today and what road they think they should take in life, and it looks at the corruption and devastation that drugs can bring to a community.”

What was the appeal for you?
“I have stood well clear of doing dramas like this for a long time now, but this one I had to do because it inspired me and made me see things in a different way. I believed in it so much and the script blew me away because it is not often you get a story like this that is so accurate. I was scared I wouldn’t get the part. I have done so many of this sort of role and I know the director wanted to use new faces, so for him to take me on was a tough decision, so I did have to work for it.”

How would you describe your character, Dushane?
“He is a smart drug dealer. He starts off very low in the food chain on a street level and aspires to be at the top of it. He doesn’t want to be a gangster, though, and he doesn’t want the community to fear him – he wants them to love him. Sully, his friend, has different ideas and is more headstrong so he makes the wrong decisions.”

Is Dushane quite protective of the estate he lives on?
“Definitely. There is a young boy, Ra’Nell, and Dushane sees himself in him and wants to take him under his wing. It seems on the surface that Dushane wants to make him follow in his footsteps, but Ra’Nell also shows Dushane something about the life he leads. He understands the negatives that drugs are bringing to the community and that what he does isn’t right.”

Could you identify with the drama?
“Yes. The life Dushane is living is something I see on a daily basis. I don’t live in Hollywood; I live in Catford so it is pretty much around me. Top Boy really shows how what you are faced with as a community influences the decisions you make. When I grew up it was a rite of passage to go to prison; it was something that you had to do for status and to fit in. Kids probably look at me now because I am successful, but I want them to know how hard it was to get here and that when I thought people would never work with me again after I went to prison. I didn’t get angry about it, I persevered.”

Will it be controversial?
“There are going to be debates about it and even during filming we felt, ‘Wow, are we actually going to be able to put this on TV?’ The reality is there in your face and there is a young cast of first-time actors as young as 11 who are involved in some of the scenes and I’ve got an 11-year-old son so it was hard for me to film.”

What’s next for you?
“I have shot a BBC1 drama Inside Men and I have just come back from Malta where I did an episode of Sinbad for Sky1 where I played a merchant who has an argument with Sinbad. We gamble for our ships and we end up in a weird place. It is a real fantasy and a nice family show. It is nice to get away and do something that my kids can actually watch.”