London street kid, refugee, boxer and grime MC. Arnold Oceng has played them all (except grime MC, that was real). As one of Britain’s greatest emerging talents, with two international blockbusters soon to be under his belt, we caught up with him ahead of the release of his latest movie Brotherhood. The final instalment in the Noel Clarke trilogy, which many of us grew up with, sees Arnold‘s character ‘Henry’ in a whole new light.
FAULT: We are so excited about Brotherhood…
It’s awesome. It’s awesome, man. I can’t express it anymore. If you’ve seen the trailer, or any of the other films, you’ll know what to expect. Henry, my character, comes back bigger and better from when he got bricked in the head [before]. He’s grown into a mature man. He has a wife, children, he’s not on that way of life anymore. He’s a working man.
FAULT: The clips we’ve seen seem to be a lot more comical and a lot less gritty. Is that the tone, or is that just the clips we’ve seen?
I think that’s just the clips you’ve seen, but there is… As I’ve said before, my character, Henry, he does bring the comedy element to the film. As I said, he’s not on the violent stuff, even though he gets pulled into it. So through all the violence and stuff, he is funny and he makes the funniest scenes out of real serious situations.
FAULT: Brotherhood is also being shown at The Toronto Film Festival…
Yeah! I think that’s next month. To be selected for TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is… I’m sure you know, is like a major, big, deal. I went there for the first time last year for another movie that I did and so I’ve experienced the Toronto film festival before and it is amazing. The amount and the calibre of films that are there, that are selected… The actors, the celebrities that are there, that attend… It’s one of the biggest film festivals in the world, so for BrOTHERHOOD… This London film that started off so indie and so small, for that to be accepted and to be amongst such huge films, it’s a blessing. It’s a massive achievement for us.
FAULT: It will be interesting to see how Brotherhood is received, because the urban street culture in Toronto is quite similar to ours, here in London…
Yes! It’s so funny that you said that, because – I’m going off topic now, but it’s cool. I got a Whatsapp message from a friend of mine and he was like, ‘yo, you’ve got to check out the Vlogger on YouTube’ his name is something like That Dude McFly or something like that. He’s got thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter, he’s huge. He’s from Toronto and he’s a big advocate for grime music. He plays grime on his vlogs all the time and he’s getting known over here just for supporting the movement. So anyway, I clicked on the link, expecting him to talk about grime again and he was talking about how everyone thinks Toronto stole London’s ‘swag’, in the way they talk and act etc… But they’ve been taking like that for a while etc… But he said he got introduced to our street culture, like a lot of them did over there, by watching KiDULTHOOD and AdULTHOOD. He said those were the films that he got a lot of London slang from and because he heard grime on the soundtrack, that is what made him get involved and seek out grime music. He tweeted me the other day – which is so crazy – saying how much he loves the trilogy and can’t wait for BrOTHERHOOD. So I understand the culture over there. They really are engrossed in what’s happening over here.
FAULT: Speaking of Canada and London street culture… you were in CH4’s ‘Top Boy’ how much can you tell us about Drake making another series?
[laughs] ahh I knew you were going to ask me that. I know you are going to think I’m lying, but I honestly don’t know. I’m very close with Ashley Walters, I speak to him all the time and he’s expressed how much he wants it to come back. I want it to come back as well. The whole thing with Drake being onboard… I think he’s expressed how much he wants to be involved. I think it’s just down to sorting out finances, which we are not involved in at all. So I don’t know much, sorry.
FAULT: So it is a real rumour?
It’s a real rumour. We’ve all been talking about it. So, erm… Yeah. It is a real rumour.
FAULT: We don’t want to typecast you in this interview, so please tell us about your next film ‘A United Kingdom’ which is out in November.
