If you’ve had your eyes glued to the events of Peaky Blinders this season, then you will be aware of the recent introduction of one Erasmus ‘Duke’ Shelby. A mysterious new member of the Shelby crime clan, he is head gangster Tommy’s long-lost son – the result of a pre-war roll-around under a hazel tree. Just one more question in a series that has offered many more of them than it has answers for.
But that all changes this Sunday, when after six seasons and almost a decade of Brum-based criminality, the Midlands mob drama finally wraps up. Duke is played by 21-year-old Conrad Khan, the breakout star of 2019 drug mule drama County Lines. We thought we better sit down with the fast-rising north Londoner to attempt to steal some secrets about Duke – and learn what we can expect from TV’s most anticipated finale of the year.
“Shall we witness the final act?”
— Peaky Blinders (@ThePeakyBlinder) March 30, 2022
Hey Conrad, are you pleased with the reaction to your Peaky Blinders debut?
“I was super pleased with it. I watched [Duke’s introduction] in episode five a couple of weeks ago, to prepare for interviews and stuff. But then I watched it properly yesterday again. It’s an exciting episode! I’m sure a lot of actors say this, but it’s awkward watching your performances back because you start to notice little things that you would have done differently or you start to criticise your performance, but I just enjoyed it really.”
It’s strange timing for a new Shelby son to be entering the show so late in the game…
“It is strange, but it’s quite timely for the narrative. Tommy has just lost one child, and so it’s like that Christian saying, ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away…’ He had this tragic loss, and then he’s gained something out of that.”
There’s a lot of talk about spin-offs and feature films – is the plan for Duke to feature?
“I have no idea. I don’t think [creator] Steven Knight knows! I would love to be. There’s talk of taking the show in different directions because there’s so much hunger for this universe. And that goes for me too, since before anything I’m a fan of the show. I think that Steven’s head is full of ideas, but as far as I know, there’s nothing written down.”
Tommy and Duke’s conversation in the last episode seemed like a passing of the torch…
“Maybe. I think Tommy sees a lot of himself in this new son. You know that line where he says, “there’s both light and dark in my business…” I think there’s a half of him that he sees in Duke, but I don’t know if he’s passing the torch. Obviously, he has a very finite mortality now, and maybe he’s scrambling to get things in place for when his [tuberculoma] illness becomes far worse and he’s unable to organise the family like he used to. Maybe he isn’t aware he’s doing that.”
You seem quite calm for a 21-year-old actor who’s just debuted in the nation’s favourite drama! Has anyone ever told you that?
“Not in as nice a way as that! I probably have my parents to thank for it, but also being thrown into a professional environment at the age of 15 where you’re dealing with adults and you’re dealing with lots of money. That forces you to mature slightly earlier than you would otherwise. People normally go to school, then college, then uni and then maybe 10 years later you start to think about taxes and stuff, but I had that early. It can be tiring. Sometimes you want to be running around the playground again.”
You’re splitting acting with being at university, aren’t you? What are you studying?
“I’m studying Film and English Comparative Literature. It’s kind of weird being in lectures and stuff when you’ve been in films, but I really like to think of myself as a student. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a student. It’s quite nice because my course is about film, so I can go in and talk about what I’ve gone through working for the past five years. It’s nice to have that first-hand experience.”
Going back to Peaky, this is a cast who’ve been together for nearly a decade. Do you feel like the new kid?
“I wasn’t made to feel like that at all. And it is a great team. It’s amazing watching Cillian Murphy, the way he stays in character by taking himself away from everyone after a cut. Total dedication to the craft. You can tell everyone misses Helen McCrory [who played Aunt Pol]. My first scene was with Paul Anderson who plays Arthur. He was so sweet. We got on really well. I think because I was the only other Londoner on set, since everyone else is from up north or Irish. After that scene I thought to myself: ‘Yeah, I’m part of it now…’”
Go on then, what can you tell us about the finale…
“I haven’t seen it, so I’m trying to remember from shooting a year ago! It’s epic. There’s action. It’s satisfying but it’s also not satisfying. Things are resolved but they’re also not really resolved. I’m trying to be cryptic…”
The final episode of ‘Peaky Blinders’ airs tonight (April 3) at 9pm on BBC One