When we saw “Been So Long” at the London Film Festival and then again on Netflix, we couldn’t but be mesmerized by the colors, the message and the rhythm of this Camden-based musical. In her journey to find love and self-confidence, the protagonist Simone (Michaela Coel) is helped by her sister Yvonne, a larger-than-life woman full of strength and always with a good word of advice for her big sis but who, despite her apparent confidence, struggles with feelings as everybody else.
We met Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo in London for the first time on the occasion of the BFI London film festival, when “Been So Long” premiered, and now we talked again with her about the challenges and most beautiful moments of being on such a lively and colorful project as “Been So Long,” discovering something more about her as well.
Ronkẹ would love to play a Mulan-esque kind-of-character and a fearless 007.
Yvonne is a very loving sister and aunt, and that’s clear throughout the whole movie. Also, the chemistry between you and Michaela is amazing. Being your best friend, what was the funniest moment you shared on set? And how did you work together on the bond between Simone and Yvonne?
It was funny because Michaela is probably more outgoing than I am in real life, she’s more experienced than me in being open, so I guess I took it from her to use for Yvonne, the openness and just being willing to have a connection with everyone and anyone. I feel like we stole from each other to create the characters that we were both playing. That’s fun.
So you also discussed them together?
Yeah! I mean, we just hung out all the time, which wasn’t different from normal life anyway.
It was so much fun, and she’s such a boss. It was more of my introduction to playing a lead in a film, but I was lucky enough I got to do it with my best friend every day. She’s so well versed and to have her on top of the work was safer for me, I learned a lot on the job because my best friend was there, I could just ask her how things worked.
“…I was lucky enough I got to do it with my best friend every day.”
“Been So Long” has been defined as the Camden’s answer to “La La Land:” what do you say about that?
I think they’re two very different projects, because I don’t know any of the details on “La La Land” but I do know that “Been So Long” was on the works for a decade, so it’s so funny that all these kind of films come out around at the same time, and then the musicals use one to try and validate the others, but I feel like they are independent and unique. I watched “La La Land,” and I liked it: I thought it was great.
Did you have the chance to see “Been So Long” on Stage before?
I didn’t see it on stage, but I know the writer, and I know Arinzé Kene, who played Raymond.
How was working on a project that conveys so perfectly the vibes from Camden and London?
It was fun; it was fun being able to be part of a multicultural London thing. I loved seeing this side of London and being part of a project that shows this side to the world.
And I may be wrong, but it wasn’t entirely shot in Camden, it was also shot near Angel as well?
Yes, we shot in Camden, but it was also shot in East London and some studio stuff.
Like, my crazy scene was in a studio. It was so fun.
And how would you describe the film in three words?
In words, I’d say the film is surprising, funny and comforting.
“Surprising, funny and comforting”
Vocally-wise, how did you work on Yvonne, on her singing and also her moves?
I wanted to make sure that Yvonne was physically free. I sometimes feel, when we try to transfer something from stage to screen, you lose the physicality, the verboseness of a character, which personally I really enjoy. She’s connected to every single part of her body, she feels things to her toes all the way to the ends of her hair, so that was fun. We also had singing and dance rehearsals. When I watched the movie, I was like, “where is all the dancing that they made me do! Why is that not in the film?” That’s how I prepared for Yvonne. I also wanted to be felinesque. Like a cat, she can be quite unpredictable.
Yes, and just like a cat she kind of pushes people away when she feels threatened.
Yeah! Correct. I’m glad that comes across.
Did you find any particular challenge in her character?
Oh, no. What I found liberating was her confidence and bravery in her sexual experiences, in her sexuality, being a sexually active woman. I enjoyed finding that, understanding that I’m choosing to be body positive and sex-positive because I feel there’s a lot of stigma around that. And around women in general. It was funny because when I did the film I didn’t have a boyfriend and I do now, and he came to watch the film. And before I wouldn’t have cared. But he was watching it, and I thought, “Oh, how does this make him feel now?”