‘A United Kingdom’ will be my second international film. It’s an amazing, amazing, script. It’s directed by Amma Asante. If you’re not familiar with her work, her last film was ‘Belle’. So this is like, her next project to come out, so it’s highly anticipated. As I said, it’s an amazing script. It stars David Oyelowo
and Rosamund Pike and it’s a true story about love. It’s a period drama set in the 1940’s I believe. David and Rosamund fall in love in a time where interracial relationships were still very much frowned upon, but against all odds and against everyone trying to separate them, true love prevails and they fight for love.
FAULT: That’s two, major, international films. Are you now officially a ‘big deal’ in the acting world?
[laughs] It has been a very good 2/3 years for me. I’m just very humble. I’m just taking it all in to be honest.
FAULT: Your first international film ‘The Good Lie’ where you worked opposite Reese Witherspoon must have been a huge learning curve. How do you remain humble?
I learnt so much from that film. Like… yes, good things are happening, but take it slow, don’t shout from the rooftops just yet. So that’s my thought process right now, with the United Kingdom or with any project I’ve got coming up. You never know if a film will do well or not, so just let your work do the talking, if you know what I mean?
FAULT: The feedback was really good too, highly critically acclaimed…
The feedback was amazing. I’ve never been in a movie that has had feedback the way that that film has had feedback. Up until this day I get tweets from all over the world saying how much they love the film and how much they love my character. I think it’s because of the storyline. Refugees are pretty current to what is going on today, so I think it resonated with a lot of people. So many people have told me it’s their best film of this year, or their best film of all time… It means a lot to hear that stuff.
Your character in ‘The Good Lie’ has a heavy Sudanese accent. Sometimes, actors use one blanket accent for the whole of Africa…
Yes, like you said, not all African accents are the same and to the untrained ear it’s just one accent, which it really isn’t.
FAULT: I find English actors are better at accents. Do you think that is true and why?
In my honest opinion British accents are the best accents in the world. Even my agent says it. It’s just instilled in us. When you think of thespians, Shakespeare etc…
Would you make the move over to states given how well you are doing at the moment?
I am back and forth at the moment, but I’ll just see where the route takes me. I wouldn’t want to leave England or London, that’s my home. The way things are at the moment, you don’t necessarily have to live there. You can send an audition tape in via email… Living there, you don’t really have to do that anymore… But it can be beneficial.
So is Snakeyman, your grime MC alter ego dead, will we ever hear you on a track again?
[laughs] you are insane… Just bringing things out of the woodworks like this! I like that… No he’s not, but when I do come back, I’m not going to come back as Snakeyman, just because I’ve outgrown him. I’ll just come back as Arnie, but I’ve got some really, really good music there. It’s been sitting there for a long time. I’ve been so lucky these past couple of years with acting, I just haven’t had time to release stuff and do music videos, I’ve just been busy. If I ever get a window of free time I will definitely do that. My mindset has changed from before. I don’t want to make music to get signed or anything it’s just therapeutic for me and I like it. So in the future, if I just want to put something out I will and whether or not it gets a response, I don’t really care, because I’m doing it for me now.
You’re working on a film at the moment where you play a boxer. How much preparation did you have to do for that?
Yes, It’s a Danish movie. You’re a real detective [laughs]. I speak in English, then there are some parts where it’s in Danish.
Oh, it was mad. I had to put on weight. They gave me a personal trainer, they gave me a nutritionalist. I was training everyday, in the gym everyday… It was very hard work.
The film is called ‘The Greatest Man’ and I’ve literally just finished filming it. It’s another true story about this boxer who comes over from Uganda to Denmark because he’s been offered a title fight and that’s my character. Then he goes over there, because it’s set in the late 70’s/early 80’s he faces a lot of racism, banana peels are thrown at him, when he gets into the ring there are monkey chants…
No spoilers, but he has to win the title after all of that …or it would be a pretty depressing movie?
Oh yes, of course – but only in the ring. The Danish people were just unsure of him at first, slightly ignorant, but he wins them over by how humble and down to earth he is and the fact that he never retaliated. The only time he is aggressive is in the ring.