Kane “Kano” Robinson, Daniel Kaluuya, and I are currently at a fancy hotel in London with floral cushions and decorative mirrors, having a conversation about various distinctions. We are discussing the contrast between the concept of home in youth versus adulthood, the difference between being skilled at something and having a deep passion for it, and the distinction between a movie and a film. They explain that a movie is grand in scale – aiming for success with a wide audience – while a film is more intimate, geared towards a specific niche and hoping to capture attention.
Kaluuya wrote, produced, and co-directed the new Netflix drama, The Kitchen, with Kibwe Tavares. The film stars Robinson, also known as Kano in the music industry. Sources confirm that The Kitchen is a feature film.
Robinson and Kaluuya discuss their upcoming movie, with Robinson recalling how Kaluuya had referred to it as a “movie” from the early days. This contrasted with the more artistic term “film,” giving it a more down-to-earth feel.
Kaluuya chuckles, saying, “We’re not just the kitchen sink, we’re the entire kitchen. The entire damn room.”
I am pleased to hear the big, infectious laugh of 34-year-old Kaluuya. We are 15 minutes into the interview, and initially, he was not laughing at all. The start of our conversation was rushed as they were both late for photos due to grooming and styling. Despite the photographer’s efficient work, they still have to adhere to a non-negotiable time as Kaluuya is also acting in another film and has to be on set.
There was a sense of tension in the room during the photo shoot, as it was filled with stylists and PR representatives. During the first 10 minutes of our interview, Kaluuya was quiet and reserved, his large eyes carefully observing. However, he suddenly became more lively and engaged (complimenting my big notebook and comparing it to his school books), changing the atmosphere instantly. This showcases Kaluuya’s charisma – not only as an Oscar-winning actor, but also as a director who can inspire and unite people. When he is fully invested, he gives his all.
Additionally, at the age of 38, Robinson is known for his charisma and a more balanced approach, rather than being overly aggressive. His music followers are familiar with his ability to transition between reflective and passionate emotions, and he has the capability to be both disciplined and boisterous. However, when he also bursts into laughter, it feels as though the entire hotel room is lifted up like a balloon.
Both are highly popular and highly respected. Kaluuya has delivered outstanding performances in a variety of films such as Get Out, Queen & Slim, Black Panther, and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. He also won an Oscar in 2021 for his role as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Robinson, whose latest albums, Made in the Manor (2016) and Hoodies All Summer (2019), were both nominated for the Mercury Prize, received widespread critical acclaim. From 2018 to 2023, he played the lead character Sully in the groundbreaking UK TV series, Top Boy. To have both of these big names in one room is a major achievement. People are often amazed when I mention that I will be interviewing Robinson and Kaluuya together.
They have been close companions for a long time, but they cannot remember the specific details of how or where they first met. When I inquire, they exchange confused glances. “It was probably somewhere in London,” they finally deduce. So which one of them stays at social gatherings the longest? They both erupt into laughter.
Kaluuya says, “I am there for the longest time, but only while I am there!”
Robinson: “Two hours turns into 10…”
Kaluuya expressed his desire to remain and his passion for music.
Robinson exclaimed, “He’s the one who gets the party started!”
They are mischievous. Several weeks after our interview, they both go to the US to promote The Kitchen. On Instagram, their “out out” vibe is evident as they mess around at basketball games and pose for the camera. These boys balance work and play.
The Kitchen is a film set in a dystopian, near-future London on a rundown council estate called the Kitchen. Despite the authoritarian threats from outside, the residents of the estate remain united and find joy in their community. One memorable scene takes place in a roller disco where everyone participates in a lively Candy dance, making it one of the most uplifting nightclub scenes I’ve witnessed in a film.
Robinson recalls, “After that scene was finished, we were supposed to go, but you [Kaluuya] were like, Noooo!”
Kaluuya recalls being in the company of the DJ, urging them to play more songs. When they played Pop Smoke, it was a hit, and Kaluuya then requested for Kano’s song to be played. This scene felt authentic because it was based on a real experience and the energy could be felt.
