Interview with Arnold Oceng (Snakeyman)

This week it has been impossible to avoid the buzz surrounding Channel 4s gutsy four-part drama‘ Top Boy’, with twitter-land completely consumed with chatter about the hard- hitting show every time it aired. A brilliant but equally bleak and brutal viewing, I wondered how the actor Arnold Oceng felt after a day on set playing young Femi. But It is not the first time he has been immersed in a turbulent and gritty storyline, having played Henry in 2008’s Adulthood, a film featuring and written by perennial multi-tasker Noel Clarke. So, as well as finding out about the aforementioned roles I wanted to hear more about his latest release, ‘Demons Never Die’, a somewhat controversial film which sees him share the screen with regular sparring partner Ashley Walters ( also featuring Reggie Yates, Tulisa Constostavlos, Robert Sheehan). As a music journalist I couldn’t resist sneaking in a few questions about his alternate guise, MC Snakeyman . Thankfully, it looks like the Londoner will continue to share his enviable talents with both the music and acting worlds…Lucky us!

It has been a pretty hectic few weeks for you, how are you coping with the pace of things?
Yeah its been a real crazy busy time for me at the moment but I’m really enjoying it, I love being busy.

Would you say you are a workaholic by nature then?
lol, yeah defo, i’d much rather be busy than not doing anything.

You’ve been acting since the age of 6 were you one of those kids that would put on shows for their family and be loud in the classroom at school?
haha, I see you’ve done your research because that was exactly me growing up, I would always be putting on silly little shows for the family and be the clown of the class.

Having the confidence to perform doesn’t always mean you have the talent( think of the X factor auditionees !)When was it clear that this was the career for you?

erm, I would defo have to say when I got the lead in Grange Hill, because I didn’t go drama school so I learnt my craft on the job. I was loving it even more each and every day, and from then on I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life so that I could feel that feeling for ever.

So do you feel at your happiest when on set?

My happiest is when I’m on set or in the recording, both hands down.

With a TV series there’s the familiarity of being with the same crew and cast and playing a character for a long period of time, but were you always craving to be in a movie?

I have always wanted to be in a movie or as people say a “Movie star” as that is the next step. I have been very lucky to have been able do a lot of TV but my proudest moment was when I starred Adulthood as “Henry” and being in the cinemas because I knew I had made the next step, and the fact that it got to box office Number 1 was a bigger blessing.

How did that role come about, how did you become on Noel Clarkes radar?

Well a lot of people don’t know but I was actually meant to be in Kidulthood.I met Noel years ago at the Childrens Baftas because Grange Hill was up for Best Childrens Drama (which we won) lol. He saw me there and basically congratulated me and also told me he had me in mind for Kidulthood.I told my agent at the time and she said I shouldn’t do the film because its a small budget film that is very controversial and wont do anything for my career – so me being young I listened and declined. Then kidulthood blew up you can imagine I was so upset..but at the time I had just won my UMA Music Award for Best Newcomer as Snakeyman and had secured a sponsorship deal with Boxfresh who sponsored the film Kidulthood. Boxfresh asked if I wanted to perform at the kidulthood premiere after party, I said yes and I performed then at the end I found Noel Clarke and spoke to him. He remembered me and told me not to worry he said he has many more films for me…and he kept his word.Long story i know!

But a good one! What is Noel (Clarke) like to work with. I follow him on twitter, he’s very forthright with his opinion and seems extremely passionate about what he believes in….

haha yeah, he is exactly that…one of those what you see is what you get sort of people. He’s a great friend and role model to me. On set there’s no jokes, he demands great performances, hes very firm and passionate about his work and you right he always speaks his mind.

Have you ever bore the brunt of his criticism during a scene. If so how do you deal with that?

Yeah, think most of the cast has.. but it’s only because he wants the best, if your performance is not up scratch believe me he will let you know. I guess you just have to take it and know that it’s for the best and for the benefit of yourself and the film.

So this week it’s been all about Top Boy… What sort of reception have you had through tweets?

Crazy! I just found out today that it had over 1 million viewers locked, now thats wow! I didn’t expect my character Femi to get so much love, my Facebook, Twitter,txt, bbm, email phone… everything been popping off over Top Boy.

It’s quite bleak and at times hard viewing. How do you avoid taking it home with you at the end of a day of filming.. How do you separate yourself from the character and the story?

My character was a fraudster so it was very easy to detach myself from him as I don’t know anything about fraud lol!

But the show as a whole was quite dark, do you feel downbeat afterwards? Do you have to do anything unwind after a day on set?

oh erm, no not really, but I can only speak for myself because I have seen or heard the characters story many times, especially living in my area Brixton, so it was something I was already aware of.

You acted opposite Ashley Walters again, Is it comforting to have a familiar face at work?

