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'EastEnders: E20' Samuell Benta on Donnie, Ava, more - interview

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Donnie from EastEnders: E20

© BBC

For our final EastEnders: E20 cast member interview, Digital Spy recently caught up with actor Samuell Benta to hear more about his character Donnie Lester.

Earlier this week, fans of the online spinoff saw Donnie arrive on Albert Square and begin hiding out at Number 3 alongside Faith Olubunmi (Modupe Adeyeye) and Ava Bourne (Sophie Colquhoun).

Since then, Donnie has caused trouble on the Square by stealing from the Minute Mart - leading to a showdown with EastEnders regular Kim Fox.

Here, Samuell chats to us about what else we can expect from Donnie as the series continues.

How did your role in EastEnders: E20 come about?
"I first heard about this role in March of this year, when my agent gave me a call, said there was an audition and told me about the part of Donnie. The first stage of the audition was held at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and it was quite an intensive audition process.

"I had to go through five or six rounds of auditions and I had to keep going back up to Elstree, because the producer wanted to make sure that the actors chosen would all gel together. It was the most intensive audition process out of everything that I've done."

You've appeared in a number of shows in the past, including The Bill and Silent Witness. How did E20 compare to your previous acting work?
"I must say that E20 is probably one of the best acting jobs that I've had. It was so, so busy when we were filming. The crew were so nice, kind, polite and helpful - especially the main EastEnders cast because they make appearances in E20 and it was really nice to gel with them. It helped to give us an idea of what things are like on the main show."

Were there any cast members who were particularly supportive?
"Nina Wadia, who plays Zainab, was very, very supportive. Ricky Norwood who plays Fatboy has also been incredibly supportive throughout all the series of E20, because he's been in them all. Nina and Ricky were the ones who I interacted with the most because I had scenes with them."

How do you describe your character Donnie to people?
"Donnie is a 17-year-old who's just come out of a care home. He's been through various care homes and had various care workers coming into his life, but he's pretty much not lived up to their standards. Donnie is very silent, but at the same time, he's got a temper."

What else can you tell us about Donnie?
"Donnie has a little sister called Riley, and he's trying his best to get custody of her. Obviously he's underage, but he just wants to grow up with his sister because his dad's in prison and his mum has gone AWOL, so it's really up to him to be that positive role model for his little sister."

Ava from EastEnders: E20
How does Donnie get along with Ava?
"Donnie has an interest in Ava, because she comes from a similar background to him. Throughout the show, their relationship is a bit of a rollercoaster but he really likes her."

How about Donnie and Faith?
"With Faith, Donnie starts out not liking her. The relationship between Faith and Donnie develops and gets a bit better, but he's still conditioned in his ways when it comes to trust. Donnie finds it very, very hard to trust people so they have to prove themselves to him first."

Were you an EastEnders fan before you became involved in E20?
"Yeah, I've grown up watching EastEnders, much like a lot of people. I remember when I was in primary school and I was watching Phil Mitchell, but I never actually thought that the time would come when I'd be on set acting in a scene with him! It's crazy."

Had you watched E20 beforehand too?
"Yes, I had. I think it was my little brother who first told me about E20, so that's how I knew about it. He was 18 at the time, and it was the first series with Fatboy, Mercy, Zsa Zsa and Leon. I watched it and it was good, and then I watched the second one which was completely different and that was very, very exciting too."

How does this series of E20 compare to the previous ones?
"I've watched all of our series now and I know that this is going to be the best E20 series that there's been. It's by far the most different because it's a lot darker and it touches on a lot more issues that disadvantaged youths go through, which is very, very good."

Faith, Donnie and Ava from EastEnders: E20
E20 is also being studied in schools this year, isn't it?
"Yes, E20 has joined with BBC Learning for this series and I know that students in secondary schools are going to be studying the show in their PSHE classes, because it fits in with the curriculum. So a lot of teenagers are going to be studying this show and I think it's well worth them watching it.

"It's great because many of the teenagers will already be watching the main EastEnders. When I was in school, I certainly didn't get to watch EastEnders in the classroom, so it's definitely a highlight!"

As the show is being studied in the classroom, what can young people take from it?
"I love the producer's vision for this and I know that one of her aims is for E20 to be a platform for young talent, and also for it to help young people out there who are going through issues. Hopefully it will help them to come out of their shell and express what they're going through, or speak about situations that may be bothering them at the moment."

Do you think E20 is just for EastEnders' younger fans or is it open to all ages?
"E20 should be open to all ages. From what I know about the current viewers of EastEnders, there's a really wide range of people who watch - all the way from primary school children to older people.

"In terms of E20, especially this series, I think it will attract not just youths but adults as well, because it is entertaining. Not only that, but I think it would be very good for adults to watch, because maybe they could understand their children and what they may be going through a bit more."

As we've seen with Fatboy, E20 characters can sometimes move over to the main show. Would you like that to happen with Donnie?
"Well, there's definitely a possibility of it. I would love to move over to the main show but I don't make those decisions - it comes from higher up!"

What's next for you?
"At the moment, I'm writing and producing my own sitcom which is called All About the McKenzies, and I'm looking to push this show online. I've got huge, huge aims for this show, as I would love it to be a worldwide phenomenon. I've been inspired by a lot of US sitcoms like Fresh Prince of Bell Air, Everybody Hates Chris and My Wife and Kids, so I've wanted to put a British take on that because we've not really had that here."

> EastEnders: E20 series three - Watch the first episode
> EastEnders: E20 series three - Watch episode two
> Read our interview with EastEnders: E20 star Modupe Adeyeye
> Read our interview with EastEnders: E20 star Sophie Colquhoun
> Read all the latest EastEnders: E20 news and spoilers
> Read all the latest EastEnders news and spoilers

EastEnders: E20 airs new episodes online each Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. A weekly omnibus also transmits every Friday at 8.30pm on BBC Three. Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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