'One Dollar' Star Nathaniel Martello-White on His First Major U.S. Role, Plotting His British 'Atlanta'

Nathaniel Martello-White - H - 2018
Credit: Nathaniel Martello-White

The rising multihyphenate may have a lead role on CBS All Access' new mystery-thriller, but he's simultaneously working on his first feature as a director and a TV series based on his stage play.

Over the past decade, Nathaniel Martello-White (Nat to his friends) has been slowly carving out a name for himself as an emerging multihyphenate across British screen and stage.

Alongside a career in TV — recent credits include the BBC/Netflix miniseries Collateral, Hulu/Channel 4’s Kiri (released in the U.S. as National Treasure: Kiri) and Showtime/Sky’s political period thriller Guerrilla, created by John Ridley — his theater work has included the Royal Shakespeare Co.’s 2011 season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Olivier-winning People, Places & Things, which transferred from the West End to St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York.

Then there is Martello-White's writing, with Blackta — exposing the highs and lows of making it as a black actor — hitting the Young Vic in 2012, and the family drama Torn opening at the Royal Court Theater in 2016. On the film side, roles have included The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in 2008, Red Tails in 2012 and last year's acclaimed British indie Daphne, while his short film directorial debut, Cla’am, premiered at SXSW in 2017 before winning best U.K. short at London’s Raindance Film Festival.

With One Dollar, which lands on CBS All Access on Thursday, Martello-White’s acting talents are set to be given wider exposure across the Atlantic. In his first major U.S. TV role, he plays private investigator Jave Noveer in the 10-episode mystery-thriller from Jason Mosberg that follows a one-dollar bill as it changes hands and connects a group of characters involved in a shocking multiple murder.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from Pittsburgh, an "ever-changing Rust Belt town" where One Dollar is being filmed, Martello-White discusses his upcoming feature-length directing debut, Dumbarton Road, based on the stage play Torn; using his time in the U.S, to his advantage; and why he hopes Blackta, which he is adapting for TV for Channel 4, will become his version of Atlanta.

What’s the central story of One Dollar?

You’ve got this dollar bill that is shifting hands every episode, and the dollar bill is somehow implicated in a multiple murder that happens on the grounds of a steel mill. And you’ve got my character, who’s an ex-police cop now working as a PI, who leaves the local police over a disagreement over the case of a missing girl. He starts working this investigation rogue, so he’s working at odds with his ex-colleagues. The main strand is the murder, the "who did it and who’s behind it," but then the dollar bill in every episode is more of a window into society, class and race.

And what sort of PI is yours? Is he the downtrodden, mack-wearing, lonely, late-night-whiskey-in-a-bar variety?

Ha! There’s a running joke I’ve got with a mate that every PI has an ailment. Mine is insomnia. He can’t sleep, haunted by the images of that missing girl and kind of obsessed. He’s single-minded, lives alone and is kind of not consciously aware of what a voyeur he’s become. He’s very manipulative and adaptable into making people think they’ve got the upper hand while actually being much more in control.

Is this your first major role in the U.S.?

Yes. I just did Guerrilla and Collateral. In a weird way, I feel like I made my American debut with Guerrilla, but it wasn’t an American show. It was on Showtime, but it wasn’t set in America. So this is my first lead in an American show, doing an American accent. And it’s been awesome. 

How did the role come about?

Yeah, that’s interesting. I did People, Places and Things in New York last year in the late fall and Allison [Estrin], the casting director for Billions and One Dollar, came to see the matinee of the show. I was playing a recovering addict and apparently she phoned up [One Dollar director] Craig Zobel in the interval and said, "You need to meet this guy; we found the guy." Obviously you don’t know that any of this is happening behind the scenes. But my U.S. agent just said, "Why don’t you go in and read, sit down with Craig the director and have a conversation and find out more about the role?" We met at the Bowery Hotel in New York in the East Village and just had this amazing hourlong conversation, where it became clear that we were both on the same page creatively about what we were into.

You’ve become something of a multihyphenate — is it something you’re enjoying?

It’s always a balance of trying not to get burned out. Already being out here I’ve been shooting a TV show, but I’ve already written the first draft of my feature film that I’m working on with the BFI and The Bureau.

Is that Dumbarton Road?

Yeah. I was trying to get the first draft of that done before I started shooting One Dollar, and then also redrafting Blackta, which is now being developed as a TV show at Channel 4. We're still at pilot stage, but a decision is going to be made on that soon. We’re literally at the last lap with that, and by the time I get back from the States they’re going to make a decision on that. So that’s very exciting. And I think that’s going to be my Atlanta — that’s what I’m thinking about Blackta.

Is Dumbarton Road based on a stage play of yours?

Yeah, I wrote this play called Torn at the Royal Court, about two years ago now. It’s essentially a kind of family meeting that takes place, where this secret is revealed in this room concerning two members, and you realize there’s been a cover-up. It’s exploring race through family. My pitch is: Michael Haneke’s Hidden meets A Doll's House. I’m really happy with how the first draft has turned out, and it's great to be in that BFI inner circle. 

When do you think you will start production? 

Well, I imagine there will be another pass at least on the script and then we really, really want to go after Thandie Newton for the main role. We have a mixed-race woman as the lead of the story, and so I think the next thing will be attaching somebody really exciting like her. I’d like to shoot it next autumn, but we’ll have to see. But what I am shooting when I get back from Pittsburgh is something called Munch for Sky, which is a 10x10 format. The whole premise for the format is really ambitious content done at high production values, but it’s 10-minute episodes. I’m writing and directing all 10 — starting with shooting the pilot when I get back. 

Has being in the U.S. for One Dollar helped? Have you tried to use it to your advantage for your other projects?

That’s definitely the plan — I’ve got a meeting set up with CBS All Access and am going to be pitching an idea, Algorithm, which I created in the U.K. for a table read with Sky. So we’re going to be sitting around with them about that, because it kind of involves health care and tech and the future and politics. It’s kind of an idea that seems American rather than English. But inevitably I feel like One Dollar is already creating new alliances and new relationships over here and hopefully, if the show does well, that will kind of build up interest in terms of me as a creator. It would be awesome to get something set up as a pilot here. 

Were you sad that Guerrilla — which had such a powerful, untold story about the U.K.'s own Black Power movement and John Ridley as creator — didn’t generate that much noise when it came out? 

We were so disappointed. You look at the billing on that project — John Ridley; Idris Elba; Katie Swindon, who produced Luther … it had everything it needed to succeed. I know this is a kind of controversial thing to say, but if it had been on BBC One or BBC Two, I wonder whether it would have done the numbers. And I also don’t know if the marketing really landed what it was, because I think people thought it was going to be a real-life story that had been adapted, when it was actually a fictional story. So, yeah, it’s disappointing, but it’s all part of the learning curve of being in TV. I honestly thought Guerrilla was a no-brainer.