Most people refer to him as sexy Connor from Eastenders, but that is just a slice of what this talented young man has to offer. In fact, that is the beginning, as 23-year-old Nigerian born Arinze Kene has proven to be a lot more than just an actor. Having written his debut play ‘Estate Walls’ to then having it staged at the Oval House Theatre in a three-week sell-out show is a far cry from being Carol Jackson’s ‘shoulder’ to cry on. And not only that, his next play ‘Little Baby Jesus’ will also be premiering at Oval House Theatre, as part of a major festival of new British-Nigerian theatre, ‘London via Lagos’. With his career mapped out and a heightened success in the world of playwriting, it may just seem that the land of soap has been washed out after all.
Flavour grills the Hackney based rising star on his master plan, the feeling of triumph after being named as ‘Most Promising Playwright’ and whether it really is a curtain call for life on Albert Square.
How has your life changed since you stepped onto Albert Square as Connor Stanley – are you still able to pop to the supermarket without someone shouting out Connor?
Yes, I can go everywhere. It’s weird because when I had my facial hair I would get recognised a lot more. Now I’ve got it removed, I only get stopped a handful of times every day, it’s not ridiculous though. I’m not like Tinie Tempah or anything!
If you could play another character on Eastenders, who would it be?
I wouldn’t play anyone who exists now. I’d create a character called (long pause) Franklin Harold, and he’ll be a lawyer. They need a lawyer on Albert Square.
We last saw Connor after Carol paid a visit to him regarding Whitney’s disappearance, and at this point we see Carol rejecting Connor – will we be seeing him again?
I don’t believe you will for the time being, unfortunately.
Congratulations on winning ‘Most Promising Playwright’ for you play ‘Estate Walls’ at Oval House in the recent Off West End Theatre Awards. How does it feel receiving recognition for your work?
To tell you the truth I was just happy with being nominated because sometimes it’s a harder job to get people to see what you’re doing, it’s harder than actually creating and I’ve been writing for years. And I take myself quite seriously. I was glad to just have people come and take it for what it was and see it as a legitimate play. I personally didn’t see the other plays that I was up against but I thought it was a brilliant play. I thought it was directed beautifully and I thought the actors were amazing.
Tell us a bit about your play ‘Estate Wall’s and how is the story different from British Urban films?
Estate Walls was directed by Che Walker who’s also directing my latest play ‘Little Baby Jesus’. The story is about two brothers, but they’re not really brothers, they’re best friends who fall in love with the same girl. But the actual play also tackles the issues of living on an estate, from a different angle, and it’s quite a poetic play as well. The lead character in the play wants to leave and get out of the estate but his friend keeps pulling him back. It’s really reflective of how I felt when I was in my mid-teens. It took intelligent actors to perform it and an intelligent director to direct it. It really challenged the audience to think it’s not just so one dimensional, living on an estate and being an urban youth.
What was your initial intention for the outcome of the play?
By growing up behind an estate and going there every day, I felt like there was a story that needed to be told, that I wouldn’t have seen on television or on the stage, or even read about. So I thought let me tell that story.
What are you most dedicated to – Acting or playwriting?
I think they’re equal. Since I’ve started acting I’ve become a better writer, and since I started writing I’ve become a better actor.
Do you have any plans to write for the big screen or is it purely for the stage?
I’m currently writing for the big screen, me and my friend have just written a feature film and were trying to get that made. So watch this space.
What other issues do you hope to tackle in the future?
I don’t. [Laughs]. I’m a storyteller. Maybe this is tackling it but I guess I’m already creating more opportunities for young actors and parts that are not very widely available. When I pick up a play or a screenplay and often it’s about a person in Hackney, which happens to be where I’m from, I almost don’t want to read it because I almost think I’ve read it before.
What advice would you give to young aspiring actors and playwrights?
I’d tell young actors to go to the theatre, see more plays and write to people like me. We need more stories and more playwrights. The only way is hard work and discipline. To wake up, write, go to the theatre and watch a play, to meeting the director and chatting to anyone at the theatre, even the barman! Motion creates motion.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years’ time?
I would like to see myself between London, LA and France. I have a massive action plan. So far, believe it or not, for the last four years everything has been going to plan. I couldn’t stress more; hard work is what produces the goods.
Little Baby Jesus premieres 25 May at Oval House Theatre. Follow Arinze on Twitter @ArinzeKene
Interview by Melek Derebeyli
Photography by Matthew Farrant