He’s great; he’s an actor too, so he understands.
There’s one song in particular that Yvonne sings: “Anyone Can Change,” it felt like Yvonne was also letting us see her own insecurities after being so sure and supportive for the entire movie. She’s a very strong character, and such a sweet song addressed to her sister makes you wonder if she’s not talking to herself too. What’s your take on that?
I agree. It’s so beautiful how life can be, good and bad, and I feel Yvonne has an understanding of that, but she doesn’t know how to articulate it.
So in that song what I really enjoyed was that there was an opportunity to verbalize to herself that, “if my journey isn’t working for me right now, I can change.” She can change, anyone can change. And I feel like for that time this song gives some kind of comfort, but it’s also isolating. It was a hard song to sing, because you’d need to make it sound right, make it sound beautiful, but there must also be emotion in it.
And how would you convey that to an audience? But you sound like you’ve got it, so it works.
“She can change, anyone can change.”
What was your favorite moment about being Yvonne?
I enjoyed the nails and eyelashes and the hair!
She’s eccentric, everything is a performance, and I enjoyed that. “I’m going to be this extravagant in everything,” I loved that about Yvonne, and I should do that more, but I like to sleep. I’m always thinking that in the time I could get my hair and nails done, I could be sleeping. Sleeping is so important; it’s calling me all the time [laughs]
You’re also performing on stage. What does the stage have that the big screen doesn’t?
Relationship to the bodies that are in the room, to your audience. Everyone has different reactions to the film and when you’re in a play, and you shock the audience, you hear them gasp, or you make them laugh, and they laugh with you. So it’s like an agreement, a contract: that’s the difference between stage and screen. And I miss it, I miss working on screen because for this whole year I’m basically working on stage, and I’m thankful for that.
Does it feel somehow truer acting on stage than on screen?
Maybe not, you know. I guess when you’re acting on stage you can follow a chronological narrative, you start, and then you go through a play, and then you finish. When you’re filming, you could be filming the end scene on the first day on set. So I think that yes, in that sense it’s truer, it’s more human, on stage.
What kind of stories do you dream to tell?
I want to do fantasy and sci-fi and action. I want to be out in space, and I want to have superpowers. And some action films.
“I want to do fantasy and sci-fi and action.”
What’s next for Ronke?
Hopefully more and more and more screen work, and film and a really good play.
Is there any musical you would like to be in?
I’ve always wanted to be in “Chicago,” but that was when I was younger. I don’t know if I would want to do it now.
Now, to the Fun Questions
Must have on set: Sweets and alkaline water, to wash away all the sugar. And a good book.
Superpower: I feel like I give really good hugs, comforting hugs. And if I could have a superpower, it would be teleportation. Because we spend so much time on the trains, and on buses and airplanes and it would probably give me more time to do the stuff I was talking about, like my hair and nails. I could teleport from my bed. Now it is grey and rainy, I would teleport to the beach.
Epic fail on the job: I was at drama school, it was our third-year show. And we were doing this play where I was a washerwoman. And they gave us these cotton skirts that were kind of pinned up at the back, but they also gave us undergarments and aprons. So one day I decided not to wear my big undergarment thing, my skirt undid at the back but it was still up because of the apron, but I didn’t know that my skirt had framed my butt cheeks. And for the whole sequence we were dancing and swinging around, and the audience was more lively than they have been before, and I was like “what’s going on?”
And I turned around and my friend saw and she just cracked, she laughed so loud! And I was like, “you’re being so unprofessional, why are you laughing?” and she just came over and took the skirt and hold it over my bum and I just started laughing as well. It was ridiculous! And then my whole year group, they never stopped talking about it! But it’s fine, I’ve been doing a lot of squats so my butt looks great and it’s not a problem. Epic fail, though…I should’ve worn my undergarments.
