In an instant, life is forever changed for Brenton Butler and his family.
After a white cop accidentally hits and critically injures a black teenager, a northeastern city explodes with racial tensions, an attempted cover-up and its aftermath, and the trial of the century. A powerful anthological crime thriller from acclaimed creator and executive producer Veena Sud, starring two-time Emmy winner Regina King alongside breakout British actress Clare-Hope Ashitey (Doctor Foster). Ashitey portrays KJ Harper, a black assistant prosecutor assigned to the incident, with troubles of her own. She grapples with the weight of the case and what it will mean to bring justice not only for Brenton but for the Black community.
We caught up with Clare to talk working with the amazing Regina King and of course her new incredible show.
The Knockturnal: Clare, I loved Seven Seconds. It’s really good. You have a legend with Regina King. How was it working with her? Was that intimidating at all?
Clare-Hope Ashitey: No, not at all. She’s incredible and very approachable and very friendly and fun and we got on really well. I think there is always an anticipation about working with people like that because you don’t know what they’re going to be like, but that was very very early put paid to. She’s just a normal woman who happens to be really good at what she does.
The Knockturnal: Where did you draw inspiration from for your character?
Clare-Hope Ashitey: I think I do actually draw it from the lives of normal people, which, I mean anytime you watch a reality TV show or when you watch something like Judge Judy, which my mother loves and has watched almost every episode that ever exists, and you start to hear people tell stories about their lives. Even if your life isn’t complicated, you suddenly go, “Man, people live complicated lives full of poor decision making and great decision making and lies and intrigue and upsets and sometimes substance abuse …” So many things happen to people and actually, I think to have a complicated character who sometimes we’re on her side and sometimes we’re not. I mean, think of like your friends and how much of the time sometimes you’re like, that’s a poor decision that you made or that’s a great decision that you made or I don’t agree with that or I wouldn’t do that. It’s an amalgamation of real people.
The Knockturnal: Being as complicated as she is, what do you admire most about her?
Clare-Hope Ashitey: I think how much she grows up in the course of the season. I think that she is in a really bad place when we meet her and that she’s kind of given up, but she is forced to and chooses to at various points meet challenges head-on and she becomes someone who may be at the beginning we never thought she could be.
The Knockturnal: The subject of the show is a very sensitive topic. Talk about why it’s so important that we have this subject talked about today.
Clare-Hope Ashitey: Right. It’s important because this is what’s happening. And there are so many people in this country and I guess looking here at Seven Seconds specifically, the African American community, who live this kind of reality, who live in this fear, who socialize their children to have this fear because it’s necessary to do so. And I think validating those people’s experience is really important, because without any validation what you’re going through, how can you feel invested in the society that you live in, if you think people aren’t watching and don’t care and don’t understand and have no empathy, you give up and you don’t want to contribute to that society. And on the other side of it, helping people to have understanding and empathy for what’s happening to communities that they maybe don’t have a lot of contact with, is really the only way that we’re going to find any kind of solution to a very broken racial geography.
The Knockturnal: You’ve made some great television shows. Tell me how fun it is to make TV and make great TV.
Clare-Hope Ashitey: Acting, in general, is a fun job. I’m very lucky to do. TV is fun because you get to, or interesting because you get to tell a story over a very protracted period. Like with Seven Seconds, we have ten hours to tell the story and it’s not like trying to wrap up the story in two or two and a half hours. You get to really delve into characters and explore them and test them in different situations. And when I’m watching a series and I’ve got ten hours to get to know someone, I get really invested in what they do.
The Knockturnal: What have you learned most about yourself doing Seven Seconds?
Clare-Hope Ashitey: I think that I have more agency than I think I do and that we as individuals have more power to influence conversations and events than we think we do, because it’s very easy in mass movements in the run of world politics, to be like, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about this and this is just going to happen.” But if you start to realize that the little things that you do, whether it’s through your job or through your hobbies, and you can contribute to the conversation a little bit, it’s very empowering. And I think we all need to hold on to that feeling because the world needs it in this moment.
Seven Seconds is now streaming on Netflix!