For Ashley Thomas, an Emmy nomination for his turn as Henry Emory in the 10-part Amazon series “Them” would be a bonus. It’s not that the British actor is expecting a nod when the Emmy nominees are unveiled next month, but his role as a resilient patriarch in the racially charged period drama has garnered plenty of praise as a contender for TV’s highest honor.
Thomas, who has been a working actor since 2000, delivered justice as Judge Wraith in the Emmy award-winning show “Black Mirror,” flexed his muscle as the tough talking Jermaine Newton in the television series “Top Boy,” and after years of playing lawmen and criminals in dramas from “The Good Fight,” “Salvation” to “NYPD Blue,” his work in “Them” makes a great case for an Emmy nod.
“For me, the reward is people respecting the material and loving the performance and the show. That is what I do it for, and the most important thing for me. Everything else that comes after that fact is a bonus.”
Speaking on the phone from Croatia, where he is filming the espionage thriller, “The Ipcress File,” Thomas said he cried when he got the part of Henry Emory on the series, which centers on a middle-class Black family who moves from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood during the period known as The Great Migration. The challenge, he shares, was making sure he played the character authentically.
“He’s a husband, a father, a college educated engineer in a period drama set in 1950s America, and it was a chance to fully transform and go through a full journey with a character across several episodes. I had to do a lot of research and a lot of work on Henry. I had to respect the African-American experience and respect that it is different to the British experience. In that, I had to strip away my ego and approach the character with respect and understanding.”
The first born of a Jamaican mother and a Dominican father, his grandparents came to the U.K. during the Windrush era, (a period when largely Caribbean people were invited by the colonial British government to help rebuild the economy in the aftermath of World War II.). Born in West London, Thomas, who has three siblings, spent time in the Caribbean island of Dominica growing up and it’s a stint the 36-year entertainer says was an enriching one.
“It made me appreciate the journey that my family made to the U.K. and made me see where I came from. That’s why I don’t waste that legacy of the journey that they have made. I want to make sure that I am fulfilling their dreams and stay focused.”
Thomas always knew he wanted to forge a path in the creative arts. An entertainer, also known as Bashy, a nickname he was coined growing up, he became a household name when he released the inspirational track “Black Boys” in 2007 and the album “Catch Me If You Can” in 2009. Although music will always be a big part of his life, these days he’s more focused on acting.
“There were moments of doubt back then,” he admits. “I was a bus driver in London, and I was a mailman and had to find a way to earn a living and fund myself to get to auditions and studio time. I didn’t want to go down the illegal route, so I just tried my hardest and was praying and hoping that I would be able to get somewhere with my creative career. There are times that I have doubts now and have to silence that voice by working even harder.”
With “Them,” a horror anthology created by Little Marvin and executive produced by Lena Waithe, Thomas has taken the role of Henry and shaped it into an instrument of remarkable vulnerability and fierce power, presenting a heroic character with whom black men can identify. Also starring Deborah Ayorinde, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Melody Hurd, the series features several compelling and intense performances.
“The show has touched people and that is the type of work that I want to do moving forward in my career,” he continues. “Roles that touch people and tell a story and that can tell people’s experience. I am really proud of the material and the entire cast. We showed black love onscreen so beautifully. We showed a black family sticking together and a black man who loved his wife.”
‘Them’ is currently streaming on Amazon Prime
Samantha Ofole-Prince is a Los Angeles based journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @samanthaofole
Photos courtesy of Amazon Prime