Stephen Odubola Talks … Gassed Up!

Gassed up to be talking to up and coming homegrown talent!

TBB was invited to sit down for a one to one via Zoom with Stephen Odubola, who takes the lead in award-winning documentary maker, George Amponsah’s first feature film, Gassed Up.

Sam: How you doing?

Stephen: Not bad brother, and you?

Sam: Not too bad. I’m glad I was able to jump in for Whelan because I’m a big fan still …

Stephen: That’s love man, that’s love.

Sam: So, Stephen, how are you first and foremost?

Stephen: I’m good man. I’m happy. I’m internally happy. Happy to be promoting Gassed Up. It’s been a journey but you know … How are you?

Sam: I’m good thank you for asking. So Gassed Up won the Audience Award at the London Film Festival last year, congratulations on that. What was it like, bringing a story, some would call urban, to a different environment used to a different niche of film?

Stephen: It was good man. When I first started working on films, I definitely didn’t want to be a part of movies which were just urban, and ghetto, because they ain’t really doing nothing for the community. But with Gassed Up, I love how it touches on friends, family, loyalty and a message for the youth. There’s a lot of relatable themes in there. When I was younger, I could see, Ash – who is played by myself, I could see a lot of myself in him. He is influenced by his friends a lot and just wants to seem like the guy, he wants to seem like the main character, but it’s not until shit gets real that he starts realising what’s important. And you know, with all the opportunities that are presented around him, he’s still the stubborn teenager who wants to do what’s cool at the time, up until the point shit gets real. That was important to me, I just wanted to put that message out there for the youth.

Gaased Up – Vertigo

Sam: The director (George Amponsah) is known for being a documentary filmmaker, so in terms of realism this is said to have a documentary-style feel. Was that part of the filmmaking process from him in terms of his direction?

Stephen: George has come from a documentary background where things are just authentic and I think he wanted us to bring that authenticity to it because he’s way older than us and obviously can’t relate to young boys doing the things that we’re doing in the movie. His type of direction was rather than telling us what to do, he asked us questions. So if there was a moment where Ash would be angry, or it was an emotional scene, he would give me the premise and the context of what had just happened and he would be like “this just happened, this is a big moment for Ash, how would he react in a scene?”, and it just allowed us to get into the character more, and become the character. It was just more authentic that way.

Sam: Was the dialogue very naturalistic or was it all very “This is what is written down and this is what we want portrayed on the screen?” How much leeway were you given?

Stephen: We had the script as a base on the final day but when it came to set, for example, the party scene, you can’t really stick to the script. Obviously, the script is there to give you guidance but when you’re in a party scene, you might notice something that’s happening that you have to be reactive to what’s going on even with the direction. There’s a scene where Craige (who plays Roach) gets slapped because he did something inappropriate in one of the party scenes and I just burst out laughing, but it’s something that would happen in the moment you know and we kinda just flowed on from that; there’s a lot of free leeway moments.

Sam: You were in Blue Story and there’s been a few surface level comparisons to Gassed Up, even though you are playing very different characters in the film. We don’t see too many young black men from inner city London represented apart from when filmmakers like George are directing. How important is it for you to reflect some humanity in these characters when you’re portraying them?

Stephen Odubola as Timmy and Khali Best as Killy in Blue Story

Stephen: It’s so important because I need people that look like me that are young; older watching black faces on the screen to be able to relate, and to potentially see themselves on there, because we’re telling real stories and we’re trying to give a positive message. We’re not out here glorifying everything. When I started acting I didn’t really see much black UK faces on screen, so I just felt honoured to now to be one of those faces and to be somebody that people are looking at and being like “cool I can relate to this guy’s stories that he’s telling”. I’m very appreciative of that.

Sam: Gassed Up seems to paint the picture that decisions can affect a person’s life even at a very young age for the rest of their lives. So, in terms of your personal experience, and where you come from and how you grew up, did you have any similar experiences that informed how you portrayed Ash, because I’m sure you, like myself, have stories where you could have gone left …

Stephen: Yeah man sometimes I put it down to luck but I can only thank God. Coming from the ‘ends’, in South London, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of things that you’re influenced by, whether that be gangs, or everything around you. I definitely could have been more involved in what was going on around me, but luckily, for me, I had my older brother, who had been in that position before me, who was able to give me that tough love guidance to steer me away, because I definitely wasn’t the best behaved kid, I’ll just say that. But it’s easy to get sucked in and I always think it takes an external influence to drive you away from that. For me, it was my older brother, but for some people, it might be this movie to say, “Ah you know what? This is what I was experiencing, this is how it went like for them, I’ll probably learn something off that”, so that’s why it’s important man.

Sam: One final question that the Editor has asked me to ask you … When was the last time you were super gassed?

Stephen: Damn, I mean I wake up in the morning every day and I’m gassed man, I’m gassed off life. Life is going on a roll. Obviously, we have our downtimes, but it’s easy to forget how grateful I am to be in this position. So a lot of the times I wake up, I’m gassed bro, but I’m excited for what the day brings. I’m trying to live now, I’m not trying to live in the past, and I’m not trying to focus on the future. Now is what matters. Yeah man, I’m gassed, I’m gassed now.

Sam: Thank you for speaking to us.

Stephen: Thank you, brother, take it easy.

Gassed Up is in UK cinemas now


Latest articles

Related articles