Words by Jennie Haines and Photography by BAFTA/Ejatu Shaw.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of BAFTA Breakthrough in partnership with Netflix, BAFTA had the pleasure of welcoming back 12 distinguished alumni to 195 Piccadilly, who shared their invaluable insights and experiences from their year in the programme and updated us on everything they’ve accomplished in their remarkable careers so far.
Since its launch in 2013, BAFTA Breakthrough has proudly championed over 200 talented newcomers working both on and off-screen, spanning the realms of film, games, and TV. The programme has also been instrumental in providing crucial support during the pivotal ‘breakthrough’ career moments of promising new artists. Many alumni have gone on to develop their own feature films, games, and television series, earning significant industry recognition and acclaim, and even securing their own BAFTA wins and nominations.
Each year, a stellar industry jury selects a new cohort from the most exciting, up-and-coming talent the screen industries have to offer. Through provision of tailored professional development and global networking opportunities, encompassing individual meetings and connections with key industry figures, BAFTA Breakthrough stands out for its dedication to nurturing emerging creatives and assisting them in developing their networks and forging prosperous careers in their chosen fields.
BAFTA Breakthrough was originally conceived as Breakthrough Brits, launching in 2013 and supported by Burberry. The springboard initiative now has global reach, with Netflix on board as the supporting partner of BAFTA Breakthrough in the UK, India, and USA.
We recently invited back some of BAFTA Breakthrough’s esteemed alumni for a commemorative shoot in partnership with The Guardian. They have all reflected on their time as Breakthrough participants and how their experiences on the programme have influenced their impressive careers. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say.
Niamh Algar (Breakthrough 2019) is an actress.
Niamh made her first steps into the world of acting after a stint as an intern in a production house piqued her interest in television and film. It was the 2016 Irish horror film Without Name that kick-started her career and led to her securing lead roles in shows like Pure, The Virtues, Raised by Wolves, and Malpractice. In 2021, Niamh returned to horror cinema when she starred in Censor, written and directed by fellow Breakthrough alumna Prano Bailey-Bond. She will next be seen opposite Julianne Moore in historical drama series Mary & George.
“I grew up in a county where there was no other actor who was working professionally, or had ever worked professionally, therefore I didn’t have a template to work off of. I didn’t have someone I could [look at and] say “that’s what I wanna do.” It felt like such a huge dream. It’s important to stay grounded, remind yourself where you came from, and how you got there, because you don’t know who that’s going to help along the way or how important that is for someone else to see that journey.”
Rose Ayling-Ellis (Breakthrough 2022) is an actress.
Rose’s first on-screen credit was a result of a filming weekend run by the National Deaf Children’s Society, where she met deaf film director Ted Evans who cast her in 2011 short film The End. She has since garnered roles across both screen and stage, treading the boards in such prestigious venues as the Lyric Hammersmith, the Royal Exchange, and the National Theatre. Her breakthrough moment came in 2020 with a regular role in EastEnders. Rose was crowned winner of the 2021 series of Strictly Come Dancing and will next appear in ITV drama series Code of Silence.
“BAFTA put me in touch with Alice Seabright and she was the one who said I’d got a writer in me. I’ve just never really had the confidence, because at school I was always “the deaf one”; I was always taken out of the class and the focus was on what I couldn’t do. But I came up with lots of ideas, and I wanted to collaborate with writers. Alice was like, “No, I think you could write.” That got me all inspired, so I went home and I did it!”
Prano Bailey-Bond (Breakthrough 2021) is a director and screenwriter.
Before moving into writing and directing, Prano graduated as a sound designer, carving out her own filmmaking style while working as a runner in a post-production house and a freelance editor. Early work in short films and music videos established Prano’s fascination with horror storytelling, culminating in 2021 with her debut feature, psychological horror Censor. Prano is now developing numerous projects for film and television, including a much-anticipated second feature.
