60 Seconds With Arinzé Kene

November 17, 2016

Actor and playwright Arinzé Kene has previously featured West End productions Daddy Cool and Lion King as well as E4s Crazyhead. He is currently starring in Kemp Powers’ One Night In Miami at the Donmar and has also been recently nominated for best supporting actor at the BIFA for his role in The Pass. Arinzé chats to us about his journey so far, what inspires him and what advice he has for upcoming actors.

How did you get into acting?

This is a true story: When I was younger I loved basketball, so I was on my way to go play it and it started chucking it down with rain. I was only in my T-shirt and shorts, so I just ran into the closest building. It happened to be a theatre and there were people my age sat in the foyer, fooling around. I was like, ‘This doesn’t look too bad, what’s going on here?’ Then they told me about this company that was doing something there that summer, so I just pretended to be one of them and signed up there and then. I didn’t go back for weeks though and then came back in the last week of the summer holidays. They were all ready to do a play and I got a really small part, then got asked ‘Where have you been, what happened to you? You were really good the day you came.’ I remember feeling wanted. The fact they remembered me from that one day, it meant something to me.

So I went back to school and paid more attention in drama classes, but then I ended up dropping it. I’m from a traditionally Nigerian background and they wanted me to be a lawyer, accountant or doctor, so I thought drama isn’t going to take me far. So I dropped it, but regretted it. Then I got back into it and got involved in some young companies and the rest is history really.

You’re also a playwright, so how did that come about? Did the interest just naturally come whilst on your journey with acting or is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Playwriting just kind of crept up on me because one thing acting does is it forces you to read a lot. I like to read anyway, but acting forced me to read things outside of my comfort zone. There are things I love, like Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, they are my go-to’s. But acting forced me to read stuff by Eugene O’neill, Tennessee Williams and Sam Shepard, these playwrights who are world away from what I knew. And I just found it so immersive and incredible.

Let’s take Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County. I’ve never been to this place before or known anything about this kind of life in America, but it takes you there, pinpoints you and if the writer’s done a good enough job, you’re in that actual living room or kitchen. So, I was like, ‘I want people to be in my kitchen’. I thought, we have interesting stories too that people can learn from. The best stories have this kind of survival information hidden in them, and I find that if you are being really honest when you’re telling a story, it shouldn’t be too bad. So, that’s what really got me into it, just wanting to share.

What kind of stories do you want to share or have written about?

I have a play out next year called good dog and I wanted to share a feeling of disillusion. Like when you’ve been really good and you think that happiness comes to those who do good and wait, but on your journey through life, you realise that it’s actually more complicated than that. So, we follow this young man who lives by this platitude, and you start seeing he’s taken down a peg bit by bit with the challenges that he faces. I wanted to explore it through someone who could have been me growing up.

Do you draw a lot from personal experience then?

Yeah, I can’t help it – I’m totally obsessed with myself. No, I’m kidding. But I always do because I’m such an inner person. I love people, I obsess with human beings, hearing their stories and why they do what they do. Sometimes I meet people and make notes about their stories and then to expand on that later in my own way. I forgot about the inspiration for good dog but I know it was around something I read about the London Riots in 2011.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors or playwrights?

Start now. Start before you’re ready. We’re all waiting for this pin to drop and this ‘yes’, and there is none. You will be here forever, don’t wait, just start now. The ones who get it are the ones who do it. There is no right, there is no wrong. There’s only action, and whether or not you choose to take it

Do you have an ultimate fashion essential?

Yes, black jeans. You can wear black jeans with trainers, boots and a lot of the time you can mix it up. They save me.


Photography by Philipp Raheem