How Top Boy became ultimate launch pad for stars now in Marvel films

How Top Boy became the ultimate launch pad for British stars: Critically acclaimed stars Michaela Coel, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong were unknowns when they joined the show – and have gone on to blockbuster roles in Marvel films and picked up awards

  • Channel 4 series cast unknowns who used show to grab bigger roles

Thrilling gang warfare drama Top Boy came to an explosive conclusion earlier this month after more than a decade – with Netflix and Canadian rapper Drake helping to see the series to a satisfying conclusion after it was dropped by Channel 4.

The show became one of Netflix’s most-viewed shows in the week that its third and final season post-renewal went out.

Viewers tuned in to see what became of Ashley Walters’ Dushane and Kane Robinson’s Sully as their warfare with other drug gangs in the fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney, London, reached a dramatic climax.

But the show had humble beginnings on Channel 4 when it first aired in 2011 – and featured a number of actors who were relative unknowns at the time, and have since gone on to appear in huge Hollywood productions.

Michaela Coel, Letitia Wright and Benedict Wong are among the stars to have used Top Boy as a springboard to launch themselves into Marvel movies, while others have since starred in big dramas, Netflix films and other blockbusters. 

It bodes well for the breakout stars of the rebooted series such as Micheal Ward – some of whom are already picking up plaudits across the industry.

Top Boy’s gripping finale hit Netflix earlier this month, wrapping up a decade-long saga about drug dealers in East London

Michaela Coel appeared in Top Boy a decade ago (left) – and went on to scoop multiple awards for I May Destroy You (right)

One of Letitia Wright’s first on-screen roles was as drug dealer Chantelle in Top Boy (left). She’s now a megastar best known for playing Shuri in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (right)

READ MORE: Top Boy in real life! As hit show returns for explosive final season, we reveal the every day scenes behind some of the series’ most famous locations 

Michaela Coel 

The Ghanaian-British actress, 35, appeared in series two of the show in its Channel 4 era, as Kayla – a woman charged with killing her own boyfriend. 

Her 2013 appearance was brief – across just two episodes – but Coel went on to star in E4 sitcom Chewing Gum and Black Earth Rising before writing and starring in I May Destroy You – a powerful BBC drama about a woman seeking to rebuild her life after being raped on a night out that won BAFTAs and a Primetime Emmy.

She famously turned down $1million from Netflix for rights to the show after it refused to let her retain the ownership rights, and was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people. It noted: ‘You don’t just watch Michaela Coel shows; you experience them.’

She published a book, Misfits, based on her experiences of racism and misogyny, in 2021. And since then, she has appeared in Marvel blockbuster Black Panther: Wakanda Forever as Aneka, a member of the royal family’s bodyguards in the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

Letitia Wright

Letitia Wright, 29, appeared in the first series of Top Boy as Chantelle, a drug dealer on the Summerhouse estate. She left after the first series as her character goes to work for a rival gangster.

She also made other early career appearances in the likes of Casualty and Doctor Who – but came to the fore as the star of coming-of-age drama Urban Hymn, set against the backdrop of the 2011 London riots. 

An appearance in the Netflix reboot of Black Mirror was then followed by the role that many know her best for – as Shuri, the quick-witted inventor sister of superhero T’Chala in Marvel flick Black Panther. 

She made appearances in subsequent comic crossover films Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame – but she was unexpectedly thrust into the lead role of Black Panther sequel Wakanda Forever when star Chadwick Boseman died of cancer and Shuri was written into an expanded role.

Benedict Wong was a prolific actor before he appeared in Top Boy as Vincent (left) – but it was after this that he was catapulted into stardom with roles such as Wong in Marvel films (right) 

Micheal Ward appeared in the first rebooted series of Top Boy (on the red carpet, left) and has since appeared opposite Colin Firth in Empire of Light (right)

Benedict Wong

Wong, 52, was a prolific actor before appearing on Top Boy – in radio and on stage, with a role in 2002 thriller Dirty Pretty Things. His profile grew as he appeared in sitcom 15 Storeys High opposite the late Sean Lock with guest appearances on programmes such as The Bill and comedies like The Peter Serafinowicz Show and The IT Crowd.

But it was after his role in Top Boy, as scheming rival drug dealer Vincent, that he was catapulted into stardom and became a fan favourite with Marvel moviegoers as Wong, the sardonic and deadly serious sorcerer who befriends Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and helps him to master mystical powers.

Appearing in both seasons of the original Channel 4 programme, he recruited characters including Letitia Wright’s to run a cannabis farm.  

Around the same time, he began making appearances in big films like Johnny English: Reborn and Alien sci-fi prequel Prometheus. But it is his appearances as Wong in Doctor Strange, its sequel, and other interconnected Marvel films and TV shows that have brought him a huge new audience of adoring fans.

Micheal Ward 

The young actor first appeared in Top Boy in the rebooted Netflix series as Jamie – a fearsome rival gangster on the Summerhouse estate – in 2019, at the same time that he appeared in controversial crime drama Blue Story.