The film, “The Kitchen,” was a long time in the making. It began with Kaluuya writing the script in 2012, and he and co-director Tavares always envisioned Robinson as the lead role. They collaborated with him throughout the process, exchanging ideas through voice notes and WhatsApp. Initially, Kaluuya’s inspiration for the film was the moped gangs that steal from places like the Westfield shopping center, a modern-day Robin Hood story. However, as time went on, this theme took a backseat, and Kaluuya decided to focus on the character of Izi, played by Robinson, a loner who has been living in the Kitchen for a long time.
In his role as Izi, Robinson effectively communicates a wealth of emotion through subtle facial expressions, particularly in his expressive eyes. Director Kaluuya embraced this nuanced performance, incorporating even the smallest gestures and details into the overall tone of the film. Kaluuya appreciates the precision and depth of character acting in British cinema and sought to bring that to The Kitchen, while still capturing the grandeur and ambition of an American movie. He believes that as storytellers, there are no limits to what can be created and encourages taking a bolder approach to filmmaking.
The impressive nature of The Kitchen is largely due to its stunning visuals. The estate itself resembles a chaotic Brazilian favela, with its sprawling, unstable, maze-like structure and recognizable London landmarks, such as the Eye, visible in the distance. The ground level, specifically the Kitchen market, is vibrant and illuminated with neon lights, bustling with activity. However, the flats and upper walkways are dilapidated, barricaded, and barely functional. Occasionally, the estate faces attacks from a group of unidentified riot police armed with shields and batons. In response, the residents make noise by banging on pan lids, reminiscent of the actions of Belfast wives during the Troubles.
Although it draws on global influences and has a distinct, unconventional quirkiness, The Kitchen unmistakably takes place in London.
Robinson compares the setting to London, specifically the London he remembers from his childhood. He mentions the strong sense of confidence, boldness, camaraderie, and camaraderie among the people. Often, when creating a movie about an attack, the focus shifts to the attacker rather than the victims. However, the goal of this film was to delve into the identity and sense of community among those affected by the attacks.
There are also apartments on a different property that we observe: modern, costly, and lacking character. This is the Buena Vida residential complex. The doorman is automated. The sense of community is minimal. This is where Izi hopes to purchase, drawn to the pristine environment as a fresh beginning. He is not fond of the Kitchen, even labeling it a “dump”.
Robinson, who is very mindful of his acting abilities, admitted to struggling with Izi’s attitude. Izi purposely separates himself from the community because he has a strong desire to escape. In the beginning, we witness him monopolizing the only working shower while other residents patiently wait in line. Robinson says, “It was difficult for me to comprehend Izi’s mindset because I personally wouldn’t see myself as the type of character who would abandon the people I grew up with, the ones who are fighting for each other and showing care. But for Izi, it’s a completely different perspective. He believes that we will ultimately lose and he sees his mission as a solo one. He wants to leave.”
The main focus of the movie centers on the relationship between Izi and Benji, portrayed by the talented newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman. Their dynamic is filled with a mix of stubbornness and sensitivity, common in teenagers. Benji attempts to break through Izi’s solitary demeanor and form a closer bond with him. A father-son dynamic develops between them, which is discussed in the film. There is a similarity to Kaluuya’s own personal experience, as his father was away in Uganda until he was 15 years old. Kaluuya did not want to contribute to the stereotype of absent black fathers in the media.
Many men struggle with the role of fatherhood, says the speaker. It can be difficult to discuss and figure out, especially for those who did not have a father figure or positive role model. Some men may be too afraid of making mistakes and it may be better for them not to be involved in their children’s lives. The film does not judge the character Izi, but rather portrays his struggles and shows that he is trying his best.
After completing the primary filming of the movie, a few months later, Robinson and Bannerman needed to film a few important additional scenes. During this break, Robinson became a father. “And in that moment, I saw everything from a new perspective,” he explains. “I realized that I could never treat my son the way Izi did, with that tough love. It’s about acknowledging your mistakes but also trying to hide them. I understand how Izi ended up in that mindset.”
