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Ray Fearon on presenting Frederick Douglass to Piccadilly Circus: 'People tell me I look like Frederick'

The actor is doing something special this August

Ray Fearon as Frederick Douglass

Stage and screen star Ray Fearon is having his face placed in an environment he could never have imagined this August – the filmed performance of his turn as legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass will be beamed onto Piccaddily Circus' massive screens as part of the giant Art Takeover.

Fearon, known for roles in Coronation Street and Fleabag, first played the historical figure back in 2019, bringing the life of the abolitionist into vivid clarity in Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour. He explains over Zoom: "We actually filmed it in 2018, and it's been in the USA for at least the last year and a half – so I've been waiting for a space to actually see it!"

What did Fearon see in Douglass? "I never knew all the stuff he was involved in. When I mention his name a lot of people say "who?"... His connection with Britain, with Scotland, is massive. He spent two years over here doing talks, giving speeches. He was connected with a variety of political organisations, including the women's rights movements."

It felt like a natural fit for Fearon to take on the historical icon: "A lot of people have told me I look like Frederick, so when the casting director Gary Davies sent Isaac a photo of me – apparently he was flabbergasted. He said I was the spitting image of him."

A blend of Julien's visual richness and renditions of Douglass' work make up the film, with Fearon going through the process involved: "We did the speeches at the Royal Academy and that felt more like my domain – being the narrator and talking to an audience. It became a lot clearer for me in that sense. It was only when I saw the video and the end product that I could see what Isaac had done."

What is Fearon most excited about? "The fact that the takeover is opening London with art! During the pandemic, I used to walk through the capital for work and it was heartbreaking. I missed the bustle of the theatre, people going to restaurants. To revive London again in a different landscape, and allowing people to discover something at the same time, is so great."

There will be a 30-minute presentation at the end of August, with spectators able to sync the audio up with the giant screen to listen to Fearon's performance. An ironic twist for a man who was once the most photographed human being to now find a home on the one of the most iconic screens out there: "He loved being photographed – his speeches on photography are fascinating. How he wrote about how a picture should both be taken and received is brilliant. He was an artist – I'm delighted to put him on Piccadilly's screens."

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