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24 September 2014
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Hotel Babylon: Ben (Michael Obiora)

Hotel Babylon

Michael Obiora plays Ben Trueman,

Since filming series two and three of Hotel Babylon Michael Obiora has been busy writing a film script, moving house and decorating two places at once.


"It's always good to get back to work though I have exhausted myself on the decorating front," he says. "I've done the majority of it myself and whilst I obviously have builders it's still quite a full-time project – I'm quite exhausted by the whole thing and I want to concentrate on acting and writing now that the house is all done."


"I want as varied and balanced a career as possible. I am writing a lot now and I find it much easier to write when I'm busy. Writing is such a discipline that you need to set yourself deadlines and it's very difficult to impose deadlines on yourself. So if I'm on set and I know I've got half an hour, 45 minutes before my next scene I will just go and write. I'm on draft two now of my script and I've had some really good and helpful feedback and I'm at the stage of sending it out so fingers-crossed."


Michael Obiora's girlfriend noticed some distinct changes to his character during the filming of Hotel Babylon.


"Playing the gay character of Ben really brought out my feminine side and my girlfriend really liked it," he declares. "She said I smiled a lot more and in particular gesticulated and used my hands more when I spoke as well as being more considerate to her, so she really liked my camp side," he laughs. "She also thinks I take more time over my appearance now which I wasn't aware of, which is really interesting.


"The whole show is heightened in every sense and I must admit I was tempted to really 'Will And Grace' it but I had to pull back from totally camping it up.


"I remember when I first read the character of Ben I had my concerns. It was only an issue for me at the beginning because I'd never played a gay character before, so I was obviously excited, but anxious," he laughs.


"And furthermore it is great to be a black actor playing a character who doesn't have a gun in his back-pocket. Of course television has to reflect reality, but we do need to put alternative images up there, as these images are real too. There are young, black, gay and straight men living and working in this city that aren't involved in gang warfare or gun and drugs cultures and I think as a viewer I would like to see an alternative image to the stereotype," he says.


Ben gets on with most of his colleagues, but his ultimate partner in crime is Anna, who constantly irks him with her one-liners and obsession with finding a rich husband.


"He is a great character to play and has a lot of fun on reception particularly with Anna. He really respects Anna's bitchy side and as a gay man he can totally appreciate where she is coming from, her sense of glamour and her ambitions to be rich and adored."


Series three sees Ben get into all sorts of difficulties and interesting situations including dressing up in gold-coloured body paint as a Cupid, hanging outside a hotel balcony and being accused of stealing from his colleagues to name a few.


"A guest hires Ben as a sort of Cupid statue to hold the engagement ring as he proposes to his girlfriend. I was covered head to toe in gold body paint wearing the tiniest costume and believe me I found gold everywhere for days afterwards," he laughs.


"Another interesting storyline is when Ben, Gino and Tony are trying to find out if there is some sort of pornography being filmed in the hotel. Ben, as usual, draws the short straw and has to be lowered by a wire, Mission Impossible style, to spy on this couple through their balcony window, which really hurt," he explains. "Ben also gets accused of stealing tips from his colleagues but the good Ben won't grass up the true thief – he really is a misguided fool at times!"


Michael's love of acting began early when he landed a role in the much-loved children's drama Grange Hill. "I have been acting now for 12 years, since I was seven, and working professionally from the age of nine when I got a part in Grange Hill as Max Abasi who played the tuba in the school band and he was a real geek and I ended up there for five years."


However it is his role as Ben in Hotel Babylon that Michael is now recognised for not just here but around the world.


"I was lying on the beach in Mexico last year with my girlfriend when I realised that people were staring at turns out that Hotel Babylon is huge there and they recognised me from the show. I was asked for my autograph and pictures which was bizarre. I have also had fan mail from Australia and it would appear it is loved over there nearly as much as it is here which is fantastic," he adds.


Though interestingly very little of his fan mail is from gay men. "You would think playing such an overtly gay character that I would get letters from gay men but that's not really the case. Strangely I have had a number of men asking for signed photos saying that their girlfriends love me!" he muses.


But it was watching Michael Jackson's Bad world tour that really cemented his love for performance.


"I was three years old and I remember asking my mum why Michael Jackson had to jump over a fence to get away from all the people chasing him – they were fans – and mum said, he does something that everyone likes...which stuck in my head," he explains.


"I remember going to Nigeria where my family come from and I jumped at the chance to perform on stage. Afterwards the villagers pressed money upon my skin which stuck to me and my mum immediately sent me to drama school when I got back to the UK."







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