Throughout the majority of the movie, Izi shows little interest in getting to know Benji. As a result, Benji turns to a nearby gang, headed by Staples (played by Hope Ikpoku Jr), whose mindset contrasts with Izi’s. Staples invites Benji to become part of their orphan group and encourages him to participate in their battle to remain in the Kitchen. This idea of inclusion versus exclusion is a significant theme for both Kaluuya and Robinson’s characters. Will they choose to be a part of the fight, or will they walk away from the opportunity to make things better?
“Why do you desire improvement?” asks Kaluuya. “That’s my expertise. I have seen many films about the working class and there is always an underlying message of ‘where we come from is terrible.’ It’s as if the writer is saying, ‘I am so glad I left. Look at what I escaped.’ The ultimate goal is leaving, that is seen as an achievement. But with Izi, instead of his goal being leaving, I wanted to explore his starting point of wanting to leave and see what kind of person he is. Let him grow and discover what could possibly make him want to return. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, there truly is no place like home…”
Robinson states that living in London, there are young boys on the estate who constantly talk about wanting to leave their neighborhood. This is a common topic of discussion, with many expressing their desires to pursue careers in football or music and leave the area known as “the ends”.
“I understand,” Kaluuya expresses, “when individuals have valid motives to depart. However, it’s about appreciating: ‘Do you not enjoy its essence? Do you not value the beauty of it, the perspective of its origin and your actions? The bond that exists?’ Why can’t we simply be ourselves?”
Aluuya was raised in Camden/Kentish Town by his mother, who is from Uganda and works at a school for students with special needs. He also has an older sister. Even after achieving success, he continued to live on his estate, Camelot House, for many years. He had his own small apartment there and would often leave for extended periods of time to pursue acting jobs, but would always return.
However, over time, he discovered that this method was no longer effective. His friends advised him to leave, as the circumstances had changed and people were moving on while others were moving in. Due to the bedroom tax, families were unable to afford staying in their two- or three-bedroom homes once their children moved out. As a result, they had to downsize and leave the neighborhood. Eventually, he came to the realization that he also had to depart.
“I was among the few who had not left, as I had put in great effort to stay,” he explains. “Everyone else had worked hard to depart. So, then, it made me wonder, why am I staying when everyone else is gone? Is it for the place? Or is it for the people? I came to the realization that it was the people. And for me, without them, there was nothing left. But for a child who is there now, there is still something about that place.”
Robinson hails from East Ham and was raised by his Jamaican parents along with his brother at 69 Manor Road, as mentioned in T-Shirt Weather in the Manor. They later moved to 86 St Olaves Road, where they lived in a small terrace house with a backyard garden. Robinson has fond memories of his teenage years spent there.
According to him, the fence that used to divide our house from our neighbor’s, Teresa, and her daughters Claire and Sarah has been removed due to our shared garden. As he has grown older, he has come to realize that his mother and Teresa would often assist each other. If one of them was short on money, the other would go grocery shopping and they would share the supplies. This exchange of help was a regular occurrence and sometimes the roles would even reverse. They would enter each other’s homes through the back door and have dinner together. This was the way we lived and grew up. Sadly, such relationships with neighbors are rare to come by these days.
Robinson has long acknowledged how much where he grew up has shaped who he is. Not only in his lyrics, but in his YouTube series, Newham Talks, made during lockdown, where he interviewed other local artists – mostly grime stars – about their work. He always discusses their backgrounds, “because where I grew up means that much to me,” he says. “If I was in a different business, I don’t know if I’d have moved.”
However, ultimately, similar to Kaluuya, he did relocate. Additionally, a number of their acquaintances also made the move: pursuing careers in acting, music, and football, which were seen as the primary paths to success. This was partly because these fields appeared attainable, but also because “they’re cool, right?” as Kaluuya puts it. These were the desired professions.
Kaluuya began his acting career at the age of 13. He was known to be a mischievous and intelligent student in school. At the age of nine, he won a writing contest and his play was staged at the Hampstead theatre. Despite the disapproval of his teachers due to his disruptive behavior, the judges were adamant that he deserved to win. At 13, he enrolled in the Anna Scher theatre school after his mother was informed about it by a plumber.
