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Femi Oyeniran: In the driving seat

BIG MOVES: Femi Oyeniran

IN 2006, actor Femi Oyeniran and fellow cast members Aml Ameen and Adam Deacon rose to prominence in UK Brit flick Kidulthood.

Not only did the film, written by fellow actor Noel Clarke, put UK urban films on the map, it thrust the trio firmly into the spotlight.

Aml went on to take Hollywood by storm, Adam directed 2011 hit film Anuvahood and landed a ‘rising star’ BAFTA award for his efforts, while Femi, who recently wrapped filming upcoming blockbuster Taking Stock alongside actress Kelly Brook, is gearing up for the release of his directorial debut, It’s A Lot.

Not bad for three teenagers brought together by an open audition and life-changing script.

“When I was with Aml and Adam, that was the most fun I’ve ever had on set,” he recalls. “Everyone thinks we were friends before, but we just had such a good a natural bond, we just became really close. We still are.”

“I’m actually meeting up with Aml after this interview,” he adds.

Femi, who played the character of socially awkward Moony in the film, was studying for his A-levels when he landed the part that would kick-start his career in the movies.

But far be it for the young actor to leave his studies and fully immerse himself in the promise of fame and fortune. Instead, he fused the two, using quiet moments on set to fit in studying time. Well, almost.

“When I was by myself, I studied. When I was with the boys, I didn’t,” he admits.
“I did four A-levels at college, I was quite smart actually. I found school quite easy and was always going to go to university,” the 26-year-old boasts.

So his traditional Nigerian parents had nothing to do with his decision to forgo a full-time career in film at the time? Femi, who moved from Nigeria to the UK when he was 10, laughs.

“No, my mum was quite supportive of my decision to juggle the two. I got good grades. What can you really say to a child who films Kidulthood for a month, has an exam the following week and gets an A when everyone else fails?”

“Gifted,” is my response. He is unable to hide his amusement.

“I guess there’s that, but in all honesty this industry is so unreliable. Imagine I had put my life on hold to pursue acting. You can be working one minute and the next you’re not. When you have a family, you can’t let life happen to you. You need to take hold of life,” says the married father-of-two.

Femi admits that after the overwhelming success of Kidulthood and its sequel Adulthood, things were relatively quiet on the acting front.

By now, he had successfully obtained a law degree and had just been cast in Adam Deacon’s Anuvahood when he decided to take matters into his own hands and start work on developing the script of his own. This would later become his ‘baby’, It’s A Lot.

The UK comedy, which stars a host of names from the black comedy and acting scene, including Eddie Kadi, Kojo, Slim and former Kidulthood cast mate Red Madrell, centres around the character of Shawn, played by Femi, who finds himself in all sorts of trouble when his parents go on holiday, leaving him in charge of the family mansion.

“It’s a good cast,” he says.

“These people have a massive following, and more than that, they are extremely talented,” he says.

“What’s funny though, is that to prospective film distributors, it doesn’t appear like I have big names in my film because the mainstream only have one or two black actors on their radar. But this cast have sold out arenas and venues all around the world.”

He recalls: “During one of the screenings for It’s A Lot, the head of commissioning at a major channel came to see it and said he hadn’t heard of any of the actors before. He said he was embarrassed that his station had failed to give these names a platform and asked me to email him the cast list.

“For me, it’s important to do something that leaves a strong legacy and brings people through,” he says.

The actor, who is currently working on five other scripts, says his decision to cast himself in lead role also boiled down to the mainstream’s inability to fully explore black talent.

“I had to be the lead in It’s A Lot because that was the next big move in my career. It would never have happened otherwise. No one was going to give me the lead in a film,” he explains.

“I’ve auditioned for a lot of things and I haven’t got them. Unlike America, there aren’t infrastructures over here for you to put out black films and be rich. Look at (American film mogul) Tyler Perry, he has made billions from the black film industry. You can’t do that here. The UK is way behind even though the market is there. I don’t want to blame the industry, but it’s disappointing to know that if I wasn’t writing and was waiting for acting opportunities, I’d have a long wait ahead of me.”
He adds: “Lesson to aspiring actors, get writing!”

It’s A Lot is out on October 25. Four per cent of the film’s net profit will go to the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT). For more information, follow @ITSALOTMOVIE and @Femioyeniran on Twitter

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