“For me, being able to talk to other filmmakers who have trodden that path and for them to actually give me their time, to be able to take advice and just share some of the things that you’ve found harder, and for them to give you solutions that have worked for them is just completely invaluable. Nobody’s born knowing everything, we all learn through experience, and I think being a director can sometimes be quite isolating. You’re the only director on set, you’re rarely on set with other directors, so to get the opportunity to talk to people who’ve gone a bit further along in their career—it’s been really wonderful.”
Charu Desodt (Breakthrough 2014) is a studio director and games producer.
As the first female engineer hired by Sony’s London Studio, Charu developed the technology behind BAFTA-nominated PlayStation franchise SingStar. In 2010, she started work as a producer on Wonderbook: Book of Spells, an AR game for the PS3 inspired by the Harry Potter franchise. Since 2018, she has worked at indie developer Interior Night, the studio behind the hugely successful, and once again, BAFTA-nominated As Dusk Falls. She has recently been promoted from production director to studio director.
“I got a really great piece of advice when I first started in the industry. As a programmer, I was asked to work on some environment art tech and some sound analysis tech and was really struggling. Someone said to me, “You’re going to get a lot of advice from a lot of people, none of whom have ever done this before,” and it was really good because it gave me my power back to make decisions.”
Amir El-Masry (Breakthrough 2020) is an actor.
Amir began his career in Egyptian cinema following a chance meeting with legendary performer Omar Sharif. After graduating from LAMDA, he made appearances in Casualty and Transporter, before gaining prominence for his turn in 2016 series The Night Manager. Amir has built up an impressive CV across both television and film, with big-screen roles including Star Wars: The Rising of Skywalker, A Haunting in Venice, and Limbo, for which he won a BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actor. Last year, he portrayed Mohamed Al-Fayed in the fifth series of The Crown on Netflix.
“Being associated with such an esteemed organisation as BAFTA has created visibility for me and has legitimised my position as an actor in certain rooms. [BAFTA] has also helped facilitate those meetings, things that may have not been possible without their help. I’d say, in a nutshell, it’s given me validation that I’m on the right path.”
Anna Hollinrake (Breakthrough 2017) is a games art director, illustrator and developer.
Anna first made impact with their stunning concept and environment art on Lola and the Giant and Adventure Time: Pirates of Enchiridion. After creating the art style and direction for Arca’s Path VR, they expanded their portfolio as an art director for CBeebies show Love Monster. In 2020, Anna was art lead on lockdown smash-hit Fall Guys. Anna is now best known as co-founder and creative director of Electric Saint, an indie studio established alongside game developer Pavle Mihajlovic, who Anna met at a BAFTA Breakthrough event.
“The best part of the Breakthrough programme was being exposed to so many different areas of expertise and having that incredible opportunity for cross-pollination. I’m a game developer but I got to sit in masterclasses with film people, with TV people. Finding out about the production design on The Shape of Water and the colour language that was used throughout that—there was so much knowledge that I could just take and put into my own work that you don’t necessarily just find in games.”
Youssef Kerkour (Breakthrough 2020) is an actor.
After spending much of his early career trying to avoid stereotypical casting, opportunities opened up for Youssef after spending five years training at RADA. He has since proved himself to be a versatile performer across screen and stage. Youssef’s definitive breakthrough moment was his leading role in 2019 series Home, for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Male Comedy Performance. In 2021, he appeared in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, and will work alongside the director again in Napoleon. Most recently, Youssef starred opposite Katherine Parkinson in ITV comedy-drama Significant Other.
“When I got the BAFTA Breakthrough and they asked me who do you want to be your mentor, I said Ridley Scott, because he’s somebody that I’ve just followed […] and I like being inspired by him. Even though he’s a director and I’m an actor, he’s a very inspiring man in everything he does and his approach to the industry. I lapped up every single one of his interviews, studying how he made movies and how he thinks about creating art […] Ridley is the one I really wanted to meet and talk and work with and thankfully a couple months after Breakthrough, I got to work with him.”
Malachi Kirby (Breakthrough 2016) is an actor and writer.
Malachi began his career racking up credits in British independent films before gaining prominence for lead roles in Netflix’s Black Mirror episode ‘Men Against Fire’ and the 2016 remake of Roots. In 2019, he starred in drama series Curfew and Devils and made his playwright debut with Level Up, which premiered at the Bush Theatre. A year later, Malachi won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor in Steve McQueen’s ‘Mangrove’ from the Small Axe anthology series. He will next appear as the protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.
