A glimpse at the career of Arnold Oceng
Above: Arnold Oceng talks to London 360 Junior Reporters
London raised actor Arnold Oceng, now famous for films such as Adulthood and Hollywood’s The Good Lie, where he starred alongside Reese Witherspoon, originally fled Uganda with his mother when he was one years old: “I’m a refugee… this is crazy for me… I’ve come from nothing”.
His acting career had early beginnings. Agency ‘Kids Plus’ scouted Oceng at the young age of six. After a few years he landed his first lead role as schoolboy Calvin Braithwaite in Grange Hill. His life at the fictional school paralleled his own, being in the same year as his character throughout his run on the show. Oceng had never been to a drama or acting school, so he learnt ‘the technicalities’ during his six years filming Grange Hill. He found it hard leading two lives, “I grew up in the hood… I was stuck in two worlds” in “Brixton with the crew”, where he grew up, as well being an actor on TV.
Oceng soon became noticed and was suggested for a role in Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood, which he was advised to turn down. The film blew up: “My agent told me not to do Kidulthood… when I saw the posters… I was gutted”. However this was not the end of his dealings with Clarke. Oceng used to be an MC under the name ‘Snakeyman’ (in his early teens he’d lost his front teeth and had a lisp). He was asked to perform at the film’s after party and through this he kept up friendship with Clarke, who later successfully auditioned Oceng for the sequel, Adulthood, where new character “Henry was born”.
Oceng’s success grew after Adulthood and he has since worked with the likes of Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon and David Oyelowo. The latter of whom “reeks of authority… and made me bring out my A-game, by force”! Oceng is very insistent on the importance of realising acting is not all glitz and that it is not a job for the fainthearted. “I do auditions all the time… [you’ve] got to have thick skin… you’ve got to have drive and ambition”. However, he advises any aspiring actors to try out everything and never live in doubt for what might have been. “Don’t let [anyone] knock your confidence because at the end of the day it’s you”.
When he is asked about the challenges he’s faced, Oceng finds it hard to moan, “I dreamt for this, so how can I complain”. He does, however, acknowledge that success tends to lead to increasingly demanding roles. In one such case he had to get extremely fit and was told not to drink or smoke and was even given a personal trainer for four months. Oceng has touched on the burdens of fame, jocularly noting encounters with people who think they recognise him but aren’t sure why. He laughed about a man questioning whether he recognised him from prison, “I thought you were some brother from jail I had beef with”! But he says he tries to please people and stay grounded, “I’ve got a problem with people disliking me”.
Looking back at his life and career so far, Oceng is still in shock, “The journey’s been crazy”, which makes him very humble. He’s been physically attacked and stabbed in the leg, and from the sound of some of his agents and managers, he’s been stabbed in the back a few times too! He described a fair-weather agent dropping him when he wouldn’t take on a role he felt uncomfortable to play and then tried to win Oceng back as he grew more successful. “All you ever dream about is obtaining roles that are different from you”, “if you don’t have the family support you gotta do it for yourself”.
As a black actor, Arnold Oceng feels that he would like to see “more people of colour behind the camera”. By the end of this year Oceng will be setting up his own production company and also plans to ‘give back’ by opening a drama school based on talent, which he never had the opportunity to go to himself. However Oceng isn’t retiring from acting himself just yet, “this is me, this is my passion… I have no cut off point, [but] … if I pass away tomorrow… I would have achieved the one thing I always dreamt… to star in a Hollywood film”.
A United Kingdom, Oceng’s latest film, is in cinemas on 25th November.
By Joseph Aspinall
London360 Junior Reporter
This piece is also published on the London360 Junior Reporter blog at