Award-Winning Novelist and TV Creator Candice Carty-Williams Talks Bringing BBC Hit 'Champion' to Netflix

We chatted with the creator about bringing the series to life

Screen Shot 2024 01 22 at 6.20.10 PM 3 e1705965860845

You’ve probably already recently seen the name Candice Carty-Williams—the London-based British-Jamaican showrunner, writer, and author of The Sunday Times bestselling novels Queenie and People Person pop up somewhere while scrolling through your newsfeed/timelines. Known for her pen game and engaging ways of storytelling, it should come as no surprise that Carty-Williams is also the mastermind behind the BBC Drama series Champion—an eight-part scripted show that has been hailed a massive success in the UK thanks in part to its original music, dynamic performances and exploration of racism and sexism within the music industry. Living in the UK means you likely got your introduction to Champion when it made its debut on the BBC platform last spring. If you are in the US, however, you are just now getting in on the action as the series has only recently premiered on Netflix. We sat down with Carty-Williams to hear about writing her hit show and what else she is working on.

RELATED: 'The Black Book' Director On the Film's Success, Nigerian Culture, and Why It's Not 'John Wick'

I've been writing since I was a young woman, and I wanted a young woman at the center.

- Candice Carty-Williams

Recalling the early makings of the project, Carty-Williams tells ONE37pm: "I was called into the production office—a company by the name of Balloon, and the head of the company had written a script ten years prior called Star." She continues: "It was about the Black British music industry, and he realized that he maybe wasn't the person to be telling that story because he was a Scottish White man who was 60-years-old. He had a chat with me—at that point I had written Queenie, but it hadn't been released yet so it was around 2018/2019—I have been adapting Queenie for the screen since about 2017, and so they knew that I understood what a script should look like and that I was a storyteller."

"After about an hour of chatting it was kind of on the surface that I was going to be the one to do it, but I told them that I would need to have creative control over the project and change everything—including the name. They were fine with it, and the journey was born. I've been writing since I was a young woman, and I wanted a young woman at the center—which Vita (Déja J. Bowens) is."

Screen Shot 2024 01 22 at 4.52.02 PM
Candice Carty-Williams

The world sort of came out of the genres of music I wanted to make, because I love getting my hands into every single thing that I work on.

- Candice Carty-Williams

A love letter to Black British Music Culture set in the south of London, the music-infused Champion tells the story of what happens when fame and family collide, as rap sensation Bosco Champion (Malcolm Kamulete) returns home from prison, ready to dominate the music industry once more. That is until his rival discovers his younger sister Vita's talent, who is then forced to step out of her brother's shadow to become a performer in her own right. Expectedly, this predicament causes a sibling rivalry and family drama that in turn makes Champion a riveting series where there's multiple layers to unpack as you're watching. "I love all kinds of music—R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, American Rap, British—if it's Black music, I'm there," explains Carty-Williams as she tells us about the process of restructuring the script to fit her overall vision.

"I knew I wanted a Neo-Soul R&B singer, but I also knew I wanted a sort of Drill artist. That meant that she had to have a brother of course, which also meant he had to have a rival—the world sort of came out of the genres of music I wanted to make because I love getting my hands into every single thing that I work on. I'm very hands on and knew what producers I wanted to work with and everything."

Screen Shot 2024 01 22 at 3.54.35 PM

Part of that hands on process for Carty-Williams also meant being an active part of the casting process. "Oh yeah, I was involved in everything, much to the disdain of the directors," she laughs, adding: "When you're a showrunner, that's just how it goes right? When it came to the casting—I knew that I would know the actors as soon as I saw them." That process first started with the hunt for who would be cast as Vita—a process that included seeing multiple rounds of talented young women for the part. "Déja walked in with this suitcase, and I asked why she brought that with her. She told me it was because she did hair as a side hustle, and I knew right then that she was the one. She was somebody who wanted to act and was willing to do whatever it took to get there."

