Energy, Family and Good Times – In Conversation with Kola Bokinni
There was a buzz of excitement and curiosity in the airy studio space as the crew of PWR Magazine waited in anticipation for the arrival of Kola Bokinni. It was a bright and promising Saturday in East London when we received the call that our guest had arrived, and we cantered down to reception in single file. The first thing I noticed about Kola was the large box that he was carrying in his hands. “A gift for a friend”, he told me afterwards with happiness. He was going to attend a birthday party later that evening and I found it endearing that he wanted to take it with him into the studio, as if it were too sentimental a gift to leave on its own.
Kola entered the studio space with a light and calming energy and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was someone who meditated frequently. Kola Bokinni had an aura of tranquillity and the kind of smile that made everyone in the room want to smile, too. It was the second thing I noticed and the lasting impression that he left on the PWR Team: the way that he made those around him feel. This was most likely intentional, the ‘Ted Lasso’ star being a big believer in energy and making sure other people feel at ease. “If I walked into here today and I was like-” he paused, orchestrating displeased sounds and mannerisms to imitate grumpy behaviour. “-and if I was like I don’t want no music, we’d be sitting here in silence. Energy is a real thing.”
The natural flow of conversation had led us far from the initial question, which was about those who he most admires. “One of my best mates,” who I came to learn was Will Poulter of ‘We’re the Millers’ and ‘Midsommar’. “I admire him for his determination, his morals and he gave me some of the best advice that I’ve ever heard. He told me not to drink your own kool-aid.” The advice resulted in a conversation about the entertainment industry and the interesting characters one meets when involved in the industry. “Ladder climbers is what I call them. People who’ll survey the room, see who’s the most popular and go talk to them. But they won’t talk to you unless you have status; they’ll want nothing to do with you. Only when you’re popping - that’s when they’ll want you.”
I asked him if this is what he was expecting when he came into the industry and he spoke freely about his conversations with best mate, Poulter, and how he wouldn’t have known what he knows if it had not been for him. Bokinni opened up, then, about the industry and the hate that comes with being in the public eye. The confession made me curious about the ways in which he dealt with hate. “When I did ‘Top Boy’, I would get messages from people who hate me because they hate my character. When they see me, they see “Leyton” or they see “Isaac” or whatever, and when they approach me in real life... You know, there’s so many positives about my job but there’s also some negatives.” This was the stage in which he opened up about the surrendering of privacy and shared stories of being approached in public to take photographs while eating out with his family. “Some people don’t like that but I’ll do it because I’m like ‘you know what, it’s just 2 seconds of my day to make someone smile’.”
“But you don’t have to do it. No one is entitled to your time,” I said, perhaps thinking about what I would have done had it been me in his shoes. And this brings us right back to the moment Kola Bokinni began to drop gold bars of wisdom about the reality of energy, and how easily you can impart bad energy onto others. “It’s like air. You can’t see it but you breathe it.”
Interpersonal skills seemed to be a consistent thread with Bokinni as he disclosed his musings about what constitutes an outstanding production. “It’s all about listening. If there’s no communication on set it won’t work. It just won’t work. Communication between departments, communication between actors, actors and directors.” He divulged into the importance of recognising all people for their strengths no matter how small the role is considered to be, maintaining his belief that everyone in a team has value.
As we wrapped up the first photoshoot session and I followed Kola to where he would be tucking into his Caribbean take-out, Burna Boy’s melodies became louder through the speaker, and our attention diverted to breezier, more light-hearted topics. “Did you watch Fame?” One of our production team members asked him, referring to the 1980s movie about kids attending a performing arts school. We learned from Kola that one of his lessons in class was to do that very thing: watch Fame. “That’s what I think when I think about BRITS school. Is it really like that?” Another good question from the team member to which Kola responded: “It is like that. People just jamming everywhere. There’s an ice cream van there every day in the school.” This was the point in which I asked him to tell me more about the critically acclaimed performing arts school where our guest attended for a few months as a student: “When I heard about the BRIT school, I jumped at the opportunity. I went to the Saturday school first and then I had the opportunity to go to the actual school. There’s not many opportunities, as someone from South London, to be able to express yourself. Most schools you wear their school uniform, sit down, they dictate dictate dictate - whereas at the BRIT school they let you express yourself. It was challenging but also rewarding. With anything in life the more you put in, the more you get back. That’s what I believe.”
As impressed as I was by this answer, what he said next made my ears perk up. “It’s crazy because it’s created a family legacy... my niece now goes to the school. She does musical theatre. And I... she wanted to go there because I was going there. She said to me ‘I’m going to go there’. And yeah, she’s a woman of her word.” At this point, I was intrigued about his big family and wanted to know if the environment of his childhood upbringing had anything to do with his spirited temperament. “If you aren’t loud, you might starve,” Kola joked, referring to his daily sibling battles for the largest portion of food at the dinner table. “So you have to be loud, you have to be heard and all my family: they’re outgoing and lively people and it’s moulded my personality.”
Kola spoke more about his family when he was asked about how he celebrates his good times. “Holidays. Loads and loads and loads of holidays. Also friends, family (which is everything to me). If you don’t have your family then you’ll be quite lonely.” Kola’s desires for a big family is informed by his beliefs that a house should be buzzing and full of life. “When you go home it should feel like home. And family: that’s what makes a house a home.”
By the end of my informative and enjoyable conversation with Kola, I’d learned what the true meaning of ‘Good Times’ really meant. In spite of all the glitz and the glam, Kola Bokinni’s heart lies within his loved ones, and his best times are spent with his family. It was the brilliant ending to a riveting discussion.
Interview & Words by: Kyra Latinwo