‘I May Destroy You’ star tells Khadisha Thomas her acting journey, going against narrative grains, owning her blackness, and the issue of consent.
From a Toronto apartment with a specifically requested balcony, Weruche Opia is a beaming presence on Zoom. It is her last day in quarantine before she begins shooting for another acting role, yet we still can’t get over her performance as Terry on the BBC hit series ‘I May Destroy You‘. Now that the initial media heat has died down, Weruche reflects on her career prior to and post working in BAFTA award-winning Michaela Coel’s dramatic masterpiece.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to act, it was something I knew I enjoyed,” Weruche says.
At the tender age of five, Weruche realized she wanted to be an actress. Drama was her favourite subject and Weruche would be cast for so many leading roles that the headmistress had to strictly allow someone else to have a go.
As Weruche shares her earliest acting memory she expresses sheer excitement, synonymous with what she felt as a child.
“I forced my cousins to do a little performance of Humpty Dumpty for my mum. I remember that my mum was very encouraging, she clapped and said ‘that’s amazing, you’ve got a gift, go and get yourself some smarties.”
Growing up, Weruche wanted to be like Angela Bassett, after watching her in ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’.
“I remember I went to a fancy dress party, my brother went as Aladdin and I went as Tina Turner. After watching that film I even thought that Angela Bassett was Tina Turner in real life because I was so convinced by her performance…
“When my brain developed and I realized it wasn’t actually Tina Turner but someone playing her I was like that’s an incredible skill to have and I’d love to do that,” she says.
Not having an idea of how to get into the industry Weruche went to university and after graduating she randomly stumbled upon the Identity School of Acting.
After a considerably quick four months, Weruche got into an agency and landed her first-ever TV spot on ‘The Bill’.
Weruche bursts into laughter as she shares her nervousness when telling her family and church that she would be acting as a prostitute. Little did Weruche know that she would potentially have to do much heavier things in ‘I May Destroy You.’
She also starred in season two of ‘Top Boy‘, which she describes as a miracle because it came when she had faced a dry spell in her acting and was starting to lose hope.
“It’s such an important part of black culture in the UK… I think these are stories that need to be told not to say that these are the only stories that black people have but it was just quite incredible to see people speak the way black people speak, using the slang.”
With more castings under her belt, the Nigerian born actress found that the ‘sassy black girl’ character was prevalent, a stereotype that she no longer wanted to explore.
“I know that the sassy black girl role comes with the angry black woman narrative which I don’t like to perpetuate… I want to play other roles than what we’ve normally been given. It’s the whole expecting me to kiss my teeth… and I’m like yeah we do that but that’s not to say that’s a whole character. And there are black women who don’t talk like that but again it’s a stereotype that has been so played out. There’s more to be said about black women,” Weruche says.
Some may think that acting as Terry in ‘I May Destroy You’ was Weruche’s first time stepping away from that narrative grain, but she attributes her roles in Nollywood films.
“The first film I did in Nigeria my character was a wedding planner, so there wasn’t any of the sass, she was a professional woman doing her job, but that was filmed in Nigeria so it was a different perspective, not what we are pandered in the diaspora.”
Weruche migrated to England when she was 13. At first she thought living in England was an extended vacation, but once she went to school she began to see the cracks in her holiday destination.
“I felt like I had to pretend to be from the Caribbean because being African then wasn’t cool. In Nigeria, I went to multicultural schools and everyone got along but when I moved to the UK I noticed everyone tended to stay in their own communities. That’s when I started to realize that I’m black,” she says.
Weruche had legally changed her name to Reanne because nobody in school could pronounce her real name.
Right up until she acted in ‘Bad Education‘ this was the name she wanted to be identified by.
“I had a conversation with my aunt and she asked me to go to my next audition and say my name is Weruche, and I was like why am I gonna do that but then I prayed about it and I did it. When I decided to be Weruche I became grounded in who I was.”
The passion is voracious as she talks about the importance of names and her experience with people trying to shorten her name or give her a nickname.
“It’s a thing of respect, everyone can say Marinovich so why can’t you say Weruche? I’ll teach you how to say it and you’ll get it wrong a few times but you’re gonna get there. It took me getting to a point of where I was confident in who I was and embracing my heritage. It was the beginning of a new era and that’s when life kicked off for me,” she says.
Life certainly did kick off, Weruche played Terry, the struggling young actor and best friend to Arabella, the main protagonist played by the show’s creator Michaela Coel.
‘I May Destroy You’ is a show that opened topics of racial microaggressions, off the back of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. A show that showed the trauma of sexual assault regardless of sexuality and gender, based on Michaela’s own harrowing experience. A big smile spreads across Weruche’s face as soon as she talks about her relationship with Michaela. She only got a brief character description because the project was still under wraps but reading with Michaela, Weruche felt an instant chemistry which she describes as magical.
“I finally read the script and I was like yep, this is something that I need to be a part of because of the stories, because of the perspective… and for me more than anything that was my angle, to celebrate black women’s stories and reading it, of course, it was something I’ve never seen and I was like yeah this is gonna be history,” Weruche says.
In ‘I May Destroy You’, Terry is ridden with guilt when she realizes that Arabella was sexually assaulted after she told Simon to leave her alone in the club. As Weruche talks about the girl code on nights out, she is adamant that she would never leave her girls anywhere but understands why Michaela featured this.
“After a conversation with Michaela about it, it was kinda like stuff happens and if Terry knew what happened was going to happen she wouldn’t have given that advice. I think Terry shows that humanity and I think the character did try to redeem herself by helping her and she took responsibility for her part in that.”
Terry also engages in a threesome with two men who she believes to be strangers. However after seeing them walk home together she realizes that they were friends. Weruche felt that this perfectly highlighted the grey areas of consent. She found it interesting to play a character who on the one hand was expressing her sexual liberation but on the other hand was manipulated and leaving it up to the audience to make their own interpretation.
Some people felt that the character was still in control, but others thought she was taken advantage of, Weruche believes this is a grey area that needs further discussion.
“It was almost a power struggle where Terry felt she was in control of the situation because she made the decision to go off with these two men, but had she known they knew each other would she have had the same confidence.”
Weruche is proud of being part of a show that showed the authentic and relatable experience of sexual assault from a black woman’s perspective seldom seen in the media.
“The whole concept of the strong black woman, that we are these resilient creatures, feel no pain, we can just keep going even with the trauma… It’s nice but it also dehumanizes us and I’m not for it, because black women are always seen as these resilient creatures so there’s never time or empathy or care for black women to allow us to be vulnerable in spaces where other people are vulnerable,” she says.
‘I May Destroy You’ has broken down boundaries and has shown Weruche how to stand up for herself and for what she deserves but to also allow herself to feel all emotions.
“We bleed, we cry. I don’t think we have to be oxen.”
Going forward Weruche is grateful to the platform ‘I May Destroy’ has afforded her, and how far she has come on her acting journey.
Inspired by Michaela, who produced, directed and acted in the show and turned down a million-dollar Netflix deal, Weruche believes that anything she puts her mind to she can achieve.
“I mean what’s the worst that anyone can say to me? No?,” Weruche says.
We think they’d be crazy if they ever did.