Q&A with Shaun Cowlishaw
Shaun Cowlishaw is a dynamic actor, who plays Omar in Flatshare, the heart and soul of the series. During his career in the biz, Shaun has appeared in short films and theatre productions. In this Q&A, Shaun, who grew up in Penzance, Cornwall, talks about the importance of representation in the mainstream media of marginalised communities, why he was conscious of not playing up to gay stereotypes in his portrayal of Omar, and why he thinks everyone should watch Flatshare.
How did you get into acting?
We did Little Shop of Horrors at school and I got to play the plant. I had a fantastic time, so I joined an amateur dramatics group, then joined a couple more. My love for it grew, the more I immersed myself in it.
What do you most love about acting?
No two characters are the same. They have different childhoods, family circles, fears, loves, aspirations and memories. You get the opportunity to see the world through another person’s eyes and explore how they work within the world. That is exciting.
What attracted you to the character of Omar?
His free spirit and openness. The guy is a people pleaser. Trying to keep everyone civil and while addressing your own past and inner demons is by no means a simple task, but I think he copes well.
It is very rare that you have a character who is gay and a man of colour at the center of the narrative. Why do you think this kind of representation is important?
It’s important because it’s rare! Look at ‘Moonlight’ and how it inspired multiple communities to speak up.
In the mainstream media, gay minorities are heavily under represented. It’s important simply because everyone deserves a fair voice and inspirations to speak out and be heard
Omar is vulnerable and looking for help and to change the course of his life. Black kids aren’t portrayed as ‘vulnerable’ in the mainstream media, they are mainly deemed a threat, so I think it’s important to see vulnerabilities shown on every media platform.
You've commented before that you were very conscious of not playing Omar in a stereotypical way. Why was that important to you? And do you think this enabled you to bring something fresh to the character?
It’s always a fear of mine that I’m stereotyping or indirectly creating discomfort to people who really associate with characters like Omar. The underlying themes of acceptance and escapism are serious points that are affecting hundreds of thousands of people today, so to convey an unnatural representation of someone who has come into contact with this world just wasn’t an option for me.
It enabled me by connect with Omar’s inner world by avoiding stereotypes of his character. His bouncy energy is something that this really brought out.
What was your experience like on set whilst filming?
Although I was two hours late on the first day of shooting, everyone was really accommodating and I really felt like that we quickly bonded into a somewhat dysfunctional, giggly but efficient family.
We were lucky enough to have rehearsal time prior to shooting which was great as I met most of the cast and crew, who were all lively characters. They kind of got my dark humour so all was well.
Everyone had something personal to bring to flatshare, which was really endearing. Hearing everyone’s stories that were shared really showed the dedication that was to come.
How do you hope your character Omar will be received by audiences?
Flatshare is a story bundled into 4 episodes. I just want them to enjoy it.
Why should people watch Flatshare when it is released?
Flatshare has a different vibe to it. Each episode has to reach a conclusion in 10 minutes so they’re packed full of energy and storytelling. James Barber, the creator of the show has done a great job of creating hilarious stories delivered through putting four very different characters in random, unthinkable situations!