Exclusive Interview: Malcolm Kamulete

From acting and making music to playing football, Malcolm Kamulete’s life revolves around performing, he reveals how one teacher changed the course of his life, and tells us about his latest role as Bosco in new BBC drama, Champion.

Photography by Lee Malone | Styling by Sarah-Rose Harrison | Grooming by Nicola Harrowell-Browne | Shot on location at The Westminster Hotel

Malcolm Kamulete believes he has his drama teacher, Marnie Crymble, to thank for his acting career. It was, he says, her encouragement that got him the part of Ra’Nell in Top Boy. A role that was to thrust him into the spotlight 10 years ago. “All props to her,” he tells me. “I believe without her I probably wouldn’t be where I am.” His reluctance to even audition for the part stemmed from a previous experience on set, when he and friends from school had appeared as extras in Plan B’s film, Ill Manors. “We didn’t really like it,” he admits. “I guess, being boisterous and young, you wouldn’t. You just want to kind of be useful… we just didn’t feel that we were. The experience wasn’t as appealing as we thought acting life would be, so we weren’t interested in doing anything else.”

His teacher, having heard about the Top Boy auditions through a friend, knew that the opportunity might just change the course of one of her pupils’ lives, and would not rest until they agreed to go. “She was almost begging us to go, saying, ‘If you guys go, I promise you it could be a life changer for one of you’. She was on our case about it, going, ‘It has to be today, it’s at 4.30. It’s in Farringdon, can you make it? Go ask your parents for permission’. So, we were kind of like, ‘Oh miss, we don’t want to go!’ and she was like, ‘Trust me, just go’. So, off the back of her doing that, maybe 15 of us from school went to the audition… Five, six months later, I was given the role of Ra’Nell.”

Malcolm Kamulete Actor Champion BBC Exclusive Interview

Top, jacket and trousers, all by Altar London; and shoes by Grenson

He had, he says, always enjoyed drama, but it had never felt like a calling. “I was very much in love with drama as a lesson. Every time I was in drama, English or PE, I would find like my safe haven. I would be happy,” he recalls. “So, I very much knew that I liked drama as a subject, but I was so immersed in football at the time. I was trying out for football teams like Leyton Orient… it was my main focus. So, when acting came and found me, it was very much at a time where I didn’t even see the calling. I didn’t even feel like it was a calling at the time, because I was so young and so focused on the football.”

Next up for the talented Londoner is a lead role in the BBC’s Champion this month. The series is the first TV project for Candice Carty-Williams, author of The Sunday Times bestselling novel Queenie and the new hit novel People Person, and tells the explosive story of what happens when fame collides with family. Speaking about the show when it was first announced, Candice said: “Champion is a celebration of Black music and of a Black family, however fragmented that family might be, and I can’t wait for the world to see their story. Since I knew what music was, I’ve loved grime and UK rap and neo-soul, to the point of obsession, and to bring to BBC One in the UK, and Netflix globally, a series that gives these genres of music life and texture is my dream, as is working with some of the best producers and songwriters making music today to create original tracks for the show.”

Malcolm Kamulete Actor Champion BBC Exclusive Interview

Shirt by LOEWE; vest by All Saints; and ring by 7879

Malcolm plays rap sensation Bosco Champion, who is fresh out of prison, and ready to dominate the music industry once more. But when his dutiful younger sister Vita’s own talent is discovered by Bosco’s rival, Bulla, she steps out of her brother’s shadow to become a performer in her own right, setting the Champion siblings against one another and tearing apart the whole family in the process. It was an irresistible role for Malcolm, who himself makes music, and saw it as a “meshing of his two worlds”.

“I’ve been making music for the best part of 10 years, just in my bedroom kind of thing,” Malcom reveals. “Making songs in the studio, not releasing them, just playing them for my friends. Just kind of curating my sound and finding what is truly me when it comes to being an artist. I look to hopefully release something soon.” As it was, his musical talents were not known to the casting directors when he first went to audition. “I heard it through the grapevine that a friend had mentioned me and let them know that, well, ‘Malcolm can rap as well’,” he says. “Because I think that was something that wasn’t really out there. I guess I was up for consideration, but maybe they needed some sort of proof or something. So, yeah, the rest was history…”

Malcolm Kamulete Actor Champion BBC Exclusive Interview

Suede trimmed wool cardigan by Mr P. at MR PORTER; black tshirt by Sunspel; trousers by All Saints; and bracelet by 7879

Though he is yet to watch it in its entirety, he is very excited to see how the public react to the series. “I think it’s going to be an amazing project, because it’s the first of its kind. It’s original. And it’s just something nobody’s seen before,” he tells me. “But I guess it’s up to the masses to see what they like about it. Personally, I think we’ve got something great on our hands. It’s got a great storyline. It’s got an amazing cast… Bosco is a really complex character, but I think what he goes through is very relatable in a lot of ways.”

