It’s been four years since Kennington-born actor Stephen Odubola burst onto the scene in his most significant role to date, portraying Timmy in the acclaimed crime drama Blue Story. The film – which acted as rapper and filmmaker Rapman’s directorial debut – told the story of Timmy (Odubola) and Marco (Michael Ward), two friends from rival postcodes who inherit a feud. Blue Story was praised for its unfiltered, emotional and empathetic depiction of street life, and Odubola’s standout performance was a particular highlight. Since then, the now 27-year-old undertook a leading role as Marcus Wainwright in A Violent Man, alongside Jason Flemyng, and Netflix’s The Sandman with Tom Sturridge, to name just a few.
Now, Odubola is putting his acting chops to the test even further in BBC’s Boiling Point – a spin-off to the 2021 film of the same name, starring Stephen Graham. The original Boiling Point presented all the stresses and pressures that come with working in the high-end culinary industry with (almost too much) accuracy, depicting a single shift in Dalston restaurant Point North. It’s a viewing experience that’ll leave you with drenched palms and intense anxiety, but no matter how hot it gets in the kitchen, you just can’t look away. The series, which aired its first episode on October 1st, picks up eight months after the events of the first film and sees many original cast members return, including Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki and Hannah Walters.
Odubola plays the role of Johnny in the four-part series, joining the restaurant mid-shift, and from the get-go, it’s clear he’s well and truly out of his depth. Still, in Boiling Point, the food comes secondary to the characters, who are dealing with exterior issues, traumas, and responsibilities, and Johnny is no different, as we come to find out by the episode’s end. So, as we patiently wait until the next serving of the show, we sit down with Odubola to discuss his role in Boiling Point, his career thus far, his go-to dish and more.
So, starting from the beginning, when did you realise acting was something you wanted to pursue?
Odubola: I always loved the subject of drama in school, but I never ever thought of it as a career. It was just something I liked to do. I remember there was a time in my life when I was getting into a lot of trouble with my brother. My older brother kind of gave me a talk, and he said, “You’ve got to start focusing”. And it was around the time we had a career assembly in school. I started thinking if there was anything I wanted to do. And I remember just thinking, you know what, drama is the one thing I like doing. So, I just started researching how to get into the industry. It was around the time John Boyega made his onscreen debut, and I thought it’s actually possible. There weren’t really many Black people acting at the time, but when I saw him, I knew it was possible. Eventually, I went to drama school and got signed by an agency, and once I had my agent, that was my first foot into the professional side of the industry.
How have you found the more professional/industry side of it?
Odubola: No one prepares you for it. I remember telling my university, “Hey guys, I got this big audition. It’s looking like I might have to drop out of uni.” I didn’t know that would be the first of a hundred rejections [laughs]. It’s very different, but it builds character.
Obviously, you’re now involved in Boiling Point! Congrats, and how did you land the role?
Odubola: I had to audition, so I sent in a self-tape. They sent me some scripts, so I did that at my house, and then I got a recall. And the thing about the recall was they gave you a script, but it never said what was going to happen in the audition. And me, I’m just thinking, yeah, it’s going to be a normal audition. I’ll just go and perform a couple of lines. But they had another actor there doing the scenes with me, throwing so many curve balls. But what Philip Barantini [the director] wanted to see was how much I could improvise. That’s the nature of Boiling Point – he wants a very natural and realistic approach and wants you to be able to bounce off characters’ energies.
What was the overall experience like on set for you? Is it as much pressure as it sounds?
Odubola: We had the base of the script, but when it came to being on set, it was just what you want as an actor because there’s a lot of times where Vinette Robinson and Shaun Fagin will say, “Stevie, I’m going to try this, and I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I want to see how you react.” But in that moment, it allows me to become the character that I’m playing. When Sean was throwing me curveballs, for example, there was a scene where he came and just grilled me because I messed up. I wasn’t expecting it because it wasn’t in the script, but at that moment, because I had to become Johnny, I had to react as Johnny would, being a new kid in the kitchen. You have to constantly be on your toes and on your A-game.
What was it like being around actors of that calibre who are always testing you and keeping you on your toes?
Odubola: I mean, coming into this, I’d seen the movie, and they did a brilliant job. So, I was thinking, there’s a lot of pressure, I’ve got big boots to fill, but everybody’s in the same boat, we’re all actors, we all want to learn, we’re all just trying to make greatness. They welcomed me with open arms, and we were just bouncing off each other. It was a good time.
Obviously, if we’re talking Boiling Point, we have to talk about food. What’s your go-to meal?
Odubola: If it isn’t my mum’s home-cooked jollof rice, then it’s got to be me cooking a chicken alfredo or something.
I think, like most people, I first became aware of you through Blue Story. How would you say you’ve evolved since then as an actor?
Odubola: Good question. As an actor, I feel I’m willing to learn and experience more. Blue Story is very close to home, so I was taking a lot of experiences that I had been through to get into my character. But now I want something that’s very different to myself in terms of the characters I play because I want to be challenged. There’s always a part of me in the characters I play, but I want to be challenged. And I feel like Boiling Point is the most different character I’ve played. So, this is why I’m very happy I’m a part of it even though there’s still a part of me in the character. My first job was in hospitality, so I used experiences I had been through and just brought that into Johnny.
What’s one movie you never get tired of?
Odubola: It’s out of two – Apocalypto or Law Abiding Citizen.
Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration in your career?
Odubola: I’m in a place in time where a lot of people close and far from me inspire me. We’ve got Michael Ward, my brother, and Blue Story was both our movie debuts. He’s shining now, and I look at him, and I’m just so proud of him. And Rapman, who’s the director of Blue Story. He started off doing short films on YouTube and is now directing big movies on Netflix. So, the inspiration is local these days.
Do you have a specific goal in mind for your career?
Odubola: I just want to be great, man. I want people to be able to relate to the projects I’m part of. Obviously, Blue Story was shining a light on how anybody can get wrapped up in that life, as opposed to when you see these young boys in the newspapers and how they just label them without really knowing the backstory.
Boiling Point touches on many different themes. There’s the hospitality staffing crisis that not many people are aware of. You’ve got mental health issues that it touches on. Gender identity, too, with Missy Haysom, who plays Kit, and they identify as non-binary. It just allowed me to be more knowledgeable on so many different themes. I want people who watch my stuff to be educated on these themes as well. I just want people to take things away from the projects I’m involved in.