For the role of Bosco, however, the creator had to be convinced a little bit by one of the directors to take a closer look at Malcolm Kamulete, as she already had somebody else in mind. "The process of casting is super draining because it's hours and hours, and you care about these people and their feelings. I asked who it was they wanted me to see, and they told me it was the actor who played Ra'Nell in Top Boy. Malcolm was a kid at the time, but I remember watching him back then and thinking he was one of the best actors that I'd ever seen in anything. After watching his tape for two minutes, I knew that he was Bosco."

Screen Shot 2024 01 22 at 5.09.01 PM

They asked me what the music would be like in the show—I said 'Just trust me.' Because I was so certain, they just decided to trust me!

- Candice Carty-Williams

Eventually the casting process was completed along with other elements of the production. Then came the actual filming, the post-editing/filming work, and the massive success upon Champion premiering on the BBC. When I ask Carty-Williams about the success of the show, she makes it clear that she's most happy for the actors she spent dozens of hours casting and working with. "I mean it was nice—for the cast it was really important," she tells me humbly—giving all the credit to the actors involved. She continues: "It was important for them, and it was important that the culture loved it and thought it was authentic. For me, however, with me being an author—I've been through the journey of people loving and hating my work, so I just thought it was nice. It's super important for the cast and creatives who are very happy and proud."

While Carty-Williams is quick to turn the attention away from herself and give the applause to others, the success of Champion wouldn't have happened without her creative vision, passion, and tireless dedication. In fact, the combined efforts and talents of everybody involved are precisely why Champion has now been brought to the US by way of Netflix—a pitch meeting that she actually remembers nothing about due to her nerves prior to. "I don't remember the meeting because I was so scared. I was on autopilot get it done mode, and then I got a call about week later that Netflix was in. The other day, some of my Netflix friends involved in the show asked me if I remembered the meeting. I told them that I didn't. They said they asked me what the music would be like in the show—I said 'Just trust me.' Because I was so certain, they just decided to trust me!"

Screen Shot 2024 01 22 at 5.31.59 PM

I'm adapting my novel Queenie for both film and television—it's going to be another eight-part series for Channel 4 in the UK and Onyx, which is part Hulu and part Disney.

- Candice Carty-Williams

Trust her Netflix did, and now we've arrived at the point where Champion can now be streamed on the platform. So what's next up in the pipeline for Candice Carty-Williams? Another show? Perhaps a film? Maybe a new novel? The answer to that is all of the above. "I'm adapting my novel Queenie for both film and television—it's going to be another eight-part series for Channel 4 in the UK and Onyx, which is part Hulu and part Disney in the US. I will be finished by the end of the month, and I'll be free for the first time in eight years!"

Well, maybe not totally free, as she notes that a creative of any kind can "never totally let go." And as for her other bestseller People Person? "This is interesting—I always thought I didn't want to do anything with People Person, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it's a cast of potentially ten people. The best thing for me about writing for the screen and show running is being close to the actors and seeing how they talk, breathe, and think about things."

"I look at the things their eyebrows might do and how they might gesture, and then I'll put that in the script. I typically write very early versions of the script, and then once you get the cast, you have to rewrite things. That also means you can rewrite the characters and dialogue. One of my favorite actors I've worked with is Joseph Marcell, who played Geoffrey Butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I was able to write his parts as the grandad he played, specifically his speech towards the end of the series, with him totally in mind. I write with rapports and what you breathe. It's my favorite part of my job, and I'm a real 'actors' writer' in that way. I can definitely do that with another ten people for People Person, and the Black British acting scene is just full to the brim with incredible acting talent to work with."

That means there's certainly plenty to look forward to from Candice Carty-Williams in the future. In the meantime, you can watch Champion here.

You can also continue to keep up with Candice Carty-Williams' latest updates via Instagram.

RELATED: The 35 Best Action Movies on Hulu Right Now

Did you like this article?
Thumbs Up
Thumbs Down