Saffron Hocking

Saffron Hocking wants it to be known: in the new season of Top Boy, the women are the ones who are on top.

Three years since its Drake-endorsed revival, Top Boy is finally back and is (quite literally) holding no punches. This time it’s bigger than just Summerhouse. Loyalty before everything. is this season’s tagline for the much-loved British crime drama that follows two drug dealers Dushane, played by Ashley Walters, and Sully, played by Kane Robinson, as they grow their trade on the Summerhouse estate. Loyalty is a theme that flickers throughout this new season for all of the show’s characters, but especially with actress Saffron Hocking’s Lauryn in particular.

After impressing writer & creator Ronan Bennett and quickly moving from a recurring role in last season to a series regular for the next, actress Saffron Hocking is more than rising to the challenge and responsibility required for her character’s arc this season. At the end of last season, Saffron’s character Lauryn is fleeing for her life after fraternizing with the enemy. With the release of the newest season, it is immediately apparent there’s been a lot of changes for Lauryn between then and now: she’s pregnant and in a new, toxic relationship. Lauryn is isolated and struggling with the ripple effects of domestic abuse and coercive control, something Saffron Hocking did not take lightly. To prepare for the role, Saffron Hocking reached out to women’s charity Refuge in order to properly depict Lauryn and her struggles with domestic abuse in a way that doesn’t glamorize it.

1883 Magazine’s Kelsey Barnes chats with Saffron Hocking about the upcoming season of Top Boy, working with women’s charity Refuge to prepare for her character’s arc, and more.


Trigger warning: this interview discusses domestic abuse.


Saffron! Let’s chat about beginnings: you’ve been acting since 2014, but where did you get your start? 

I went to drama school for three years and trained mainly in theatre. My first acting role was at Shakespeare’s Globe, so I thought I would just be doing theatre for the rest of my career… and that was my first and last time doing it [laughs]. It’s the beauty of this career, you can do anything, the possibilities are endless with stage or screen. Everything’s different and I relish it. 


What a way to start your career though — at the Globe!

It’s such an iconic place in London, isn’t it? My parents were so proud of me, it was so lovely to see their faces smiling.


The next season of Top Boy is out on Friday. You play Lauryn, who, at the end of season 3, was fleeing for her life. What is her mindset at the beginning of the season? 

She’s just in survival mode really. She’s fighting for not only her own life but the life of her unborn child. You have to remember that Lauryn is a young woman and she’s got a lot to learn. We all make mistakes! Bloody hell, I had a lot of growing up to do in my 20s. I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them, but they were never mistakes on the same scale as Lauryn’s. I can make a mistake and then run home to mommy and daddy and my friends because I was always protected and felt safe, loved, and nurtured. I knew that everything would always be okay because I had a support system around me. For Lauryn, she doesn’t have that. She’s literally isolated on her own, scared out of her mind, and so desperate. It’s very telling that things are bad if she’d rather go back to Summerhouse where she’s been banished! 


Something I love about your portrayal of Lauryn is that, despite it being frustrating that she makes choices like fraternizing with the enemy, it always seems like you approach her with a lot of empathy. Is that something you always aim to do? 

One hundred thousand percent. Forget being an actor — just being a human being it is so important to approach every single person with a level of empathy and humanize everyone. You can’t judge people because, again, people are the way they are for a reason, whether that be something that’s happened to them in the past or growing up. We wear our scars, we are all products of our environment. 

I think to then apply that to acting, you can’t play a character that you dislike because you are that person. As human beings, there are times we might actually dislike ourselves but you have to really tap into your inner child and love yourself. I think with the characters that I play, especially Lauryn, I just want to give her the biggest hug and tell her everything’s gonna be okay. If it was up to me, life would be rainbows and cupcakes for her and she would be skipping off into the sunset on a holiday. I can’t give that to her, but what I can do is try to humanize everything she does and not play her on the surface level as a horrible, bitchy, crazy, psycho because she’s so much more than that.


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This season in particular feels so centred on what’s going on for the women in the show; they aren’t being used to prop up other storylines, they are dealing with their issues. The photoshoot Little Simz photographed of the women in Top Boy was amazing.

That was a beautiful moment for all of us together. Celebrating the women of Top Boy. Yeah, this season I actually want to change the name of the show to Top Girls [laughs].


We can campaign for it! Lauryn’s storyline in particular is incredibly powerful as she deals with getting involved in an abusive relationship. You worked with women’s charity Refuge to better understand women that are experiencing domestic abuse. What was it like working with them and speaking to women that are going through what Lauryn is struggling with?

It’s important to dive deeper as part of your preparation, but for this storyline… I knew I had to educate myself. It’s a storyline about domestic abuse and it needed to be portrayed properly, not glamorized. I called up Refuge for a bit of advice and throughout the entire process—and even now—they’ve been in contact with me and helped educate me. I had the honour of meeting one survivor of domestic abuse and this beautiful woman shared her story with me. I felt so bad because she was explaining it and I was the one crying as she comforted me. She just has so much strength. I was in awe of her and so honoured to be in her presence. 