The film was at the centre of an incident in Birmingham in which police were attacked by a group armed with machetes; cinema chain Vue later said that 25 incidents of violence were reported in screenings on the first day.

However, Ward was praised for his performances in both Top Boy and the music-led gang film – the latter of which earned him a Rising Star BAFTA – and since then he has appeared opposite Colin Firth and Olivia Coleman in Sam Mendes’ racial drama Empire of Light, and worked with Steve McQueen on his BBC anthology series Small Axe.

Next year, he will appear in The Book of Clarence as part of a star-studded ensemble cast including the likes of David Oyelowo and James McAvoy, and will feature opposite Bill Nighy in sports drama The Beautiful Game.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Crystal in Bad Girls (left), a few years before appearing on Top Boy – and has since appeared in the likes of Dune (right)

Nicholas Pinnock in The Ice Cream Girls (left) shortly after appearing on Top Boy – and more recently in Sky Atlantic drama Django (right)

Sharon Duncan-Brewster 

Duncan-Brewster, 47, was an established TV actor before appearing in Top Boy – appearing as central character Crystal in ITV prison drama Bad Girls, with parts in EastEnders as Trina as well as appearances on Holby City, Waking the Dead and Doctors.

But after appearing in Top Boy as Lisa, mum of central character Ra’Nell in seasons one and two, the actress has appeared in Sex Education, Star Wars prequel Rogue One and even the FIFA series of football games, where she appears as the mother of fictional footballer Alex Hunter as he dreams of making it big in the game.

But she has received high praise following her appearance in Denis Villeneuve’s rebooted Dune as scientist Liet-Kynes. Her performance in the sci-fi flick led to Vanity Fair branding her ‘Dune’s secret weapon’ that ‘brings (her role) to life’. 

READ MORE: Was Top Boy made by Drake? Everything we know about the Canadian rapper’s involvement in hit Netflix crime drama

This year, she has continued her intergalactic ascension with a voice role in Disney+ sci-fi series Star Wars: The Bad Batch.

Nicholas Pinnock

Pinnock, 50, had long established himself as a stage actor but prior to Top Boy had made only guest appearances in UK programmes such as Casualty, Doctors, EastEnders and Holby City.

But it was when he appeared as central character Leon in series one of Top Boy that his career found new energy. His reformed gangster spent his episodes trying to warn others off of a life of drug-dealing, with tragic consequences. He then went on to appear in The Ice Cream Girls on ITV.

In 2020, he starred in legal drama For Life, as a man who obtains a law degree behind bars while serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, which was produced by rapper Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson. Pinnock previously told Hollywood news website Gold Derby that Top Boy won him the role – because the musician was a fan.

He is currently appearing in Sky Atlantic series Django, a reimagining of the classic Italian spaghetti western from the 1960s.

Paul Anderson

Anderson, 44, appeared in Top Boy in Mike, a psychotic would-be rival drug dealer to main character Dushane, fresh out of prison after committing armed robbery.

A year later, he starred in Troubles drama ’71 before appearing in The Revenant alongside Leonardo Di Caprio.

Now, he’s best known for starring opposite Cillian Murphy as his right-hand man, Arthur Shelby, in Peaky Blinders, and appeared in the modernised 2018 Hollywood retelling of Robin Hood.

Top Boy stars have since gone on to appear alongside huge names elsewhere. Left: Weruche Opia (right) with Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You. Right: Paul Anderson (right) with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Saffron Hocking as she appears in the Netflix continuation of Top Boy as Lauryn (left). She consulted domestic abuse charity Refuge for the role – and is now an ambassador for the non-profit, speaking recently to Cosmopolitan UK about her work with the organisation (right)

Weruche Opia

Weruche Opia appeared in the second series of Top Boy as drug dealer Nafisa – before landing roles in hits like Bad Education and surreal BBC anthology series Inside No. 9.

These led to a leading role in Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You as Terry, the best friend of Coel’s character Arabella, who tries to help her piece together the events of the night that she was raped. Opia has since appeared in Netflix film Slumberland, and appeared as herself in an episode of the most recent series of Black Mirror.

Opia has since distanced herself from her Top Boy role as well as her appearance on Bad Education, disparaging the parts as ‘stereotypical young black girl’ roles. She told The Observer in 2020: ‘I did it for a while – in [the TV series] Bad Education, in Top Boy – but then I made a conscious decision and told my team I didn’t want to do those roles any more.’

Saffron Hocking  

Up-and-coming actress Hocking, 31, appeared in the rebooted Netflix series of Top Boy as Lauryn, a pregnant mum-to-be who suffers domestic abuse before taking matters into her own hands. She has been nominated for a TV BAFTA for her role.

Prior to her role in the series, she appeared in Strangeways Here We Come – but since taking to the Netflix drama she has appeared in Marvel Disney+ series Moon Knight as well as Prime Video series Riches and The Devil’s Hour. 

She also appeared as the cover star on the digital edition of this month’s Cosmopolitan UK, speaking about how she has become an ambassador for domestic abuse charity Refuge after consulting the non-profit while researching for her Top Boy role.

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