It’s no coincidence that actor Kadeem Ramsay is in three of the most talked about shows of 2019. Racking up roles in Netflix series Sex Education as the unforgettable OctoBoy (a student experiencing a sexual awakening), Kit in Top Boy (a notorious drug dealer) and Hakeem in the Rapman drama Blue Story (a cheeky school teen), it’s clear the 23-year-old Londoner is undoubtably sought after.
Getting his first taste of acting as a teen, in crime flick My Brother the Devil, the Hackney local quickly took his talent to social media – gaining a vast virtual following for his comedic memes and tongue-in-cheek humour. Fast forward seven years and Ramsay now counts Dave, Micheal Ward and Idris Elba as on-screen allies.
The actor credits Top Boy as the driving force behind his career choice. “I always wanted to be in it from the first season. Mainly because of Ashley Walters. I saw him again and I was like, ‘That’s my guy,’” he jokes. Already close friends with Sean Romulus, who plays the character Dris on the show, Ramsay’s eyes were opened. “We’re from the same area and I’m thinking, ‘Yo, this guy’s in the show, I wanna be in the show bruv.’” It wasn’t long before his dream came true.
Friday marks the release of Ramsay’s latest accolade: Blue Story. Based on Rapman’s Shiro’s Story – a three-part YouTube series about the world of rap, drug dealing and violence – the narrative touches on Rapman’s own experiences, following two friends from south London who become rivals in a street war.
When we speak, Ramsay’s excitement and energy is palpable as he reels off upcoming projects. (Keep your eyes peeled for Steve McQueen’s period drama Small Axe, out next year.) It’s just the start for the rising star.
Where did your love of acting stem from?
You know what, it started when I was in Year Eight. That’s when I first watched a movie called Bullet Boy, which stars Ashley Walters. That made me feel like, “You know what, I want to give this thing a shot.” I just liked the energy. I felt like I could see myself doing it.
From then at 15 years old, I got my first role as an extra in a film called My Brother The Devil. The way I got into that one was a guy who lived in my area. He asked me if I wanted to be in it and I was like, “Of course!” That was my first taste of acting.
In school I was actually in love with cricket. I found another passion that overtook it, but put a bat in my hand and imma show you something.
How did you keep the momentum going with your acting?
After that, I didn’t know how to, so I started making funny videos on Instagram. I was doing funny sketches. That was inspired by people like Mandem on the Wall, DntJealousMe, there was loads of people that made me want to do comedy and I just wanted to be able to create chances for myself ’cos I didn’t know how to get into acting properly. I was using Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, literally everything. You know like those meme pages and stuff. I feel like people underestimate the power of social media, you know what I’m saying. Some social media outlets I’ve met people, I’m still in contact with today and they’ve helped me get to where I am today and I’m thankful for that. One day I’m gonna do the same favour back. It’s been a crazy journey man.
Were you scouted through those channels?
What it was yeah, while I was making videos on Instagram I went to drama school called MN Talent and I was literally going there for three terms. On the first term I got signed to the agency and it was in 2014 where I got a role in a commercial. It was a TFL commercial. I done a few commercials, Transport for London, I did an eBay advert, I was in the Tracey Ullman show on BBC1, I’ve done music videos. There’s so much that I’ve done and that’s through the agency.
What was it like for you growing up in London?
It was hard, but I enjoyed it at the same time because what I went through made me the man I am today. The things I’ve seen, it’s made me develop a mind of my own. I can think for myself, make my own decisions. I don’t rely on anyone. It starts with your mindset first. You have to be careful who you have around you. My mum always told me, “Tell me your company and I’ll tell you who you are.” So I’m always careful with who I surround myself with. That’s how I’ve been growing up because I know what’s around me and I don’t want to be dragged into that.
What were you doing when you got the call about Blue Story?
I was filming Top Boy. That audition was so funny because I got the script the night before. At the time I was out with my friends so when I went to the audition, I stumbled my lines. I was scared because when I walked in I saw Rapman right there. I didn’t even expect to see him in the room.
After I went to the audition, two days had gone by and I was thinking I hadn’t got the role. Rapman had hit me up in the DMs on Instagram and I’m thinking, “What?!” He told me he really loved my audition. I was in shock. I told my mum straight away. My mum’s such a big supporter, she even still does my hair.
Were you a big fan of Shiro’s Story?
I really thank god for Rapman you know, he’s giving people chances. The way this has been broken down and explained, hasn’t been done before. The message is powerful.
Can you tell us more about the role and the character you play?
I play a character called Hakeem. He’s that one friend who’s the hype one, the excited one, always happy, always smiling. He ends up getting put into a position where he’s on the fence and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. When it comes to choosing sides between friends it’s difficult. You get to see how Hakeem deals with it. I’ve been told this is my biggest role to date. Rapman told me my performance in this is better than in Top Boy. He told me I shined in it.
Which UK rappers are you listening to right now?
J Hus, AJ Tracey…he’s cold. Giggs. I can’t forget Dave, oh my goodness, how could I forget him.
What has been a current career highlight for you so far?
I would say the Blue Story moment now you know, mainly because seeing myself on the bus and the underground. Even just to be seeing it where I grew up is mental and my mum just going out and seeing it on the bus. People go on the underground and they send me Snapchats of the poster. My DMs are crazy.
So what do you like to do off-screen?
I’m not a person who likes to do too much man, I just like to chill. I do things at my own pace.
Blue Story is out in UK cinemas 22nd November