Growing up before our eyes, Top Boy’s Araloyin Oshunremi is the definition of natural talent.
Some might call it happenstance, being in the right place at the right time, or pure luck, but the role of Stefan was made for Araloyin. Sitting in a barbershop, waiting for his hair to be cut, he had no idea how the trajectory of his life was going to change. After being handed a flyer for open auditions for Netflix’s Top Boy he decided to take a chance, roll the dice, and let the chips fall where they may. With a taste for drama and a love of acting, he was catapulted into the spotlight. And let’s be honest, Araloyin’s shine is hard to ignore. From Top Boy to Heartstopper there’s no telling where his journey will take him next, but one thing is for certain: there’s no stopping his ambition to do more, learn more, and achieve more. He is constantly pushing the envelope to be the best version of himself he can be.
Taking a visceral and unabashed look at the street life in East London, Top Boy does not pull its punches. It shoves your nose to the bloodied grindstone with no stop for breath, leaving you as a viewer, to face harsh truths and even harsher realities. Uncomfortable and raw, we are given a front-row seat. From gang violence, daylight drug deals gone array, deportation, the loss of loved ones, families torn apart, and the endless and helpless cycle of violence, we follow Araloyin’s character, Stefan, as he navigates it all. Spending most of his teenage years on set, Araloyin appreciates that he and Stefan have grown up together. And while it may be time to say goodbye to the character, the lessons he’s learned from playing Stefan will be carried with him into the future.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Araloyin discusses his hopes for the future, growing up on the screen, saying farewell to Top Boy and so much more!
Thank you for taking the time to speak with 1883 today, we appreciate it! Just to start off, what I love about Top Boy is how raw and real it is. It doesn’t sugarcoat any of the societal issues. What has it been like to experience the reception of the show in real time?
Amazing. Whenever I see my friends in the audience, they’re always praising my performance and praising Top Boy in general. I feel like the audience is also happy to see a show that portrays the real London. The nitty-gritty of everything. It’s been great.
You’ve grown up on screen. 17 episodes on and off for the last six years, how does it feel to watch yourself grow as an actor? As a person?
Six years. That’s a lot of my life. All my teenage life. I’ve grown up with the character of Stefan, my entire teenage life. That’s crazy. So, I’ve experienced life as me but also as Stefan, and it’s been a lot. Because I’ve seen so many actors come and go from the set. I’ve had to lose actors as well, like Michael (Ward), who plays Jamie. I not only felt Stefan’s loss but had to grapple with my own as well.
For sure. I can’t imagine what it must be like to form a bond with a fellow cast member and then have to say goodbye because their character is written off. How would you describe Stefan’s journey from the beginning to where it is now?
There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Obviously, he’s grown. He’s matured. He’s had no choice but to mature and become more independent. There aren’t a lot of positive influences left to guide him and he’s susceptible to a misstep. It’s been a steady evolution and now we’re seeing all these things finally come to a boiling point.
I agree, it’s a hard watch, especially with Jamie trying so hard to keep Stefan and Aaron straight. Moving forward, what lessons have learned about yourself as an actor?
I’ve learned so much from being in Top Boy. It was my first acting gig. I learned so many skills, so many pointers, and lessons in general. And I feel like playing Stefan has made me take on certain values, like family first. Not just blood family, either, but friends. I’ve learned so much from playing him. Lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
While I was doing research, I saw that you wrote an acting guide! [both laugh] Where did that idea come from?
Well, when I started acting, I didn’t know where to start [laughs]. Who do I go watch? My team and I had to learn as we went along. And I was thinking to myself: ‘This is not a nice process.’ It’s very long, very hard, and very challenging. So, I started thinking, why don’t we create a guide that can help people, so they don’t struggle to find their starting point? Like what type of acting to watch, who to study, how to get an agent etc. all in one book.
I love that you took your experience and basically wrote a book saying: ‘If I can do it, you can do it too.’ Especially since there are so many people looking to become actors and have no reference point. Returning to Top Boy, in the new series, we see Stefan dealing with the aftermath of Jamie’s death. What is your hope for him?
I hope Stefan takes Jamie’s death as a lesson. Your past actions can affect your future. But if you’re amongst the wrong crowd, bad things can (and will) happen. If you do something bad in the past, it can affect you later down the line. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t disappear. I hope Stefan realizes that Jamie’s death happened because of Jamie’s actions. So hopefully, he doesn’t follow in his (Jamie’s) footsteps.
I read on IMDb, you were handed a flyer in a barbershop, and it was an open audition for Top Boy. Was acting an ambition or a thought before that moment?
I’d done acting at school. I’d done acting throughout my entire school life. I really liked drama, but I never really thought about being an actor. I was thinking more about being a footballer because of my older brother and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But then, everyone around me and my family would say: ‘You’re quite good at acting. Why don’t you take it up?’ And then from that, I was in a barbershop, and somebody said, ‘Do you want to audition for Top Boy?’ And I was like: ‘You know what? Let me try something new.’ Let me try something outside my comfort zone and see where God takes me. And it was the right decision.
I’d say it worked out [laughter]. What has been your favorite scene to film across the series and why?
From season one, making the burgers. That was so much fun, and it was hilarious. Everything was messy and smokey. And any scene I did with Michael (Ward) and Hope (Ikpoku Jnr) just because it felt so natural.
Switching it up: What is your hope for the future? For acting and in life? What would you like to manifest for yourself?
Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be working with some of the best directors in the world on amazing projects and being the best person, I can be. I also want to do a movie that’s periodic or based on someone from the past. I don’t know yet. I want to play an influential figure from history, just to challenge myself.
What films and television have inspired you? I read in PWR Magazine that you didn’t really watch a lot of films growing up but were more into documentaries.
Nowadays I watch more movies [laughs]. Recently I’ve been watching the Wu-Tang Clan saga. I love that so much. But also, Vikings as well. I love Vikings.
Vikings is so good!
I love it so much. And movies like Rush Hour, inspire me, because you know they had so much fun making them, and it makes me want to have fun as well. I love the idea of making people laugh and being able to connect with them emotionally.
If you could choose one actor living or dead to do a scene with, who would it be and why?
Oh, that’s a good question!
My answer always changes.
Yeah, I have a couple of people in my head. I will say Samuel L. Jackson is one. Leonardo Di Caprio. Daniel Kaluuya. The list can go on and on and on. Oh, Brad Pitt!
Is there a specific movie of Leonardo’s or Brad’s where you went: wow!
That’s a good one!
There are too many. It’s hard to pick just one.
Returning to Top Boy, what is your hope for the audience watching? What do you want them to take away from the show as a whole?
Family is important. Loyalty is important, which is something we see from series one all the way to the end. But family is the core of the show. Take care of your family and nurture those bonds.
And lastly, how would you describe the series in five words?
Big. Exciting. [thinks for a moment] Can I just give you three words? [laughter]
How would you describe it?
Oh, you’re turning it back on me?
Big, exciting, raw –
Raw is a good one.
Definitely emotional. I will take that. Thank you so much for your time today.
No, thank you!
Top Boy’s final season is streaming now on Netflix. Follow Araloyin Oshunremi by clicking here.
Interview Dana Reboe
Photograpy David Reiss
Styling Kiera Liberati
Grooming Jumoke Ajayi