British Ugandan actor, Arnold Oceng, has been in the industry since the tender age of six, and definitely knows what it takes to be successful. He’s starred in countless movies and TV shows, his two most recent ones, “brOTHERHOOD” and “A United Kingdom,” taking TIFF by storm. Vulkan’s Editor, Rebecca Besnos, took some time to talk to Arnold about his favourite director, his first role, and his experience doing a period piece. Catch him in “A United Kingdom”, out in the UK on November 25, and in the USA on February 17, 2017.
You’ve been acting since the young age of 6! Do you remember what your first role was? At what moment did you know this was the career for you?
I started off very small, doing mostly adverts and music videos–a Pringle’s ad, a health commercial, and Blur’s park life video as a kid in the park playing football- but hey, we all have to start somewhere! In all honesty, “Grange Hill,” which was a huge popular Kids TV series back in the day for BBC, was my first ever lead role. I knew from my first day on set that this was for me, and I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an actor throughout your impressive journey? How has the industry helped shape you as a person?
It has definitely given me a thicker skin. It’s a career/industry where you are constantly being told no, so it’s an aspect of the game that you need to come to terms with and accept. Patience, humility, and focus are the 3 main areas I have developed as I matured from a child actor into an adult actor. I learnt these over the years working on the job.
You played Henry in “AdULTHOOD,” which was released in 2008. You resumed that role in the trilogy’s last film, “BrOTHERHOOD,” which came out a few weeks ago. What’s Henry about? Can you relate to him at all? What was it like having to get back into that character after so many years and so many roles in between?
I think I will always love playing Henry. He was my first ever movie role, so he is a part of me and someone I hold close to my heart, no matter how much time passes. I will always come back and play Henry, if there’s a chance. Henry is the comic relief of the movie; he’s there to lighten up the mood, considering there are some dark moments in the story. He’s a great, lovable family man who is just trying to get by in life, when someone from his past drags him back to a life he left many years ago.
The “HOOD” trilogy touches on some pretty intense themes of betrayal, violence, and vengeance in West London. Why do you think director, Noel Clarke’s gritty portrayal of the UK resonates with so many people? Why is it important for viewers to be exposed to it?
Because it’s REALITY and that’s why people love it and why time and time again, we outperform everyone in the box office. I think people are tired of a certain one sided portrayal of London-not everywhere in London is like Notting Hill. People love the “HOOD” trilogy because it shows how normal everyday working class people are living, and that’s what resonates with people.
“A United Kingdom” looks incredible (and the trailer may or may not have made us tear). Can you tell us a bit about the film and your role in it? As it was set in the 1940s, did you have any difficulties adapting to the portrayal of a simpler time?
Hahaha, I bet you guys shed a tear from the trailer alone! Don’t worry, me too lol. I loved being a part of this movie, alongside David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. They are such great professionals and people I look up to. Amma Asante directing the film was the cherry on top for me, as I had been a fan of hers for a while; she is such a phenomenal woman who knows what she wants. I play Charles Seretse (aka David’s best mate), who cares for his close friend and can foresee the dangers ahead if he is to be with Ruth. I loved dressing up and doing a period piece because, as a black actor, there are very limited opportunities in those types of films; it’s as if the industry is implying that people of color didn’t exist in those times.
The movie was shot in both England and Botswana. Did you get to enjoy any of the countryside while filming, or was it strictly business?
Strictly business and unfortunately, all my scenes were filmed here so I did not get to enjoy any of that Botswana weather.
In your opinion, what is the most important message viewers should take away from “A United Kingdom?”
The one thing that I want people to take away from watching “A United Kingdom” is that love has no color and is not prejudiced. As sappy as it may sound, love conquers all.
“BrOTHERHOOD” and “A United Kingdom” were both selected for the Toronto International Film Festival this year! Congratulations! How does it feel to be a part of both films that have been so well recognized and critically acclaimed?
I love TIFF, I was there for the first time with a movie called “The Good Lie,” which starred Reese Witherspoon and myself, so I knew what to expect. This time I was there with two movies, which is such a blessing; I’m very happy and humbled.
What was some of the feedback you received for both?
All positive feedback with both films, so I’m literally on cloud 9 right now.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience at the TIFF? Was it your first time there? Did you pick up any swag?
My second time here in Toronto, and I love it-the culture, the food, and the nightlife. I didn’t pick up any swag, but I did try poutine.
Both films are quite serious in nature…how did you unwind on and off the set?
I’m a huge gamer, so I tend to unwind by spending a few hours on my PlayStation…I’ve got loads of games.
Over the span of your 20+ years as an actor, who has been your favorite director to work with and why?
That’s a tough choice…there have been a few, but Noel Clarke stands out for me because he’s my boy, so we have so much fun on set.
What is your thought process when choosing your roles? What draws you to the more controversial stories you’ve been involved with recently?
I don’t know you know…I’ve tended to steer towards biopics most recently, because I feel like human beings have so many untold stories that need to be told. I believe there is a lot of heart in biopic stories and that resonates with people.
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I have a Danish boxing movie called “The Greatest Man” landing next year, that I recently finished filming. It’s an amazing story about a boxer from Uganda who’s been offered a title fight in Denmark in the early 80s, a time where there weren’t many people of colour in Denmark. The movie tackles racism, friendships, and love. It’s an amazing movie about the human spirit.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Mathew Guido
STYLIST: Mark John Tripp
GROOMING: Richard J using MAC cosmetics, Moroccan Oil hair care & Tweezerman G.E.A.R.
INTERVIEWED BY: Rebecca Besnos, Editor @ VULKAN Magazine
Post expires at 2:19am on Thursday October 12th, 2017