Yeah,Ii must say it is, especially with him as he’s my proper boy. It’s always a blessing working alongside him and I’m sure it will not be the last, he keeps following me lol !

You, Ashley and Kano are all known for your musical talents. Has this ever got in the way, have you faced prejudice because of this in the acting world? Is it satisfying when you can pleasantly suprise the cynics?

Well me and Ashley are very similar because we were always acting first, we were child stars, we were both in Grange Hill, obviously at different times, but the point I’m making is that we already had the respect from actors because we put in the grind and work… But u face it a little in the music world sometimes which is why it feels so good when u prove them wrong.

Talking about musicians, Tulisa also featured in Demons Never Die…the horror film released on October 28th…Did you get to work with her ?

Well unfortunately I didn’t have ay scenes with her, but from what I heard she was very professional and a great on set.

The topics covered in the film are quite controversial ( suicide pacts). Did you worry how people would react?

A little, but at the end of the day it’s a story that needed to be told to create awareness of what’s really happening in london. I also feel it was really important that they told the story of WHY these people turn to the lives they lead.

Has the response been generally positive?

The response has been amazing, totally didn’t expect it I must say.

The legend that is Idris Elbar was exec producer of the film. Has his rise to hollywood fame been an inspiration to you?

Massive one . He’s doing what every actor hopes to do, cross the border and conquer America, he’s a massive role model to me.

Did he offer any advice?

Yeh he did…He would just explain to us how he made the cross to the states and what sacrifices he made, which I found very useful.

Can you share more or is it top secret?
lol top secret. A few personal ones, I wouldn’t wanna discuss his business to0 much!

Wise decision! You have quite a few movie projects lined up, including The Knot. This sounds like quite a different movie to what we are used to seeing you in……

Yeah, its a romantic comedy a “rom-com” as they call it. I really enjoyed filming it because as you said its something different. All I’m interested in now is diverse roles.

Did you worry you were being type cast before?

Kind of… Being a black actor, mixed with my age and gender, I found my self always playing a bad boy, drug dealer or gangster, which is not what I ALWAYS want to do!

So what is your role in the knot?

I play an African guy marrying a woman to stay in the country.. and my wedding day keeps getting interrupted by Noel lol!

Bloomin’ Noel again eh! I see Mena Suvari is in the film. She was a bit of a fantasy figure for my age group at school,( American Pie and American beauty) did you manage to keep your cool?

As much as I could. I think i played it cool.. haha only kidding, I don’t really get star-struck.. swear.

Even if they’re hot?

But she was really cool and down to earth I must say…..she was hot but nah I’m too smooth for that haha!

Ok, dream role and dream leading lady?

Tony Montana (Scarface) and the leading lady would be Zoe Saldana.

Good choices. Now onto your music…You did the music for the soundtrack of Terry. Is it hard making music for a specific project?

Well I don’t find it difficult because I just make music depending on how I feel.. When it comes to the soundtracks to films i just send all my music off and they just pick what they like or what they think would suit the film.

I see. So do you try and get your tracks on most films you work on now?

Yep, its a must now!

I know there was a time when fans were desperate for a mix tape, but you were finding it hard to get it out.Are you treating people to them more regularly now?

Yes I am.I finished my mix-tape mid this year called “Snakez & Ladders”, I felt I had to finish one because people were always asking for one. So now I’m just dropping freestyles and tracks more regularly for the supporters.

What’s on your ipod right now?

ooh erm.. my new single which is out on the 21st nov called Never Fail, Meek Millz mixtape, Dream Chaser and Labrinth Earthquake.

Tell me about your single?

Well, Never Fail is my next official single from “Making Moves” which was on the soundtrack for Terry. The video is complete and we are well away with the campaign. Its about never giving up on your dreams and “never failing”

A lot of journalists picked up on the Tinchy Stryder vocal battle. Can you tell me a story, a collaboration, or battle that people may not have heard about before…

lol at the Tinchy clash, that was time ago. The only other clash I had was with a guy called Al Blaze and Kunckles for Neckle Camp aka Jammers Crew on Lord of the Mics 3, which I won!

What do you make of The X Factor?

I think its cool that normal everyday people are given the opportunity to become stars and live their dream.

Do you watch it yourself?

Not as much as I used to, haven’t had that much time!

Ok i’m gonna let you go now… But was is the plan for the rest of the the year and 2012?

Well seeing as I just signed this publishing deal hopefully the next step is a full record deal and hopefully work towards an album and a number 1! Actinging wise, just more movies and try to write some scripts.

What kind of scripts, any clues?

I have no idea..just something different, out of the ordinary.

Anything you want to get off your chest before we say bye?

Not really, just keep an eye out for my new single Never Fail…

The single ‘Never Fail’ is out on 21 Nov and Demons Never Die is in cinemas now.

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