Scher, who founded her inclusive theater school in 1968 and continued teaching until 2020, passed away last year. Kaluuya credits Scher’s Saturday morning acting classes for teaching him everything he knows. He recalls that these sessions were particularly challenging because they were completely improvised and the audience, known for their honest reactions, would laugh if a performance was subpar or play a phone game if it was boring.
Kaluuya discovered that he did not deserve people’s focus and had to offer something engaging for them to pay attention. He attended Anna Scher’s classes every weekend for three years and discovered that improvisation is a way of spontaneously crafting a narrative. He continues to utilize some of the skills he acquired from those classes.
He also attended acting classes at Camden Roundhouse and has recently started organizing a similar program for children in his community.
“I offer classes for only £2,” he clarifies. “Many of the affordable acting classes I attended as a child are no longer available. People tend to complain, but I prefer to take action. So when I was asked to become the associate artistic director at the Roundhouse, I accepted and am determined to make a change.”
However, the person who had the biggest impact on him was Anna Scher, and one concept he learned from her was the importance of collectivism. She instilled in her students the belief that if one of their friends succeeded, they all succeeded; there was no competition among them, even if they were vying for the same role. Kaluuya still carries this mindset into his acting career, always approaching projects with a positive attitude and a willingness to collaborate with others. He believes that if one person is not performing well, it reflects poorly on the entire group.
Robinson agrees. In his younger years, he excelled in football and played for junior teams at Chelsea and Norwich City before turning 13. However, he expresses that while football is a team sport, he felt a stronger sense of camaraderie with Deja Vu, the pirate radio station. He relates to the experiences described, as he also felt a strong connection through music and pirate radio.
Deja Vu was based on the rooftops of Hackney Wick and brought through many grime and rap artists: Kano, obviously, but also Dizzee Rascal, Ghetts, Tinchy Stryder, Lethal Bizzle and others. Robinson started going there when he was around 15. “It was the place we all went to express ourselves. Like-minded people, collaboration, back to back, sharing a mic.” The budding rappers would hang out together, go to one another’s houses to write. “Just pushing each other. You’ve got your book, I’ve got my book, we’ve got a beat on, we just sit there and we just write. We could have done it separately, but for some reason, just coming together, not even talking, just coming together, being in the same place, being creative, that was it. We did it all ourselves.”
He had not experienced the same feeling in football: “I was good at it, but I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm.” With music, he would wake up with it on his mind and it taught him to be self-reliant: saving money to rent a mixing studio for an hour, then playing the track on Deja and, if successful, possibly pressing a hundred records and bringing them to stores for sale or return. When he reminisces about this time, he becomes energized. “It was wonderful,” he recalls. “Taking it one step at a time.”
He explains that his experience with music has greatly influenced his approach to acting. As a writer, he doesn’t want to suppress his creative identity when transitioning to another medium. Instead, he approaches acting with the same level of dedication and understanding. In order to fully embody a character, he immerses himself in their world and understands their lines. He believes that in order to make the audience believe, he must fully believe in the character himself.
Music is a significant part of both of their lives. When asked about their communication, Robinson mentions that Kaluuya typically invites him to parties and he attends if he is available. Kaluuya jokingly responds that Robinson may not always be available. However, music is also a common interest for them. They introduce me to Tobe Nwigwe from Houston, Texas, whose music Kaluuya came across on Instagram during the lockdown. Kaluuya reached out to him and now they hang out whenever Nwigwe visits London. Kaluuya describes Nwigwe as a cool guy.
Robinson used to have an interest in music, film, and football, but it no longer captures his attention. On the other hand, Kaluuya is a die-hard Arsenal fan, but he avoids watching their matches because it gets him too worked up. As time runs out, they must attend to other responsibilities and leave the room with laughter. The atmosphere feels fancy, whimsical, peaceful, and dull once they’re gone.
The film “The Kitchen” is currently playing in certain cinemas in the United Kingdom and is also available on Netflix.