When asked how she first became interested in acting, Ronke Adekoluejo answers with one single word: “Envy.”
“My mum put me and my older brother in a stage school when we were kids,” the East London-based actress, who stars in HBO’s latest dark comedy hit Rain Dogs, tells me over Zoom on a recent afternoon. (During our meeting, she’s at the gym—with her older brother.) “He was booking jobs, and got to play young Ainsley Harriott in this BBC show. Oh, I was jealous. I was so jealous. Because I knew I was better at it than him!”
Years later, Adekoluejo’s sense of sibling rivalry and friendly ribbing may persist—but she’s now built up a thriving acting career that’s all her own. She starred in the 2022 film Chevalier, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival that year, with Kelvin Harrison, Jr.; helmed the London-based television series Big Age with CJ Beckford; and has appeared in a handful of theater productions, including Blues for an Alabama Sky and Cyprus Avenue, both of which opened in the West End.
But Rain Dogs, Adekoluejo’s most recent project, sees the actress taking on the task of bringing awareness to the current British political climate through a bit of gallows humor. The series, created and written by Cash Carraway, centers Costello Jones (Daisy May Cooper), a devoted mother and aspiring writer hustling to survive and care for her daughter, Iris (Fleur Tashjian). Costello and Iris are kicked out of their squalid apartment, and thus embark on a journey to find stable housing—which leads Costello to engage in all kinds of sex work and menial jobs.
As Gloria, the loyal yet chaotic godmother/best friend of Costello, Adekoluejo shines (especially during the scenes in which she wakes up, completely disoriented, in a phone booth dressed in last night’s look). Although the names associated with this series may be more well known across the pond, American audiences have begun taking a shine to Rain Dogs over the past few weeks—the show premiered on March 6—with comparisons to another HBO series, The Last of Us, being drawn. Adekoluejo chalks that interest up to “a brilliant project” penned by Carraway, who wrote the book Skint Estate: A Memoir of Poverty, Motherhood and Survival based on her own personal story. There’s also the fact, the actress adds, that many folks can relate to living under a system that’s built against them.
“I understood that people lived on the poverty line and below the poverty line, but in Skint Estate, Cash so vividly depicted people living below the bread line,” she says. “It made me realize, I lived in a bubble. I come from a low-income background, but some people can barely buy bread. I know it’s a dark comedy, but this project is important for people to realize how others are living.”
In Adekoluejo’s eyes, though, the fact that Rain Dogs is intrinsically funny makes it a more effective way of getting that message across. “Comedy allows us to confront the situation of our current climate with a lightheartedness, but it still resonates,” she says. “‘Cause you’re gonna laugh, but you’re also gonna be like, fuck—what is going on?”
To capture this essence of the project, Adekoluejo plunged into Carraway’s script, immersing herself in the creator’s world and studying Skint Estate nonstop. (“I’m a Virgo. I want to get everything right the first time,” the actress says.)
“I hope Rain Dogs reaches the people that it should move to action, because sometimes you feel like you’re in a bit of an echo chamber, preaching to the choir about stuff they know is already happening,” she adds. “And it’s also my responsibility, which is something I learned while filming last year: donating my time and my spirit, or something as simple as asking people: Do you need 50 quid? It doesn’t have to be someone else’s problem. It’s mine too.”
That sense of responsibility extends to Adekoluejo’s general ethos about working as a stage, television, and movie actress. At times, she admits she feels defeated by the institutional racism, sexism, ageism, and general discrimination that comes with working in entertainment. But the opportunity to be visible, to be seen by young folks who look like her and come from a similar background, keeps her focused.
“That’s the main reason I stay in the industry,” she says. “That somebody, somewhere goes, Oh my god, that’s me. I could do that.” Adekoluejo recounts to me a story in which an 18-year-old young woman of Jamaican descent hand-wrote her a note after seeing one of her plays. “I’m Nigerian, so she saw herself in me,” the actress recalls. “She was thinking of going to New York to study theater arts, and the play affirmed her. She said it gave her more of a feeling of, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I’ve kept that with me.”
The actress is, without a doubt, a hard worker (although, she says, Kelvin Harrison Jr. put her to shame in that department while filming Chevalier in Prague: “I’d come to work in the morning like, ‘Hey babe, what’s good? Did you sleep?’ And he’d be like, ‘No, I was out for a walk at 3:00 AM thinking about work.’”). She attributes this sense of drive to her parents, and her older brother, who she says helped raise her. And that sibling rivalry we talked about earlier? It’s taken on a new form in adulthood. When Adekoluejo’s brother called her a few days before our interview to tell her he wanted to get back into acting, she gave him love and support. “But I’ve gotta put him through the hoops,” she adds. “He can’t think it’s that easy!”
This post was originally published on W Magazine