You may know him as Alex Wheatle from Small Axe, or even recognise him as TJ the artist from that one episode of Atlanta, but one thing is for certain: you’ll be seeing a lot more of him from here on out. Sheyi Cole’s on-screen talent and off-screen charm have already landed him several important roles as a recent graduate of London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His rising popularity was also affirmed by a feature in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, alongside artists like Central Cee and filmmaker Iggy London.
His new role as the bright Jason, in Thea Sharrock’s The Beautiful Game, inspired him to delve into the naïveté and cheerfulness of a young man who is more than his current circumstances - which happen to be homelessness. It’s no surprise that the intense on-screen chemistry with his co-stars permeated their off-screen relationships too, making this uplifting film about resilience an inspiring representation of positive masculine relationships. The Beautiful Game will be released across UK theatres from today, March 29.
Having starred in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series and the romantic-comedy Boxing Day, Sheyi Cole recently made it to Forbes’ 2023 30 Under 30 list. How has your month been so far, Sheyi, and what have some of your highlights been – both personal and professional – a year since the Forbes article was published?
My month has been really great actually! I started the year attempting to do Dry January, but maybe we should call it damp Jan! I wanted to go into this year with a more focused energy. Working on my physical, mental and spiritual health. I rekindled my love for cooking too, making some banging meals, I actually forgot how much I love making good food, there’s almost something very therapeutic about it- it’s super rewarding. A major highlight in my professional life had to be attending Skepta’s private screening of Tribal Mark. Skepta has always been someone who has inspired me musically, but as we have both grown in the industry seeing him cross field into fashion and film has been the most inspiring journey I’ve been able to witness. He is a true multi-hyphenate and I’d love to walk in his footsteps.
Your latest film, The Beautiful Game, centres around a group of men who are experiencing homelessness that have been selected to represent England at the Homeless World Cup, which was founded by Mel Young in 2001. Despite the film tackling issues of homelessness and addiction, football was at the heart of the story. What is your relationship with the sport?
I love football. I started playing around 7 years old for a Sunday league team, and now it’s developed into me going to watch games almost weekly. My team is Chelsea, so if you don’t see me at Stamford Bridge you’ll definitely find my group of friends. Football isn’t just a sport, it’s a community that gives people focus, and saves lives. Watching and playing football is my favourite pastime away from making and featuring in films.
Were you aware that the Homeless World Cup existed before hearing about Thea Sharrock’s film?
Funny you should ask, my housemate actually knew of the charity before the audition came in. So when it came down to putting myself on tape for the role of Jason, our excitement grew very quickly.
I hope that once the film is out, even more people will know all about this incredible charity and inspire them to be a part of it or help out in any way they can. This is why I love what I do, making movies is a great way to spread positivity and educate without feeling you are actually doing work. It’s amazing how much we can learn from watching a two hour film.
In the film, the tournament is hosted by Rome. Had you ever visited Italy before this? Did you get to do any touristy things on your time off?
I can’t actually remember, that’s a question I need to ask my mum! But, I’m sure in my adult life, filming in Rome was the first time I had been to Italy. It was a huge highlight of my summer, the food was incomparable and I couldn’t have asked for better company. When we had time off, we visited the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Pantheon - pretty much most tourist spots. I mean, we even went to watch Roma at their home ground (the Stadio Olimpico). We were there for just over 3 months, so we tried to go everywhere. On my travels I even bumped into José Mourinho, I was starstruck for a good while after that.
As a cast, you all radiated a strong sense of brotherhood and adoration for one another. How long had you been building these connections with the rest of the cast before filming started? Did you feel as connected off-screen as you were on-screen?
I actually knew Micheal Ward years before we started filming. We first met in 2019 and built a strong relationship leading up to this point. We worked together on Small Axe, so building a connection on screen was like spreading butter onto bread. It was light work. With Kit and Callum, we had plenty of mutual friends, so although it was the first time meeting each other on set it felt like we had already known each other for years. Later on I found out Kit only lived 10 mins away from me!  This is the thing about the film industry, it’s a very small world. Everyone knows everyone. With Robin, Tom and Bill we grew increasingly close as the shoot progressed. Robin to date is still one of my very close friends. We speak almost weekly!
Part of the beauty in The Beautiful Game is that it connects people from across the globe who are experiencing similar circumstances. Did you get the chance to get to know any of the cast members from other countries?
Yes we did, we spent so much time with people from all the other countries, they were great. We would play football between takes, eat together and chill together. I got along with everyone, but especially those from Team Portugal and Team South Africa.
Were you encouraged to do any research on homelessness and homeless people during pre-production, for instance, whether it was reading about the issue, other peoples’ stories, or interacting with homeless people themselves?
When it comes to character I like to look at the humanity of a person, not their circumstance. The humanity of someone is so much more interesting and complex. While they are certainly informed by their particular circumstance, their character shouldn’t be solely reduced to it. My character Jason, for example, is a young boy with great ambition and heart, who is also experiencing homelessness. Exploring who Jason is as a person is the key and the rest will follow.
Your character in the film, Jason, is the youngest of the bunch; his innocence and awkwardness are traits that most young men possess in the process of finding themselves. Although Jason is a relatively light-hearted character in the film, he is still a representation of too many young men who have been neglected by a system that wasn’t made for them. How did you find the balance between that realism and staying true to the cheerful personality of the character?
It comes back to Jason as a character. Again these are all circumstances that have occurred in Jason’s life, he wasn’t born like this. He was born with an amazing personality that shines through and that’s what I focused on. Of course there are times where Jason messes up and offends people, but that comes into play due to the lack of guidance he has had in his life. He is just a young man trying to find his way. I have to commend Frank Cottrell Boyce, our writer. When the writing is as good as his, everything we need is bang on the page.
Has this project made you see the homelessness issue in a different light?
Homelessness is still a huge issue that needs fixing, for a country that drives in many different areas, it’s a shame that we still have people experiencing homelessness throughout the streets of London and beyond. The issue is still here and alive more than ever. I just hope this film can give people another way to help those that are in need. Whether that be by donating, or participating in sporting and other events that help spread awareness, there are loads of ways we can help. I think it’s just a case of doing the little that we can. Day by day and bit by bit.
Before you go, do you have any upcoming roles or projects that you can talk to us about?
I have projects in the works, personal and professional but as it stands I’m bound to secrecy - all will be revealed very soon!