NATIVE Exclusive: Araloyin Oshunremi Is Just Getting Started

"Playing Stef has shown me a strong aspect of community and I’ve adopted that in my personal life."

Araloyin Oshunremi is the man of the moment. After two wondrous seasons playing Stefan, the younger brother to a notorious drug dealer Jamie, (Michael Ward), the British-Nigerian actor returns to our screens for the third and final season of Netflix’s ‘Top Boy,’ this time, fuelled by revenge and a renewed vitality. Oshunremi, who portrays a young adolescent named Stefan is the latest 19-year-old wunderkind to captivate audiences around the globe.

Born in Hackney to Nigerian parents, a young Oshunremi made his debut on the screen at just 15 years-old when the streaming giant, Netflix picked up the London-helmed show and renewed it after the show’s initial debut in 2011 with ‘Top Boy: Summerhouse.’ Despite his fairly elementary experience at the time, he was cast in the show without much ado after a fated meeting one with a casting director. “Watching movies like ‘Norbit’ or shows like ‘My Wife & Kids’ on television made me like acting. However, I only started acting in year seven or eight for drama class in school. That’s where it really took off and I later got street casted outside a barber shop as Stefan on Top Boy,” Araloyin tells the NATIVE.

After seeing young Black kids who looked like him onscreen, Araloyin was determined to get his foot in the door. These days, it’s not easy for new and emerging actors to get their voices heard or serve as cast member in huge blockbuster series, given the lack of access and clear paths to stardom. However, Oshunremi’s story isn’t like that of most young Black people: he’s carving lanes for himself, joining the likes of Caleb Mclaughlin and Elsa Majimbo who are not confined by the industry’s glass ceilings. As he tells it, he first got his big break after running into a casting agent for ‘Top Boy’ outside his barber’s shop.

As fate would have it, his final step of audition was with familiar Black British actors who knew and understood his worth. The final process was a chemistry read with Michael [Ward] and Hope [Ikpoku]. The chemistry was there because I already knew them prior,” he shares candidly. After impressing the team of directors, Oshunremi was invited to set and found himself a natural fit for the gritty story set in London which explores the complexities of growing up in marginalised Black and ethnic minority neighbourhoods.  

Since that fated meeting, a lot has changed since Araloyin–in more ways than one. His character, Stefan is an unassuming young boy who lives with his brothers, following the death of his parents in their council town flat. When he initially came on board, the role of Stefan was a supporting character playing as Jamie’s young brother but as seasons went by and Summerhouse grew more dangerous, the harsh realities of life on the streets began to puncture the perfect bubble created by his older brother, Jamie.

Araloyin embodies this character because he has lived a similar life: a doting son and imperceptive to the pains of growing up. “I’d say there’s some aspects of me in Stef, like the scenes where we saw him quite moody in the second season. He was sometimes angry and withdrawn and that was similar to me, at that point, because I was going through puberty. I never really looked forward to doing work and school so that translated to the character I was playing,” he shares. 

More than just relating to the character, Araloyin also had to reach into very different parts of his emotions and psyche to communicate Stefan’s growing pains. He talks about listening to moody music and translating that to the set and having to get professional help to tap into difficult emotions. “Last season was quite moody and down so I came into the set listening to depressing music or sometimes I wouldn’t speak to my family before I left my house.” When it came to the happier scenes, Oshunremi would adopt the opposite tactic and hang out with friends to influence his mood on sets. 


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Oshunremi’s dedication to the craft is undeniable but becomes increasingly evident in his research process. “I like to ask people who have occupied positions like Stef’s in real life. It makes it all the more realistic. I like to do that so when you watch it, they can see I’ve taken their advice and it feels as natural as possible. Most of us haven’t been in the shoes of our characters so asking people goes a long way,” he adds.

As a young boy growing up in Hackney, Araloyin has lived at the intersection of so many different cultures including his Nigerian heritage and that of the Caribbean which represents modern British culture. In many ways, it further explains why ‘Top Boy’ has become a crowd favourite and why the platform was a perfect debut for the upcoming actor. The show delicately tackles the intricacies of underground drug trades amongst black people in East London with a refreshing and most importantly empathetic standpoint.

