Pepi Sonuga’s excitement is contagious. When I spoke to her over the phone, I found myself feeling giddy too as she spoke about her first acting role with Cuba Gooding Jr., her love for music, and the relationships she has with her Famous In Love castmates. You may not know her well yet, but you will. Trust us when we tell you Pepi Sonuga is just getting started.
Cliché: What do you love most about acting?
Pepi Sonuga: I love acting because I get to go out of myself and be whatever I want to be. You get to live so many different lives and live out so many different fantasies and, also, it helps for me to release. When I’m acting, it’s like nothing else matters, and when I’m on set or I’m on stage, literally anything going on outside of that doesn’t matter. It’s an escape for me.
What was your first role and how did it prepare you for roles now?
My first role was The Life of a King, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. He played an ex-con who started helping kids in a low-income neighborhood to become better through playing chess. He’s teaching us chess and I played the love interest of the lead kid (Michelle). It was surreal to work with someone as amazing as Cuba that early on in my career. I think because I started out like that, working with someone who was so professional and has been in the business for so long, he gave me so much advice. Just by watching him, I learned how to act on set or treat other people. It kind of set the tone for my career so far.
You are currently starring in Freeform’s Famous In Love as Tangey Turner. What would you say are your character’s strengths and weaknesses?
I would say Tangey’s strengths are that she knows what she wants and she is willing to fight for what she wants. She’s got a good head on her shoulders. She doesn’t give in to the bullshit. I think her weaknesses are that she is impulsive. She doesn’t trust her instincts a lot, or as much as she should, so that leaves her in the back and forth areas of “I think this is good…is it? I don’t know.”
Can you describe Tangey in three words?
Feisty, determined, and warm.
You are starring in the show alongside fellow rising stars Keith Powers and Bella Thorne. What is your relationship with your castmates like?
I’m getting breakfast with them right now before I stepped away to talk to you. We are the best of friends. It’s incredible getting to go through this with them because every time we have something for press or we’re on set, it always feels like we’re hanging out with our friends and we’re getting paid to do it and it really is just awesome. Keith, Bella, and Niki [Koss]—we’re all so supportive of each other. I think Freeform has done a good job of setting the tone with all its shows where we all kind of know—it’s embedded in our souls—that the more you are successful, the more the show is successful. So, we all want success for each other so that our show can be more successful. We’re a really great team.
What is an average filming day like for you?
An average filming day is either one of two things. You’re either waking up at 3 a.m. to get to set, maybe 5 or 4:30 a.m., then you go to the studio and get your makeup done for about two hours, and then you get your hair done. You hang out for a little bit, wait around. Then, it can go the other way. I like night shoots. So, the night shoots would be that you arrive on set maybe 5 p.m. and then you’re there until like 5 a.m. and that’s your day.
I love acting because I get to go out of myself and be whatever I want to be.
Will the show follow the book closely?
The show is not going to follow it that extremely close. I think the book is sort of like our Ikea manual and the TV show is after we’ve made the table and now we’re painting it with glitter and making it all fancy. We have the structure of what the author, Rebecca Serle, created and she was very involved with this process. She’s a co-executive producer, so we have her characters down and everything, but the situations, the people, and the character traits are very different. It’s just glossier, sexier, and more grown-up than the book.
When you aren’t acting, what do you most enjoy doing?
I love music. I love listening to music and writing poetry. I love reading. I love scrapbooking; I take a lot of photos on my film camera and print those out. I love being creative. In episode five, Tangey sings. Actually, I recorded original songs for this. We had songwriters, I went into the studio—it was a whole thing.
Outside of the new show, what new projects are coming up for you?
I just wrapped a film called Under the Silver Lake, which stars Andrew Garfield, and it’s a really cool project. It has so many awesome, talented people involved in it. I’m really excited about that. Otherwise, I’m really just basking in the Famous In Love glow. I feel like this is a moment where I’m going to look back in ten years and I’m going to realize that this could’ve possibly been the beginning of everything. So, I really just want to not miss out on that right now.
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Pepi Sonuga Talks ‘Famous in Love’: Photographed by Kate Szatmari