There aren’t many independent black British films that sell out cinemas nationwide. So when the The Intent was able to do just that in 2016, as well as reach top three on the iTunes Chart and get a Netflix deal, you would think the creators would be somewhat satisfied with those accolades. Turns out, they weren’t, and are now aiming to take the franchise to a whole new level with The Intent 2: The Come Up, the second instalment. This prequel—where the audience gets to discover the origin stories of the main characters—comes with some exciting developments; one being that a large chunk of the flick is set in sunny Jamaica, and another being some prestigious additions to the cast, most notably dancehall star Popcaan and grime don Ghetts.
The film also embarks on a brand new partnership we’ve never seen the likes of before, with Island Records and Vertigo Releasing backing it with finances and distribution. It’s safe to say that the intent of co-directors and co-writers Femi Oyeniran (Kidulthood, Adulthood) and Nicky “Slimting” Walker (It’s A Lot) is to supersede all expectations and milestones of the first film. I had the pleasure of flying out to the capital city of Jamaica, Kingston, to catch up with the final week of shooting. Arriving on a Tuesday evening, I quickly begin to gain a sense of the country’s magic, its alluring beauty, and vibrant people. This is the texture that Femi believes will elevate his film, and I was curious to find out.
Once I checked my bags in, I headed straight down to the film set, the location of which was a mansion—or gyalsion, as the locals would joke. I stepped in whilst a pool party scene was being shot. The energy was electrifying; the pool had a huge waterfall and there was music, dancing, laughing and you could easily forget you were on the set of a movie. I knew, then, that this film had the intention to diversify the range of moods and energies previously shown on The Intent. Even when that scene had ended, everyone on set was buzzing—the crew, the extras, and even the policeman standing guard besides the pool.
I must admit: it was infectious. I found myself grinning so much teeth, for no reason, and maybe came across a little too over-enthusiastic when I was introduced to Femi, Nicky and Ghetts for a chat about their involvement in the film.
COMPLEX: In what ways will this film supersede our expectations of The Intent?
Femi: Well, first: the script is stronger than the first film and the budget is much bigger, which means we can shoot some spectacular scenes. Our partnership with Island Records and Vertigo Releasing was a godsend! When it comes to black British culture in film, it’s hard to find partnerships that trust you and let you have full control throughout the process. Big up Alex Boateng (President of Urban, Island Records) because he’s been instrumental in all of this. Obviously, having the likes of Popcaan and Ghetts join our already talented cast is a big draw for people, but it’s the quality of their performances that will really impress them.
Nicky: Yeah, we’ve learnt so much from the mistakes of the first film. What we’re trying to do here is to shoot a proper blockbuster, one that people won’t call a ‘hood film’ but an action film instead. For me, Britain needs an iconic film that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with iconic films of the same genre, such as Belly, Juice, Paid In Full, Shottas, etc. To be honest, The Intent didn’t reach the mark, but this one definitely will. Kidulthood paved the way for us to be able to make a film like this, and now it’s our responsibility to build on that and take things to new heights. But you’re not always going to achieve that with your first attempt. This prequel now gives us the opportunity to get closer to creating something that can be called iconic.
As creators, what gave you the idea to shoot in Jamaica? Being here, I get the impression that Jamaica will almost be a whole character in itself?
Femi: Shooting in Jamaica is so important, on so many levels. Firstly, it’s important to the narrative of the film and its cultural backdrop too. Think about it: most of the black culture in Britain is influenced by Jamaica. From the way people talk, the slang, to the music—we wouldn’t even have grime music without Jamaica, so if we really want to capture the essence of the culture, we’ve got to make that link to Jamaica. Though shooting here has been a lot of handwork, we’ve been given total control from the government; they haven’t got involved or stopped us from getting the filming work. It’s been a dream. You’re right—it’s like Jamaica is a character in its own right in this film.
[Our conversation ended there with the announcement that the next scene was ready. This was my first chance to see the latest addition to the main casts in action: Ghetts (who plays 'Jay') and Popcaan (who plays 'Soursap') had a scene by the pool together. With neither having previous experience in acting, I was thoroughly impressed with their performances; neither stumbled their lines and each showed an obvious dedication to the role. I have no doubt that once the film hits the big screen, any whispers that nepotism won over talent will certainly be quenched. After that scene, I caught up with Ghetts].
That was an outstanding scene just now. How did you find it, and how are you settling into your debut acting role?
Ghetts: There’s been a lot of scenes that felt like amazing scenes. There was this sick motorbike scene, there’s the airport scenes, so many cold scenes... I just can’t wait to see it all back. As for how I approached my first acting role, it’s not something I took on lightly—thinking that, because I’m an MC, I know what I’m doing. I came into it humble, learnt from the other seasoned actors and took pointers. For me, I was originally more interested in creating a sick soundtrack to the film; no disrespect to anyone, but I’ve found that the soundtracks of British films could either be better or it doesn’t match the film, so I presented Femi with a few ideas. One thing led to another, and I started seriously considering an acting role in it. So I went and auditioned for the first role.