More than that, the Ronan Bennett production has pulled from the fabric of Black popular culture in a nuanced and refreshing way that allows audiences access its beauty within the right context. In conversation with Oshunremi, it’s difficult to separate him from his character because of how reflective it is for him. “I’m from a Nigerian household and being a Nigerian in Hackney, you tend to absorb other different cultures. There’s a lot of Caribbean culture. So growing up in Hackney, it was quite diverse. The music, I even listened to was diverse but a typical Sunday morning would have my mum playing gospel music while everyone’s cleaning the house,” he shares.

Araloyin is not confined by the roles ascribed to Black boys like him. Instead, he’s making ground as one of the youngest actors on other Netflix productions such as ‘Heartstopper,’ lending his formidably dynamic skills on the show’s 2022 debut. “‘Heartstopper’ is generally more bubbly and energetic but ‘Top Boy’ is not as friendly. Otis is generally nicer and more open to meeting new people. Stefan, on the other hand, has quite hostile energy as can see from the scene he’s entering the room with his brother’s gun.” Despite the differences in both characters, Oshunremi is always looking to best his next effort: 

“I always tell my agent before that I want to audition for certain types of roles as opposed to just anything that falls on my lap. Any audition I go into, I want the role to be a challenging one. I also want the storyline to be really great.”

Now, audiences around the world are witnessing not only the growth of Stefan in the new season of ‘Top Boy’ but also Oshunremi’s own personal evolution. In the new season, we see Stefan become hardened by the community around him and the lengths people must go to stay alive on the streets. While Aaron, played by Hope Ikpoku, has chosen to focus on his studies, Stef traverses a different path in an attempt to grapple with the death of his brother and make sense of his feelings.

He seeks comfort in his brothers’ friends and a new love interest to find solace but ultimately, it only fuels his hate for his brother’s killer when he begins to seek revenge. “A major touchpoint of this season is decision making. We see a lot of characters make decisions that could either lead to a negative or positive outcome. The consequences of a wrong decision usually result in a death but more well-intended decisions result in positive outcomes,” Araloyin explains. For Araloyin’s Stef, he’s always been faced with decisions of this nature due to his background. Earlier in season one, he recalls losing his close friend and confidant, Ats, who got caught up in the drug business. The key difference is that Stefan no longer has the moral compass from his older brothers and must find out truths for himself.

Oshunremi shares “The Stef you meet steps into Jamie’s shoes to sort of respect his death. We see him put on Jamie’s chain and try to become him in some aspects. He starts to hangout with Jamie’s friends whereas he wasn’t doing that before. He’s trying to continue his brother’s legacy. He also adopts Jamie’s gun. So, little things like that; he holds on to to keep his brother’s memory alive. He also kept the picture of him and his brothers so his sentimental side is still something we get this season.” 


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Given the show’s heavy themes, it’s important that Araloyin has a great network around him ready to boost his talent and help him further his skills, from his well-oiled team to his family. “My family is very supportive in the sense that we never really talk about the show. They don’t ask how work was. As soon as I’m home, work is behind me and they make sure I’m happy and doing some family activities. My family and friends are my getaway from that character. Having good people around you is definitely the key to that.” 

Outside of Stefan, Araloyin is looking to expand his skills this year both on and off the screen. He admits that he’s looking for more roles with depth and emotion that allow him to communicate human complexities on screen. “Stefan’s been a nice character to play but I’d also like to dive deeper into the romantic side of filmmaking. We see Stef this season explore a love interest so playing a romcom would be good. I’d also like to play a black influential figure like Malcom X. If you’ve seen Judah and the Black Messiah, a character in one of those productions would be good,” he shares.

Araloyin’s final moments portraying Stef are understandably bitter-sweet. We witnessed a steady build-up across six episodes where he is faced with the choice of avenging his brother’s killer or maintaining his innocence. “You’re not even worth it,” he chants in the season’s final moments before choosing to walk away from his first potential kill. It’s a harrowing moment where audiences realise that Stefan’s evolution is complete: he’s survived the war with the scars to prove it. 

What’s next for Oshunremi? He has his sights set on Hollywood and expanding into bigger productions in America. The pivot from British television to Hollywood isn’t uncommon and Araloyin threads the path of actors before him such as Kedar Williams-Stirling who featured on ‘Sex Education,’ ushering in a new generation of talent spotlighting Black stories.

‘Top Boy’ isn’t the end of Araloyin, he’s just getting started: I have a feature film coming out next year and I would maybe like to explore some roles in American settings.” [Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]