News of the role has already put him under the spotlight once again – earlier this year The Face named him as one of their ‘Rising Stars to Watch’. “That felt really good… amazing,” he exclaims when I bring it up. “It just felt like it was the right time to receive such an accolade, because I felt like I’d been working hard. I’d kept my head down and was just doing all the right things. So, to get some sort of recognition for it, which I’m not actually used to, was an amazing feeling. It was uplifting. It gave me confidence. It made me know that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.”

He is definitely no stranger to hard work – he is also busy behind the scenes creating projects of his own. “I am in the process of writing a couple of things,” he tells me. “I have got a production company called M-O-M Films Limited, and we’re aiming to start slating films over the next couple of years and doing things of that nature. So, we’re in the process of writing pilots and short films. We are kind of trying to ply the trade in all fields possible when it comes to creativity.”

And there will always be football for Malcolm. “It is just one of those undying dreams, I can’t let it go,” he says, when I ask him if he still plays. “I don’t know why I can’t let it go. Anytime I get a chance to just kick about with my friends, we have little five-a-side, seven-a-side games. I used to try to stay consistently in the Sunday league teams and stuff, but over time, literally, it’s just been tough. It’s been tough to keep that up.” If he’s not playing, he’s watching, either live or on the television; he supports Arsenal (“I’ve got to say it, even though I’m really disappointed in them,” he laughs, when I ask). I wonder what his response would be if he were offered a contract to play. “Oh man…” he groans. “We’d have to have a conversation about maybe a 50:50 contract. Maybe two days for my acting jobs, two days training. I don’t think it’ll happen now, but I’d love to play. I’m pretty sure that would be a tough one. That would cause me to think for sure.”

Should he need reassurance that he has made the right choice, he can always rely on his family, it seems. “I’ve got a family full of characters and they just inspire me a lot. And they’re always behind me. They’ve been nagging at me to follow this path the whole time,” he tells me. “Literally, when I was trying to do football. They were like ‘No, look, this is right in front of your face’. When I was trying to pursue, I guess sports coaching and PT-ing and things of that nature, they would be like, ‘Look in front of you’. So, they’ve been reaffirming me for the longest time. They have been my biggest supporters, even when I’ve kind of swayed away from it, and I’ve come back to it… it’s kind of been a slow burner, but they’ve just been behind me the whole way. So yeah, they’ve been my rock. And yeah, that’s how I’ve been operating – through their support system.”

It is this, coupled with his belief in his own capabilities that drives him and keeps him working, he explains. “My self-belief is just unwavering,” he says. “I genuinely believe that I can make a very, very impactful mark within this acting industry. I feel like I’ve got a lot to give, and I know that within myself now, and I understand my worth, and that is to me the most powerful thing, just knowing yourself. I feel like it’s just that self-belief and understanding that I have more to give. This is just the beginning.”

Top, jacket and trousers, all by Altar London; and shoes by Grenson

It was not always this way, of course – there was much personal growth to be done over the years. “The advice I’d give to my 15-year-old self is to block out the noise and follow your dreams wholeheartedly,” he says. “When you’re younger, and you’re kind of naive to certain things, and you haven’t fully developed your mind, and you haven’t fully developed your emotional intelligence, you can be, I guess, put off really quickly by anything. For instance, with my music, somebody would tell me they don’t like it, and all of a sudden, it’s in my head, even though I was sold on it when I was listening to it by myself. I’ve stopped myself a lot of the times when I was younger – from doing things, from pursuing things – because I just would listen to the outside noise. So, I feel like now, I don’t listen to the outside noise. I take advice, of course, always. I love to hear what everyone thinks before making my final decision, but I don’t listen to outside noise. If it feels useless, then I won’t take it on board. If it feels useful, I most definitely will.”

We are running out of time, Malcolm has plans – a trip to the Saatchi Gallery. “That’s something people might not know about me,” he reveals. “I really, really love art galleries. The Saatchi is really urban and it’s kind of got some down to earth vibes going on. So, I really like it there.”

I’ve time for one last question, so I ask how Malcolm would like to be remembered. “As somebody who just produced great work,” he tells me, thoughtfully. “I just want to be remembered as somebody who was caring, kind, honest with his work. Somebody who… it’s a hard question when you think about it. I just want to be remembered for human things. Honestly, nothing too crazy. Just humility, kindness, happiness… Yeah, I just want to be remembered for uplifting things. I want to be in a bracket where when you mention my name, only great conversations are being had. So yeah, I guess that’s where I’d like to see myself.”

Champion is coming to BBC One and BBC iPlayer this month