"If our profession was completely well balanced and we lived in a Utopia then any actor should play any role. It should purely be down to talent" says Adrian Lester who is about to take to the West End stage in Red Velvet.

The play, written by his wife Lolita Chakrabarti, tells the story of 19th Century black actor Ira Aldridge who was asked to take on the role of Othello in London as the public riot in the streets over the abolition of slavery.

Equality has hit the headlines in a big way this week as stars in America boycott the Oscars due to the nominees being overwhelmingly white. And Adrian, who first played Ira at the Tricycle Theatre in 2012, has been equally outspoken about diversity in this county, calling on Ofcom to draw up quotas on ethnic diversity that major broadcasters would be forced to meet.

"What has been done by broadcasters so far is great and moving in the right direction, " says the 47-year-old. "But you do wonder once the voices have stopped complaining for a bit and the heat is off, where the teeth are that will make sure we don’t, as we have countless times, slipped back into a code of practice that is really not beneficial to our society as a whole. I think Ofcom could provide those teeth."

He grew up in Birmingham and dreamt of being an actor from the age of 14 but says encouragement was sorely lacking.

"In 1984 people just could not see someone like me as a classical actor. They would say I was going to be in a sitcom or advert because then there were no known classical black actors back then.

"People looked at me like I was mad and said I would grow out of it but I’m glad I didn’t."

The south Londoner's first big break was his award-winning turn as Rosalind in Cheek by Jowl's all-male production of As You Like It which caused controversy but for him was a 'joyous experience' and one he says proves that actors should not be limited by their physicality.

"The best jobs for me are ones that make me a better actor, " says the star who became a household name playing Mickey Bricks in BBC drama Hustle - a role he loved but will not be returning to.

However he says it would be difficult to put a spin on Red Velvet which opens at The Garrick on Saturday as part of the season by Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company.

Enfield Independent:

Adrian Lester on stage in Red Velvet at Tricycle Theatre. PHOTO: Tristram Kenton

"It is quite specific to race and it wouldn’t work if you played with that. Although I suppose in 30 or 40 years time people could do all sorts of things with it.

"But at the moment don’t really see that happening as you have to see those race politics played out on stage.

"And it is that Lolita plays with in order to explore the human beings underneath and if you switch it all around part of it goes out the window."

The actor, who will be back on our screens this year in six-part BBC drama Undercover, describes Ira, who is the only actor of African-American descent among the 33 actors of the English stage honoured with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, as determined driven, resourceful and incredibly talented.

"All he did and kept doing was continue to demand excellence from himself and those who worked with him despite any detracts and theatre being closed to him. He simply worked to the best of his ability and carried on and that is hugely admirable."

So how close are we to that Utopian equality?

"No idea, " says Adrian. "But in every industry we face the same challenges and are constantly trying to find ways to make sure people who have a disability have equal opportunities and that we focus on their skills and workmanship rather than what their body may be or what they look like. It is a constant battle. Then you have gender politics and race.

"We have a long way to go but as long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other then we keep moving."

He adds: "If you are in any industry and you can see things that are proven to be wrong you have two choices. You can either be part of solution or carry on and in a way be part of the problem.

"I want to be part of the solution and do my bit to make my industry a little better for those that came after me."

Red Velvet plays at Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0HH, from January 23 to February 27. Details: branaghtheatre.com