You play ‘Jay’ in the film. Tell us a bit about your character and the approach you took to playing him.
Ghetts: Jay has big dreams in life and wishes to break from the control of his local crime boss, so his whirlwind story is all about trying to become his own boss. Jay is made up of all the different people I’ve met in my life. I’ve taken little characteristics from different people, things like mannerisms that are so far away from Ghetts, so when people watch it, nothing about Jay is familiar.
As a black British film, what’s the significance of shooting such a big part of it in Jamaica?
Ghetts: Well, for many black British people, many of our parents or grandparents are originally from here. That generation has created the opportunity for us in Britain to be able to come back and shoot a film that helps bridge the gap between the Jamaicans in Jamaica, and the Jamaicans in Britain. From that perspective, you’ve got to admire it.
What impact do you hope this film does both in the film industry and amongst the people?
Ghetts: For me, I want this film to mark a new moment for black British culture. I hope it adds more fuel to the fire; I hope it makes the next generation proud and they can use it as a platform they can build on. This is year is gonna be big! This film is coming out and so is my album, Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament. 2018 is gonna be marked in history.
[It was 6am when we wrapped up on set. The following day’s shoot was a big rave scene. Any real raver knows that Jamaican dancehall raves are undefeated, and stand at the pinnacle of revelry. The dance was in a carpark (Jamaican raves are too powerful to be contained within walls). There were bright clothing, dance crews, a huge entourage of motorbikes and even pyrotechnics—so to say it was lit, it literally was. On scene was Ghetts, Popcaan, Ashley Chin, the big man himself, Louie Rankin (known for his role as Teddy Bruckshot in 'Shottas'), Cashh (the UK rapper formerly known as Cashtastic, who now resides in JA) and—to complete the British-Jamaican link up—the late, great MC Stormin. Just before the filming began, I spoke with Cashh and Ashley Chin, who plays ‘G Money’].
As a British-Jamaican, do you feel a special connection with the film?
Ashley: Me, personally, I’m from Jamaica. This film draws the connection between the culture we have in London and the culture in Jamaica, showing how much influence this country has on black British culture. It’s a reminder that it’s good to keep your roots in mind.
It’s a great time for British actors at the moment, don’t you think?
Ashley: It’s a good time, definitely, but the truth of the matter is all the success that has happened has happened in America. Which means that the British film industry hasn’t really caught up with providing opportunities for black British actors. There needs to be good roles in the UK for black British actors, otherwise black British actors will continue to go to America and the industry in the UK will miss the chance to grow. We’ve still got a long way to go. This is why this film is important because we’re doing what we can, in spite of that. Even if there are flaws in the films, we’ve got to celebrate them because it’s still a big achievement.
Cashh, you’re a music artist, but you do have experience in acting—I remember you having a small role in Top Boy a few years back. Tell me more about your character in this film, and how you’ve settled into the role.
Cashh: I play ‘Romey’, who is the right-hand-man of Popcaan’s character ‘Soursap’. I ain’t gonna reveal too much, but he plays a significant role. He moves a bit mad; he secretly envies Soursap. Acting comes naturally to me, though. I did Drama at school, and I try to incorporate it within my music videos. It’s second nature to me.
Much has been said about the ambition of this film, to be an iconic film of its genre and to leave a lasting legacy. What are your thoughts on this?
Cashh: Yeah, I spoke to Femi and Nicky about this. I have no doubt that the film will be successful in terms of on-screen performances, because everyone was sick. But I think to achieve that, some structural things need to be done, like having a Jamaican premiere, getting culture involved and celebrating the film here in Jamaica. That way, it shows that you haven’t just entered the country to use their location, their extras and facilities, and then go back to your place. It’s about showing respect to the people here, basically. You do that and no one can deny your status.
Especially with Jamaica being so fundamental in shaping black British culture. Are you going to be on the film’s soundtrack?
Cashh: I have some stuff that I wrote and recorded before I read the script, and it just so happened to fit the vibe and story of the film.
Most people who know you in the UK know you as Cashtastic. Why the change of name, and considering you grew up in London and now live in Jamaica, how is this reflected in your music?
Cashh: I felt that I had to change because I was originally Cashh anyway. I felt like I wanted to go back to my musical roots, just as I came back to my roots in Jamaica. I’m a different artist now; being in Jamaica has encouraged me to produce my own music. I have an EP coming out this year and it’s almost entirely produced by me. I’ve become a lot more melodic in my music, too, because most great music is great because of the melody—not so much the words. I think artists in the UK are clocking on to that now, with the rise of Afroswing and all that. I have a keen interest in new artists coming through in the UK, as well as Jamaica, and that helps me draw motivation to keep upping my levels.
'The Intent 2: The Come Up' hits select cinemas nationwide from Sept. 21.