Refuge is such an incredibly important charity that highlights and supports women through terrible terrible times and horrible situations. We were filming the last season during the pandemic where domestic abuse was at an all-time high. One case is too many, but in the pandemic, it was up to 65% higher than it previously was. The responsibility of that was not one I took lightly at all. I really needed to do it as much justice as possible and it continues to sadden me. I was very conscious and aware that I’m acting; I can come to set and switch it on & off, and then leave to the comfort of my home where I loved and protected. Women wish they could do that but it isn’t their reality. That is why I continue to keep in contact with Refuge and will continue to do so for the rest of my career if they’ll have me. I hope that going forward, if Lauryn’s story gives hope to one person, that’s enough for me. 


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Lauryn’s storyline is so important because when we think of abuse, we think it’s physical. For Lauryn, there’s a lot of mental abuse like coercion. 

Exactly. To me, I thought domestic abuse was all physical. With emotional abuse, there’s a controlling factor with gaslighting and coercion. It’s so hard to describe where people don’t even realize that it’s happening to them. It’s like if someone said to you, “Don’t wear that top, get the one I got you.” If you were to then describe that to someone, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with it. For someone trying to control someone else, it’s a million small instances like that to create coercive control and gaslighting. It goes on for such a long time and it all builds and builds and builds. That’s what needs to be highlighted.


When you got the script for this season and saw what Lauryn was going to be going through, was that daunting at all for you? 

It was an absolute honour to be trusted to deliver that story. It was a hell of a lot of responsibility. The writer Ronan Bennett has been such an important man in my life and in my career. He’s really been a mentor to me. In the last season of Top Boy, I was only meant to do a few episodes. On the second or third day of filming, he came up to me and told me he loved what I was doing. We chatted for ages and he said he wanted to write more for me if I’d be up for it. We kind of went from there and my character grew throughout that first season. What Ronan does beautifully is he collaborates with us as actors, you never feel like you’re stepping on his toes. You can have ideas and bring them to him because he wants the best out of the storyline for the show. He’s an incredible man and I just thank him so much for trusting me with this story and the character.


I read that you actually told a friend about Top Boy’s revival and you said you wanted to be in that, which I love! It must feel like a full-circle moment for you.

Do you know those moments where you can vividly remember where you were when you heard something? It was like that. I was sitting in the car with my friend and I was scrolling through my phone and saw they were bringing it back and I said to her, “I’m going to be in that.” I then went to the gym and I was in a gym class chatting to this girl. I found out she started a new job, I asked her what it was, and low and behold she was casting for Top Boy.


That is crazy. 

I cannot make this up. I have messages between her and me on Facebook because of course I stalked and found her on Facebook [laughs]! I said I would be interested in literally anything, I’ll be a walk-on and say one line! I went in for the audition and a few others and didn’t hear back for quite some time. 


You really went for it, though. Tenacious!

If you want something to happen, you can’t wait for people to give you what you want. If you want something enough, do it yourself. You’ve got to make things happen, of course, with the support of others, which I absolutely have. So, I didn’t hear back anything and then I got a phone call from my agent and she said she had a job for me and it was Top Boy.


And now you’ve been given an incredible arc.

It’s been a really beautiful, incredible journey.


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You and I can talk about specific moments and I’ll keep it out of the interview for spoiler reasons, but there are a few scenes in the show that are pretty intense, to say the least. What is it like filming those intense, draining scenes? 

Between you and me, it was incredibly intense. We have to prepare physically and mentally for all of the scenes; there’s a lot of choreography that we work with a choreographer for. Emotionally, you can’t choreograph it. You just have to think about getting to that place and embodying the character and their experience and hope it comes through. 


Knowing what you know about her arc over the season, if you could give Lauryn some advice, what would it be?

I’d put her in therapy straightaway [laughs]. I’d tell her to love herself first and foremost instead of looking for it in external places. It needs to come from within. If you start from a place of love within yourself, then you’re set up to make the right decisions. I think that any bad decision or any bad thing that a person does comes from a place of instability within your own self and you’re not practicing self-love and self-care.



Lastly, if you could manifest something for yourself this year, what would it be?

Like a yacht and millions of pounds? [laughs] It sounds like a corny answer, but it is the truth: I want to manifest feeling happy and fulfilled in my career, and happiness and joy for everyone in my life. I feel like I’m on this journey right now that is bringing me so much joy and I want that for everyone around me. I don’t want to do this or feel like this, alone. 


When one of us wins, we all win.

That’s the way I see it. I want that for all of us. Then we can sit on our yachts in our mansion with our millions of pounds together.


The new season of Top Boy is streaming on Netflix on March 18th. Follow Saffron Hocking at @saffronhocking. Learn more about Refuge Charity here.


Interview by Kelsey Barnes

Photography by Joseph Sinclair

Styling by Clementine Brown

Hair and Make-Up by Joe Pickering-Taylor

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