A conversation with Sean Sagar: Unpacking Top Boy, Guy Ritchie and mental health

By Mason Berlinka

Published Feb 25, 2023 at 09:15 AM

Reading time: 6 minutes

East London’s Sean Sagar has been making waves. If you’re not familiar with the actor, you may have seen him in the original season of the popular crime drama show Top Boy, or more recently, in Guy Ritchie’s 2019 gangster flick The Gentlemen.

SCREENSHOT caught up with the actor, mental health advocate and avid gamer to chat a little about his upcoming role in The Covenant, how he got his start in the business, and how video games can help our mental health.

From East London pubs to Hollywood filming

Sean Sagar, 33, was more than happy to dive into his humble beginnings as we made our way through introductions and greetings. The actor grew up in Forest Gate—East London, “that’s where it’s all happening mate.” While that might be the case, growing up in the East End isn’t always easy and Sagar attests to that. Keen to learn more about him, I asked whether he had a particularly exciting upbringing.

“Oh man, I loved it. My childhood was a lot different from most,” he began excitedly. “Obviously it was involved in being a part of things you kind of didn’t really want to be involved in but it shaped me into who I am, you know what I mean? It made me go where I wanted to go in life, it also gave me a drive to know what I want to do now.”

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A post shared by Sean Sagar (@officialseansagar)

Sagar quickly dove into how he wants to give back to the community who helped make him who he is today: “It lets me look back and realise what I want to do now is help kids from these kinds of areas. You become a product of your environment. The more jobs I do in my career, the more it is to show that we can beat that mindset and become so much more than our environment. I’d never change where I grew up. I wouldn’t be where I’m at now,” the actor added.

It’s important to stay true to your origins, and Sagar’s instant passionate flair for this, despite his growing fame, was refreshing to say the least. He carried on, telling me that “it’s one of those things that makes you who you are, that’s why it upsets me when people get a little bit of money or a little bit of fame, and they completely forget that part of their life, or where they started, thinking they’re better than everyone else.”

With all that being said though, not everyone gets the opportunity to film with Hollywood titans such as Mathew Mcconaughey and Hugh Grant and so I had to know how this all started for the rising star. Laughing— the actor began by confessing that it all began when he was standing outside of his local pub with his brother and a mate driving past spotted them and recommended them for an audition with Ben Drew, AKA rapper and filmmaker Plan B, for his 2012 feature Ill Manors.

Sagar explained: “It was my brother who wanted to be an actor, football was my thing, that’s what I wanted to be from when I could first walk, but I ended up going for this audition in a random studio in Bow.” For the audition, Drew instructed the brothers to mug off a kid coming up to them to buy weed, to “take the money and just mug him off.” Sagar laughed as he went on, “obviously me doing this scene with my brother, we just ended up bouncing off each other, and bless the poor kid, we just ripped him apart.”

From there, acting opportunities began pouring in for Sagar. And soon he was offered the top ticket from casting director Leanne Flinne—an audition for the original series of Top Boy which was set to air on UK broadcaster Channel 4.

The actor said that he was working for Drew as a stylist at the time, and when he’d booked the part he sought counsel from the rapper songwriter. “He turned to me and said ‘go out and create your own light now,’ that’s how I started acting.”

What I was dying to know was how one goes from British television to working with a director as legendary as Guy Ritchie. Sagar was keen to get into it. Despite having just finished his second outing with the director, Sagar still seemed as excited as he was the day he got the role.

He explained: “That was probably the most—well, it was the most surreal moment of my career. I was in a chicken shop when my agent called me. I picked up and she said to me ‘Hey Sean, I have Gary here with me.’ My agent has never called me and had another agent on the same call.”

Just like when your parents call you and inform you they’re both in the room, Sean thought “oh no, i’ve done something wrong. So I stepped outside and she said ‘some great news Sean, Guy Ritchie wants to offer you the part’.”

Naturally, Sagar was speechless. While working with Ritchie on The Gentlemen was already an incredible achievement, the actor was further bowled over when his agent informed him he’d be starring alongside Grant and McConaughey. Sagar reminisced on how he “froze up” in the middle of the street, not being able to believe what had just happened.