“I feel like I give really good hugs, comforting hugs.”
Happy place: My kitchen at home, not necessarily because I like to cook there all the time, but I’d rather sit in my kitchen than in my front room. It’s very weird. And also where I live, I can walk to The Thames. To get there you must walk through a field and some disgusting stuff but, once you get there, it’s just a massive clearing. They’re going to be building houses there soon, so I won’t be able to go anymore, but is so peaceful.
Favorite accent: I love southern American, like the deep South. That drawl that they all have, oh my god! And also they speak so slowly, because of the heat I think, you can hear the heat in their voices. I got to do a play four years ago that was set in New Orleans in 1836. It’s going to be a movie now and, hopefully, they’ll ask me to be in it!
Movie: then and now: “Mulan”! I never realized, when I was young, what society plays on women every day and I was so drawn to this woman saving her dad ultimately, and going to war and saving China. It’s amazing. And it’s not until you get older that you realize “oh, I was drawn to that because of that strength” or what that would’ve meant.
I actually watched it on a plane: I was working in NYC and, when I came back, I watched it and I was crying, I was in tears the whole time! All of the songs, all of the words…this film is profound. My favorite movie now, the one I would watch again and again, is Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and she was incredible. I like a lot of action movies, I think it’s therapeutic to just blow some shit up, but I’m thinking, “how many action movies with women do I know?”
I’ll have to write it, probably. But it will take me a while.
Favorite Word: Yuur. I have a friend called Emmanuel that has basically turned the word “yeah” into “yuur” and I love the way it sounds, the way it makes me feel. I think it’s great.
Who you’d rather be: Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” that would be fun! I’d love that, I think she’s fabulous.
Favorite Emoji: 🤔
The last series you binge-watched: “American Gods,” I did a radio play for Neil Gaiman last year and everyone was talking about the books. But then last month I was just like, “Oh, let me watch ‘American Gods‘” and it’s incredible! That’s the kind of stuff that I want to do.
What have you already crossed from your Bucket List: Working with Steven Spielberg. It’s so fun when your life does things like that, you know. It wasn’t in the capacity that I have imagined, but I got to meet the man, he put me in a movie. It wasn’t a big role or anything like that, but I had conversations with him and some people are just magical. I’ve not flown business or first class yet, but that’s on there because I hear it’s amazing. It just blows my mind that there’s this amount of wealth in the world and one person can access that. I’d love to be wealthy, but that scares me a little too, because if you got money you know how to spend it. I don’t mind if someone pays for business class though! [laughs]
I Dreamed a Dream… I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I guess, for the Mulan in me, it would be a character like that. Action, I want to blow some shit up but also to have the capacity to change the world with just what she has, in the Mulan-esque way. I think it would be a movie as opposed to the stage. Or the Viola Davis “How to Get Away With Murder” kind of character. She’s incredible, but there’s also tragedy in her as well. That would be a dream project. Also just being able to meet people who understand the vision, I think that would be fun.
“I want to blow some shit up but also to have the capacity to change the world with just what she has, in the Mulan-esque way.”
The most beautiful thing while filming “Been so Long”: I just remember some days, they were changing lights or whatever, and me and George [MacKay] would have the most beautiful, profound conversations. He’s such an open-minded person, and he thinks about everyone. He’s genuinely selfless, I think, so those conversations were so beautiful. I would love to work with George again very, very soon. Because he’s an incredible actor and a wonderful human.
Ops! Break Time:
Snack Crush: There are these rice cakes, and they are blueberry and vanilla flavor. Once you start that’s it, game over, they’re delicious. I’ve stocked up my house now, and I carry packets around with me.
Sweets or Popcorn? Popcorn gets stuck in your teeth, and that’s really annoying. So sweets, but you can only eat so much before your mouth starts to feel weird.
Since we are Italian… Hawaiian pizza, yay or nay? No! Pineapple on pizza does not make sense.