He was the first black actor to star as Othello at the National Theatre and he went on to play Nelson Mandela.

Now David Harewood is preparing for his next big challenge – becoming the greatest all-rounder in the history of the United States.

Back in the days when he was a pupil at St Benedict’s Junior School in Small Heath and on his way to Washwood Heath Comprehensive School, lorry driver’s son David would have just turned 10 when Paul Leroy Robeson died at the age of 77 on January 23, 1976.

Naturally, the young Harewood had never heard of him.

But things are very different now.

On the back of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond and starring in the hit US series Homeland, David is now a star himself.

And, at 47 he is ripe to play a former American football player who studied at law school and also became a singer and an acting star of stage and screen.

A renowned political activist, to boot, Robeson’s criticism of the US government led him to being blacklisted during McCarthyism.

Although his health broke down and he spent his remaining years living privately, he remained unapologetic for his non-conformist views.

“I became aware of him when I was about 16 or 17,” says David.

“Robeson could be a huge film with an extraordinary story that’s never been told.

“Things are being put in place to make it and it has the potential to make a stirring piece of work.”

Given how sprawling it could be, David hopes it will only concentrate on a relatively narrow part of the story.

Quentin Tarantino once spelled out to me how to make a biopic, even though he has yet to go down that road himself.

“If I was to tell the Elvis Presley story,’ Tarantino told me, ‘it would be the day he walked into Sun Records.”

David senses that’s the right approach, lest the attempt to cover “everything” gets out of hand.

Certainly, having already played Nelson Mandela in Mrs Mandela (2010), he already understands what it’s like to play a major world figure. How does he feel every time he hears how ill the prisoner turned South African president has become?

“It’s such a shame when you’ve studied the man and realised how vibrant he was,” he says.

“How much he fought for... it’s such a shame to see him in such a parlous condition.

“It certainly makes you think about your own mortality.”

Although he gave his own bone marrow five years ago to save a life – a process he said made him feel “incredibly special” – helping others is not something he envisages doing through politics.

“I don’t understand why anybody would want to do it,” he says, highlighting the failures of Barack Obama as a case in point.

“I don’t think Obama could ever live up to expectations.

“I think he has had a calming effect on Americans and the world.

“But he hasn’t been as strong as he could have been.

“There are people in the American administration who will never go along with what he has said.

“A certain section has worked hard to undermine him so there has been a polarising effect in American politics.

“We hoped Obama’s election as the first black US president would be the end of racism. I think it might have been just the beginning.”

When RADA-trained David played David Estes, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Centre in Homeland, he was one of the best-dressed men on TV.

He says he owes his smartness to a combination of his mother Mayleen telling him to get his hair cut before it ever got “nappy”, and to being a Rude boy at school during the Ska and 2- Tone era.

“We’d always tuck the thin parts of our ties in our shirts,” says David.

“I sometimes wish I’d grown up in the 30s and 40s because I love being dressed like that.

“That look did well for me in Homeland.

“I’m Mr Formality and I like it. It gives you a certain air of authority.”

When he follows in the footsteps of Brum’s wild man of rock, Ozzy Osbourne, with his own star on Broad Street, will David forget the trend for even prime ministers and presidents to go without a tie?

“I think it depends how hot it is,” he says.

“I’ll being a couple of outfits down just in case!

Birmingham actor David Harewood
Birmingham actor David Harewood
 

“I think presidents and prime ministers go without ties to show the ‘common touch’ and that’s no bad thing.

“But at the end of the day I’m a guy who likes to look sharp.

“I’ve had a few things tailored and its nice when someone can do that.

“There’s nothing like a bespoke suit, but it’s a pick and mix situation.

“Sometimes I might be doing a job where I’ll get one for free, or someone will charge me £2,000 depending on who it is making it!”

David is the youngest of three brothers with one sister.

He lives in Streatham in London while his mother and father Romeo Cornelius have remained in the city.

“Everyone is very proud of my star,” he says.

“I’ve come a long way in 27 years and it’s not always been plain sailing.

“There have been some amazing people who had already got a star and then look at the list of those who haven’t.

“If they all got one they could extend the walk right down to the Bullring!

“Being a Brummie – and a Blue Nose (fan of Birmingham City) – will never leave me.

“We’re salt of the earth people.

“I would like to think I’ve got a good grip of reality.

“I always think that just because my name might be above the poster, I’m no more important than the guy who makes the tea.

“We’re all working in a collaborative process.”

Having played Othello, would he fancy becoming King Lear when he’s older?

“Yes I would, I played the part at drama school so it would be nice to revisit it,” he says.