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A post shared by Sean Sagar (@officialseansagar)

Sean Sagar tells us about his experience filming with Hollywood stars and new film ‘The Covenant’

When asked if it was daunting being on a big Hollywood set, I was met with a resounding yes from the actor. “Oh man, I was nervous as anything,” he told me. Imposter Syndrome creeps in quickly, and it was Sagar’s friends and family who routinely kept him level headed with reassurance of his skill and ability.

Chatting about his latest Ritchie project, I was told that the action thriller was filmed in Alicante, Spain—a far cry from The Covenant’s war time Afghanistan setting, but a perfect dupe for the middle eastern country. After six weeks of filming Sagar told me it still didn’t feel real. Good to know that the magic of filmmaking persists.

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A post shared by Sean Sagar (@officialseansagar)

Being an actor during lockdown and championing mental health discussion

His latest outing with Guy Ritchie was shot just after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown ended, but I was interested in knowing if it was affected by restrictions in any way. Sagar was happy to divulge, saying “we had to wear masks on set, still a lot of sets do that, and we had to get tested every morning. Jake [Gyllenhaal] was very cautious.”

Sagar confessed that the pandemic had affected him quite a lot. “As an actor, there was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t make money anywhere else. There was no light at the end of the tunnel,” Sagar openly admitted, though the mental health struggles that came from lockdown were nothing new to him.

We dived a little bit deeper, bringing in Sagar’s upbringing in a rough part of London. He told me that this is exactly why he wants to keep growing as an actor, so he can reach even more people and make positive change for his community. He recalled: “Where we grow up, it’s so alien to discuss these kinds of things, because it’s not code. You’re meant to be strong, you’re meant to be a warrior, you’re meant to be hard, but in actual fact, no, you’re just meant to be a human.”

Inspiring and true, I wasn’t expecting my chat with the actor to get so profound. He went on to tell me “do you ever stop yourself from laughing? So why do we stop ourselves from crying? The way we grew up in London, if you got caught crying around the mandem, you got looked at as soft.” Sagar swore that emotion was something he was never afraid to show growing up, despite toxic perceptions of it around him.

One of the things Sagar emphasises throughout conversation, is a desire to visit schools and open dialogues with young people who may be struggling with their mental health. He worries that there’s too much talk in the industry and not enough action, especially when considering the kind of content young individuals have access to now.

One thing Sagar would love to be able to do is “bring back the youth centre. They used to be everywhere. You used to be able to play basketball, do music, go and dance. They’re all gone. What do you expect these kids to do? They’re just going to turn around to either the streets or their phones. I’d love to go into schools and talk to kids and really just get an insight into how that generation is now.”

Gaming and beyond

Changing tracks a little bit, I couldn’t help myself and I asked Sagar on whether gaming fit anywhere into his life. To my delight he excitedly replied “mate, that’s another thing that saved me during lockdown.” Unsurprisingly, it’s Sagar’s older brothers that got him into gaming.

The actor shared: “My oldest brother, he always used to buy the newest consoles so we were always around games since we were kids, I was always a gamer, but when lockdown hit I re-discovered just how much I loved gaming. I know for a fact, if it wasn’t for COD Warzone and FIFA I would have never made it through lockdown. I would have been finished. I’m a massive gamer, huge.”

We dug a bit deeper into gaming and the relief it had on lockdown. “It was one of the only ways to communicate,” said Sagar. Suddenly the world had stopped, and gaming was one of the few avenues that allowed pseudo face-to-face contact again. Sagar agreed that gaming is a powerful tool to help us cope with personal problems and he reminded me that it’s not even that you need to spend on consoles and flashy computers, phone games are just as good at soothing the brain.

To bring our chat to a close, I asked Sagar if there was anyone else he dreamt of working with, to which he replied with very little hesitation: “I would love to work with my brother again. Nick, I did my first job with him. I want the world to know we’re brothers and to see us work together.” A dream that has since been realised, as it was announced yesterday that the two brothers would be sharing the screen again. Denzel Washington and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson were close seconds though. Really, Sagar just wants to work with anyone with a creative vision and a passion to collaborate on their art.

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