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While Joaquin Phoenix’s BAFTA acceptance speech about diversity may have generated the headlines, and Brad Pitt’s (read out by Margot Robbie) about wanting to call his award Harry because he was “excited about taking it back to the U.S.” the laughs, for many in attendance at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday night, the most moving moment of the ceremony came via local boy Micheal Ward.
The 22-year-old Jamaica-born, London-raised actor — whose biggest roles to date have been Netflix’s rebooted crime series Top Boy and Rapman’s gangland movie Blue Story, both released toward the end of last year — won the Rising Star award for up-and-coming talent, beating some established names such as Awkwafina, Kaitlyn Dever, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and fellow Brit Jack Lowden in the process.
Greeted with a hug on stage by award presenter Daniel Kaluuya (himself a Rising Star winner in 2018), a beaming Ward appeared to lose his composure (“I had something planned, but it’s all gone…oh my days”) before thanking God, his late dad, his mum (in the audience and wiping away tears), his team, Top Boy and Blue Story.
“When they started reading out the names, I was just focusing on keeping my breathing correct,” Ward tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But from the moment of my heart beating faster and my name being called out, it was a blur.”
It was actually Kaluuya who helped calm his nerves, telling him, “this is yours, just own it,” according to Ward. “I really look up to him and his work, so the fact he was there handing me the award was an amazing feeling.”
The appreciation was apparent for all to see, underlined by a Tweet sent Tuesday in which Ward acknowledged his somewhat transformative 24 months leading up the BAFTAs, pointing out that exactly two years ago to the day he would have been “closing the shop” at bookmakers William Hill (a year later he would have been wrapping Top Boy).
After the ceremony, the actor carried on into the night, hitting up the Netflix afterparty in the Chiltern Firehouse and racking up a sizable number of celebrity congratulations along the way. On his list was Charlize Theron, Andy Serkis (“he showed me some mad, mad love and told me his kids had been supporting me”), Joaquin Phoenix (“we even got a picture together — I had to make sure that happened”), Sam Mendes, Margot Robbie, Prince William and Kate Middleton, Robert De Niro (“he basically just looked at me, and there was a little head nod”) and fellow Rising Star winner John Boyega (“he was telling me that there were so many more opportunities”).
Ward also spoke to Quentin Tarantino, who offered him a rather English “Congratulations, mate.”
“When he said, ‘mate,’ I just started laughing so much,” says Ward. “You know when someone comes over [to England] and they just want to show that they’re embracing the culture…it was so funny.”
The following morning (“I don’t even know what time I finished, but they made sure I got home safe”) Ward awoke to find himself in bed, still wearing his shirt and bow tie and with his BAFTA award by his side. “I wasn’t letting that go! Just in case anyone tries to run into my room and rob me!,” he says.
Ward has one major announced TV series coming up in Steve McQueen’s BBC/Amazon anthology drama Small Axe, which he’s already filmed and also stars Boyega and Letitia Wright, another Top Boy alumni (she starred in the first season in 2011) and BAFTA’s Rising Star winner last year, alongside other projects he says he can’t yet discuss. He’s also waiting for the next season of Top Boy to get the green light from Netflix. (“I’m super super excited about starting it, I can’t wait to find out what happened.”)
But while his agents at CAA, Management 360 and Olivia Bell Management might have been fielding some added interest since the BAFTA win Sunday, right now Ward claims he just wants to enjoy the moment and share it with his team and mum.
“What a night, what a night…. I don’t think I’ll ever have a weekend like that again. But who knows,” he says. “But that was definitely the best weekend of my life so far.”
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