If you’re a fan of gripping crime and drama series, then you’ve probably heard of the Netflix show Top Boy. The first season premiered in 2011 on Channel 4, with a follow-up airing two years later. After a few years, no other than Drake showed interest in becoming an executive producer in order to revive the critically acclaimed, Award-winning British series. Netflix picked it up – fast forward, and we are now gearing up towards the release of the third and final season under the streaming giant.
Centered around the fictitious Summerhouse Estate in Hackney, the series follows the rising tensions between rival drug dealer gangs. The main dealer, Dushane, portrayed by Ashley Walters, has been present since season one and eventually enlists the assistance of former rival Jamie (Micheal Ward), following his stint in prison. After suspicions surrounding Jamie’s motivations escalate, Sully, played by rapper Kano, who has been working with Dushane since the early days, shoots him in the head, leaving the previous season on a cliffhanger. Jamie’s brother Stef (Araloyin Oshunremi), is now alone after Jamie being shot, whilst his other sibling moved for work. After going through this traumatic event, Stef starts to go down the wrong path…
In an exclusive shoot and interview for Principle Magazine, Araloyin talks us through crazy fan theories, the future he envisions for his Top Boy character, and his approach to tackling new acting roles.
Top Boy’s Season 5 is around the corner. How do you feel about it?
I feel excited. I can’t wait. I put so much work into this. I put six years of my life into one show. So, I just can’t wait for the whole world to see it.
I was gonna say, you’ve been playing the character of Stef in Top Boy ever since you were 13, so you really did grow up with the show. How has the whole journey been so far? Must have been one hell of a ride.
Yeah, it’s been an amazing journey. I’ve learned so much, playing Stefan and being in Top Boy. About life in general. But also that I’ve met so many people and it’s opened a lot of doors for me. So it’s been an amazing journey.
So for Season 5, how long did the whole filming process take? Was it quite a packed schedule, or was it over several months?
I think it was like 4 to 5 months maybe. But it was quite back to back, there’ll be weeks where there’ll be no filming for some characters. But then weeks of filming, so it was a mixture, but it was a good mixture.
I can see a lot of fans speculating and commenting on pictures on Instagram about what’s gonna happen or what’s not gonna happen. Do you ever read through those comments, and if you do, what’s the craziest fan theory that you’ve read so far?
Yeah, sometimes I do read through the comments and I think, hmm maybe this would be a good idea if this was to happen, they’re quite interesting. I feel like one that I’ve read that made me think was if Jamie was to be brought back alive. I see that one quite a lot, people saying it’s a dream, but I was thinking, if that was a dream that would actually be a very, very sick storyline, like, it’s a hole in his head.
People are just probably still in shock, I did read that theory a lot as well. Having watched the first four episodes of the new season, I can’t help but notice that a lot has happened already. Even with your character Stef – he’s skipping school, he’s repping the chain, he’s getting a girlfriend and even a gun. Do you think after all that’s happened, especially in the previous season, that he would always follow Jamie’s footsteps in a way?
Yeah, I feel like a lot has happened to him. But also in the previous two seasons, Stef had someone to shield him away from that lifestyle. But now Jamie’s gone, there’s not anyone to help him and protect him from that. So he’s now navigating life by himself. So unfortunately, he’s navigating the wrong side of life. We’ve seen him follow in some of Jamie’s footsteps that Jamie took before in the previous seasons. However, at the same time, he’s not in too deep the way Jamie was.
Do you see him become the new Jamie at some point?
I think Stef is a smart kid. So I think he knows that if he does follow Jamie’s footsteps, he could see the consequences. So I don’t think he will fully.
How did you approach portraying Stef’s growth and transformation throughout the series? And also what kind of aspects of the journey resonated with you on a more personal level?
I would say, this final season resonated with me a lot because this is when Stef had to become independent, which is something that I had to be in my own household as well. I had to become more independent because my older brother left the house… I had to kind of become the man of the house, which Stef has to do as well in this season. Because there’s no one to take care of him. When approaching [playing] Stef I really thought, in certain situations, what would I do? Because we’re kind of in similar positions. So that’s one way I was able to get into character and approach the role.
Were there any scenes in this new season in particular that you found particularly challenging to shoot? And equally, was there one specifically that you enjoyed a lot?
I don’t know if you have seen it yet but there’s one scene where he has the gun towards the mirror. I think you can see it in the trailer and that scene took a lot emotionally. I had my approach on set and I had to get into the zone. Because I’m not really a very emotional person. So that it seemed very emotional, I had to really get in the zone, think about a lot of things in my life in general, and Stef’s life, to get me to that point. And it took quite a long time. So I think that for me, that was one of the hardest scenes to film. And then my favourite scene to film was, I would say, any scene with Jamie’s friends, the London Fields group, because it was always quite bubbly and even off-set we were always chilling together. So any scenes with Jamie’s friends were very fun and enjoyable to film.
You can really tell how good the chemistry is between everyone who plays in Top Boy. But talking about Stef’s relationships, they’ve been quite complex. Even with Jamie, and also with his friend Ats who unfortunately died last season. Could you share some insights into Stef’s dynamics with those characters, and how they shape his decisions and actions throughout the series?
I think with Jamie, we see Stef make a lot of decisions just to get Jamie’s attention and Jamie’s love throughout the previous seasons. I think the first two seasons especially saw Stef being just a kid who wants attention and love from his older brother. Because the older brother’s not really there for him, so we see him get that from other characters, for example Ats or Tia. When Jamie left in season two to go to Morocco, we see Stef being very, very distraught and upset because he wants attention from Jamie. So he kind of uses all these other characters to get that attention that he can’t get from Jamie.
That makes a lot of sense. So, if there was another season afterwards, what would you want Stef’s character development to be, ideally?
I would like to see Stef develop his first relationship with his girlfriend, Erin. That’s a very, very important part of his life, and that would continue to be a very, very important part of his life. And him having a girlfriend is a big deal. Because it’s his first girlfriend. So I think continuing that would be an important character development for Stef. Because now he’s actually having to give love and affection to someone else, someone who’s not Jamie or his brother and Aaron.
We shall see – the fans will want another season, that’s for sure! But Top Boy aside, you are also starring as Otis in Netflix’s Heartstopper, which couldn’t be any more different from Top Boy. So when you approach new roles, how do you usually prepare yourself for them to channel your character the best you can?
I try to see similarities in their life to mine. For example, Otis is quite a bubbly character and fun, caring, and friendly. And I’ll say I’m quite a bubbly and friendly person. So in moments where we see Otis having fun, I try to relate to him. Whereas with Stef, he’s quite a moody, sad character just going through like his teenage years and hitting puberty. So I try to think back to when I was going through puberty, I try to always relate the character to my life and pick up similarities so I know how to react and respond to other characters in a realistic way.
So finally, is there anything else that you are currently working on that you are allowed to share?
At the moment, there is not. I really want to do a period drama. I do have lots of ambitions. I would like to work with the finest actors and directors in the industry and learn more about the craft of acting. I also got a feature film called Warhol, which is scheduled to be released next year as well.
Top Boy returns to Netflix this Thursday, 7th September.