Our Exclusive Interview With Actor Arinzé Kene

13th October 2016

If you haven't already heard of playwright and actor Arinzé Kene, you'll definitely know his name by the end of the year.
He is currently playing the role of soul singer, Sam Cooke in Donmar Warehouses’ production of One Night in Miami; a fictional account of a real night in history, this four hander tells the story of the night Muhammad Ali won the world heavyweight boxing title.
He also stars as the lead opposite Russell Tovey in the film The Pass, which explores homosexuality within the world of Premier League football, due for release in December.
The talented actor also takes a role in the much anticipated film prequel to Harry Potter by J.K Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, due for release in November. And in addition to his busy film schedule, Arinzé will then be seen this Autumn playing opposite an all-star young cast in E4’s new comedy drama from the makers of Misfits – Crazyhead. Read our exclusive interview with Britain's rising star.

Can you tell us a little about yourself & what made you decide you wanted to pursue acting?
I wish I had a cool existentially meaningful story behind why I became an actor, but if I’m honest, it’s pretty simple. I was about 13 or 14 years old. It was the summer holidays, and I got caught out in the rain. It was chucking it down in biblical measures so I went to the nearest building for shelter. Well. That building happened to have some cool young girls in the foyer.
And when I asked them why they were there, they said they were part of some stupid theatre group, and that I was standing in said theatre. As a young teenager, there’s really only three things you care about. 1) Girls. 2) Finding out where girls congregate. 3) Being where girls congregate. So I signed up to the youth theatre company. Then I fell in love with performing and the rest is history.

Are you excited to perform in One Night In Miami, playing the character Sam Cooke? How did you feel when you got the part?
Man. I was over the moon when I heard I got the part. I was kind of nervous but I thought, this can go one of two ways: playing Sam Cooke can either go very well, or f*cking great. Because I live for this kind of work. One Night In Miami…, the play itself, it so important to me. The things these characters are discussing, are very close to my heart. It’s a beautiful play. Plus, getting to play The King of Soul ain’t so bad either, ha!

Arinzé playing Sam Cooke – Photographed by Johan Persson

You’re also starring in The Pass – did you enjoy working on a film production?
The Pass is another script that jumped out to me because of its deeper tones. It explores ‘having to cover up who you really are, just so you can fit in’. Working on The Pass was an absolute dream. I’m very proud of it. It’s a brutal story, and it holds no punches.

Do you prefer acting in theatre or film?
This question comes up a lot. I don’t think I can choose. They’re very different beasts. I love them equally. I never choose one over the other. I’m drawn to the opportunity of making great work. Whether it be a play, film, TV, or a radio play – if it resonates with my muse, I’m in.

Out of all of the roles you’ve played so far, do you have a favourite character or one you felt you identified most with?
My favourite character to date has to be Simba of The Lion King – the role allowed me to meet children with life threatening illnesses from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Bringing joy to their lives made playing Simba a special one for me. The role I’ve identified with the most has to be Auror Johnson in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them because when I was a kid, I’d often pretend my pencil was a magic wand!

And which character’s wardrobe/style have you enjoyed the most? 
Sam Cooke hands down! He was smooth AF. They just don’t make ‘em like him anymore.
How would you describe your style?
My personal style… I don’t really follow trends. I like to dress neat, with a hint of attitude.

Arinzé Kene photographed by Will Bremridge

Is there a particular film or role you would like to play in the future?
Hell yeah, a Sam Cooke Biopic. I also would like to play Frederick Douglass.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
Sitting in my office opposite a budding writer, discussing how best I can help get her project off the ground.

Outside of acting, what interests you? 
I read a lot. I like history books. There are a lot of things that were left off the curriculum that I think should’ve been on there. I’m looking into those things. They make me feel rooted.

Tell us three things no one knows about you?
1) The first book I ever cried at reading was Native Son by Richard Wright.
2) My favourite author is Langston Hughes.
3) My favourite young actor is Adam Driver.
If you weren’t an actor what would be your dream job?
I’d be a writer, I’d be a writer. Wink Wink!
Finally, if you could give any advice to young actors, what would it be?
Start creating. Start before you’re ready. Start now.

Arinzé can be seen in One Night in Miami which will run at the Donmar Warehouse from 06 October until 3 December 2016, Crazyhead which launches on E4 9pm 19th October and The Pass which will be released in UK cinemas 9th December.

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