Fola Evans-Akingbola, star of Ten Percent, on getting starstruck on set, self-doubt and her spy ambitions. Ten Percent is available to watch on Prime Video now.
Found In Translation
Fashion Director: Nicole Smallwood; Photographer: Rachell Smith
It’s a grey, chilly Friday afternoon in south- east London, but the small café Fola Evans-Akingbola has chosen for our rendezvous is bustling with life, its closely packed tables lined with locals catching up over cappuccinos and slices of cake before the weekend begins. It’s a frequent haunt for the actor, who grew up in nearby Honor Oak Park and recently bought a home just around the corner.
Fola enters, swathed from the cold in a calf-length duvet coat and black hoodie, and orders mint tea. She’s wearing her glossy hair loose (having had it braided and extended for the cover shoot), and her skin has the kind of make-up-free glow that can only be put down to great genes (and – maybe – lots of herbal tea). Warm and friendly to a fault, we instantly bond over local foodie spots and cute homeware shops. It’s like chatting with an old, yet impossibly beautiful, friend.
But to business: we’re here to talk about her role in Ten Percent, the British remake of the French show Call My Agent! that took the world by storm over the pandemic. It’s been a global hit: Call My Agent!, or Dix Pour Cent as it’s called in France, won Best Comedy at the International Emmys and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Series at the Critics’ Choice Awards in 2021. It’s proved so popular that Bollywood and South Korean adaptations are also in the works.
Like Call My Agent!, Ten Percent is set in a talent agency – transplanted from Paris’s Rue Saint-Honoré to London’s Soho – and follows its team as they scramble to keep their A-list clients happy and the business afloat after the sudden death of their founder, all while navigating personal and relationship issues.
The British series was adapted for Prime Video by writer and director John Morton, who previously created beloved BBC comedies such as W1A and Twenty Twelve. In it, Fola plays Zoe, the agency’s receptionist and an aspiring actor, who has a pivotal role in the storyline.
Fola was in Vancouver, where she was filming the series Siren, when the email dropped into her inbox inviting her to audition. ‘I was over the moon when I got the part,’ says Fola. ‘It was so nice to be a part of something of which I was already a fan and already laughing at the script.’
Is she worried about negative comparisons critics might make between the original and the remake? ‘Comparisons are inevitable,’ she says matter of factly. ‘We’re not trying to take anything away from what they did. We’re just putting our own British spin on it.
‘John really infused that fundamental, middle-class Britishness into the characters and the writing,’ continues Fola. ‘The French and British are very different, and he captured our thing of being ultra-polite, awkward, not saying what we mean, not meaning what we say, and therefore getting into sticky situations. The energy is very different, even though the characters are the same.’
A large part of the charm of Call My Agent! is that the A-list celebrities looked after by the fictional agents play themselves. This means that Fola gets to star on screen alongside names like Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, David Harewood and Clémence Poesy. Did she ever get nervous, acting alongside such big stars? ‘I had a scene with David Oyelowo, and I didn’t have to act much as Zoe is starstruck and I was also totally starstruck. I could be my awkward self.’
And the similarities between her and her character didn’t end there. ‘I definitely related to her,’ says Fola. ‘That combination of having to be ambitious as an actor but also having crippling self-doubt. Of always thinking: “Was that shit? Am I rubbish? What am I doing?”
‘You have to be a little bit delusional to think you can make it [as an actor], but you also have to stay grounded, and know that it’s a really hard profession to make a living in – most people don’t. You have to occupy those two spaces at all times, which I think is really difficult.’
Despite having family in the business (her uncle is actor Jimmy Akingbola), Fola never thought she’d end up acting. It wasn’t until her early 20s, having turned down a place at university to study philosophy, that she finally caught the bug.
‘I was in a bit of a shit relationship, and I think my mum was trying to get me away from him,’ Fola laughs. ‘She said, “Find a hobby.” I found an acting class, and I loved it, and I did another one, and I loved that too.’ She auditioned for the National Youth Theatre (it takes people aged 14 to 25) and got in. The spark was lit.
Fola signed up to Identity School of Acting, the drama school set up by Femi Oguns in 2003 with the aim of getting a new, more diverse generation of talent onto our screens. Its impressive roll call of alumni includes Letitia Wright, John Boyega and previous C&TH cover star Jessica Plummer. Femi is now Fola’s agent, and she credits him with instilling her with the confidence to go for it.
‘He’s so passionate, he could literally convince a duck to act,’ she enthuses. ‘You spend five minutes with him and you’re like, “I can do it! I believe in myself!”’
Her dream role is ‘anything spy-related’. Inspired by books like Alex Rider, she wrote to MI5 when she was seven, asking for a job. ‘I was like, “you guys are missing a trick, no one would suspect a child. Hire me,”’ Fola laughs. ‘My way of living out that dream is any kind of Lara Croft-type film.’ She studied karate as a child and now does wing chun, a form of kung fu.
Her next project, which she’s about to return to Vancouver to film, sort of makes that dream come true. The Night Agent is a new Netflix political conspiracy thriller series based on the New York Times bestseller by Matthew Quirk, in which Fola plays a secret agent. ‘It’s going to be a very different energy to Zoe, as this character is not bubbly at all, she’s very serious,’ explains Fola.
We finish our drinks and Fola disappears into the gloaming, wrapped up in her duvet coat against the cold February air. For a minute I lose her in the late-afternoon crowds, but then I spot her, all raven hair and glowing skin as she heads towards home. A south-east Londoner ready to make her mark on the acting world.
Shot on location in the Montevetro building in Battersea, London. montevetro.org.uk. Ten Percent arrives on Prime Video this spring