“The best part of being [in] Breakthrough was the people that I got to meet. There were people that I met that I’m still in touch with now. It’s not just a networking thing but actually building real, sustainable relationships with people that you align with. […] A meeting that meant a lot to me actually was over WhatsApp and it was with David Oyelowo as a result of being part of the BAFTA Breakthrough scheme. It meant a lot to me because it was one of the most significant points, not necessarily the first, but one of the most significant meetings I had with someone who held integrity as a value in this industry.”
Ruth Madeley (Breakthrough 2016) is an actress and screenwriter.
After training as a screenwriter, Ruth wrote and starred in 2012 TV film Scrims. Her breakout came in 2015 she was cast as the lead in BBC’s Don’t Take My Baby, for which she earned a BAFTA nomination. She’s since had recurring roles in shows like Years and Years, The Rook, and The Accident, as well as a starring role in TV film Then Barbara Met Alan. In November, Ruth will appear in a prominent role in Doctor Who for its 60th anniversary specials.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes I made at the start [of my career] was that I was so desperate to be known as an actor, not a disabled actor, and I think my perspective has changed definitely as my career’s gone on. I’m really proud to be known as a disabled actor—an actor—whatever you want to call me. I’m really happy with that because I think it solidifies part of my purpose in the industry to help raise awareness and representation for disabled people in an industry that has not been great to disabled people in the past. So I won’t be correcting people if they want to call me a disabled actor in the future.”
Elle Osili-Wood (Breakthrough 2021) is a television presenter and broadcaster.
Starting out on the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme, Elle found her calling in writing and presenting stories from the world of arts and entertainment. From red carpet reporting to being part of the BBC’s coronation coverage, Elle has accumulated an impressive and eclectic body of work. She has hosted the BAFTA Games Awards twice as well as the BAFTA Young Game Designers Awards and has recently taken over as host of BBC Radio 3’s Sound of Gaming.
“A big inspiration for me is Alison Hammond. As a TV presenter, she’s so fun, she’s engaging, she’s entertaining, but most of all she’s real and she connects with the audience. I want to be a presenter in the same way that she is—it feels like a party and you’re invited. She’s never broadcasting to you; you’re coming along with her and everybody’s having a great time.”
Lydia West (Breakthrough 2021) is an actress.
In 2019, Lydia entered the spotlight with her screen debut in Russell T Davies series Years and Years. Two years later, she would collaborate with Russell again, this time in a starring role in the seismic It’s a Sin, for which she received a BAFTA nomination. Her other television credits include Dracula, The Pentraverate, Inside Man, and the upcoming comedy series Big Mood. In 2023, Lydia made her first foray into film in rom-com Love Again.
“Someone who I’ve looked up to for a very long time, who through the Breakthrough programme became a mentor, is Suranne Jones. She’s now become like a friend and she’s such a maternal figure who’s there to offer so much advice. I think she’s so amazing at what she does in her work, but then also all the social impact that she leaves. What she wants to do with sets and what she wants to create with safe working environments is just really inspirational—she’s a leader that I really want to look up to.”
Susan Wokoma (Breakthrough 2017) is an actress, writer, and director.
Susan made her mark with standout comedic roles in 2015’s Chewing Gum and 2016’s Crazyhead. In 2018, she wrote, starred, and associate produced Sky comedy short Love The Sinner. Since then, she has built an impressive CV across film and television, with roles in Porters, Cheaters, Enola Holmes, and its sequel on Netflix. She is currently a contestant on Channel 4’s Taskmaster and is writing and directing her debut film.
“The biggest mistake I made was listening to other people telling me what I should be doing next, or what I should be seen as doing, or even what you should be seen as wearing—which for me, I’m like, I’m an actor and I’m not a model. Sometimes, especially in the age of social media, you can get really caught up in the optics of looking super successful and I just don’t subscribe to that. I don’t think you should because the industry is stressful enough.”