“I am looking to play the big Shakespeare parts and am going to Brooklyn to star in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The production will open a new venue for Theatre For A New Audience and will be the first theatre work for The Lion King creator, Julie Taymor, since she left Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark two years ago and ended up in major legal battle.

“I’m pretty good at learning the text for things like that,” says David.

“I find Shakespearean poetry easier to learn than some corporate video with nothing memorable to it. It’s easier than you think.”

His first TV movie was For The Greater Good (1991) directed by future Oscar winner Danny Boyle who masterminded the opening ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics.

“I was very fortunate to work with him,” says David.

“I hope one day Danny picks up the phone again and says: ‘Can you do a job for me?’.”

David has two daughters, Maize (10) and Raven (seven), by Kirsty Hand, his partner of 12 years whom he married earlier this year.

Supposing his agent calls him up and says: ‘Hey, David! I’ve had a great day... you have the choice to play either James Bond, Doctor Who or Spock.’

Which part would he choose?

“It would have to be James Bond,” he says unhesitatingly.

“I don’t know where the Doctor Who story came from and it’s always nice to be ‘in the frame’.

“But Bond always gets the chicks. And he has the cars, too! So it would have to be Bond.”

* David will join the likes of Tony Iommi, Julie Walters, Lenny Henry and Beverley Knight when he is awarded his star.

It will be presented by the Lord Mayor Coun Mike Leddy at 5pm on July 25 at Cineworld, Broad Street.

The award will be followed by a screening of Blood Diamond, a 2008 film in which David starred opposite the modern great, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Birmingham actor David Harewood in Shakespeare’s Othello.
Birmingham actor David Harewood in Shakespeare’s Othello.
 

* Originally inspired by the Hollywood Walk of Fame this prestigious recognition is now claimed by Midlanders as one of the highest accolades to receive.

The Walk of Fame style tribute honours those famous people who have made a significant contribution to the West Midlands in the categories of music, television, film, radio, theatre, sport, business and literacy.

In 2007, Rock legend Ozzy Osbourne, comedy star Jasper Carrott and Britain’s best known glam rocker Noddy Holder, were among the first to proudly received the honour of induction on to the Broad Street Walk of Stars.

1. Ozzy Osbourne 06/07/07 Musician - Member of Black Sabbath

2. Jasper Carrot 15/09/07 Comedian

3. Noddy Holder 09/12/07 Musician

4. Murray Walker 28/06/08 Sports Commentator

5. The Archers 12/09/08 Soap Opera - Long running radio serial

6. Norman Painting 12/09/08 Soap Opera - The Voice of Phil Archer

7. Tony Iommi 23/11/08 Musician - Member of Black Sabbath

8. Aston Villa F.C. 04/05/09 Members of 1982 European Cup winning team

9. Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown 17/05/09 Footballer - West Bromwich Albion F.C.

10. Frank Skinner 01/08/09 Comedian

11. Gil Merrick Sept 09 Footballer - Birmingham City F.C.

12. Ray Graydon Sept 09 Footballer - Walsall F.C.

13. Julie Walters 27/10/09 Actress & Comedienne

14. Gary Newbon 10/12/09 News Sports Reporter

15. Lenny Henry 19/12/09 Comedian

16. Beverly Knight 20/03/10 Singer

17. Joan Armatrading 05/06/10 Singer/Songwriter

18. Chris Tarrant 05/08/10 TV Presenter

19. Birmingham Royal Ballet 11/09/10 Ballet

20. David Bintley 11/09/10 Ballet

21. Roy Wood 13/11/10 Musician

22. Bev Bevan 28/04/11 Drummer

23. Sir Keith Porter 16/06/11 Micro Surgeon

24. Matt Croucher GC 16/06/11 Royal Marine Lance Corporal

25. Laurie Mansfield 16/06/11 Chairman - British Forces Foundation

26. Nigel Mansell 14/08/11 Formula 1 Motor Racing World Champion

27. Malkit Singh 10/05/12 King of Bhangra

28. Harry Moseley 20/08/12 Fundraiser

29. Jaki Graham 03/10/12 Singer/ Songwriter

30. Ellie Simmonds 06/10/12 Paralympic Swimmer

31. David Harewood 25/07/13 Actor

The Birmingham, Broad Street Walk of Stars is coordinated and funded by the Broad Street Business Improvement District (BID), Broad Street is Birmingham’s leading mixed-use business area with 15,000 people employed in more than 300 businesses throughout the area, including offices, hotels, pubs, clubs, restaurants and leisure venues and museum.

It also includes the International Convention Centre, the National Indoor Arena, the National Sealife Centre and Brindleyplace.