Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interview with Nina Wadia - March 27th, 2009

Promoting: I Can't Think Straight
Venue: Organic Marketing offices
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon (VL): What's the film about?

Nina Wadia (NW): The film is a romantic comedy, with two women, one from the Middle East and one from India. A lot of it happens in London, a lot of it happens in the Middle East and it's just literally a love story at the end of the day.

VL: How did you get involved in the film?

NW: Shamim Sharif, who wrote and directed it, and Hanam Kattan, her partner, who's the producer, approached me to play a little cameo, which ended up being a little bit bigger, as the house-keeper of the Jordanian mistress.

VL: So were Shamim and Hanam people that you knew already?

NW: No, no. I'd never met them before and I think this was Shamim's first directing project and it was based on her novel. And I actually went and auditioned for it. The house-keeper doesn't have many lines but she does have to spit a lot. But luckily I went to those classes in drama school and did manage to get the right consistency of spit to land the part (laughs).

VL: So you had a spit audition?

NW: Yes, I did. And I actually spat in it, which they found amusing and I think that's what did it for them.

VL: Were you responsible for your character's “sub-plot” or was it already in the script?

NW: Yes, a little bit. It was kind of collaborative. They had a few little things, like, because I'm quite short and the actress playing the Jordanian woman was very tall, there was a moment where we thought, well, I have to light her cigarette and I can't actually reach her. So we had to put a stool down and I climbed up on it and they kept it in the film. So it was quite nice to have such a receptive director.

VL: In both this film and in EastEnders, you display a real talent for sort of withering, sarcastic and very funny put-downs. Is that something that comes naturally? And if it isn't, this is your chance to blame it on the scriptwriters.

NW: I blame everything on the scriptwriters! I'm actually a very nice person and not sarcastic at all in real life (laughs).

VL: Is that true?

NW: No, not at all. I think as I've gotten older I've gotten a bit more blunt in real life and I think that helps in the playing of other roles. I don't suffer fools gladly, so...

VL: As an EastEnders fan, I was amused and delighted to see you sharing the screen with the guy that played Mr Ferrera, but I suppose this was filmed before you got the part in EastEnders?

NW: Yes, it was. And I didn't use to watch EastEnders before I got the role, so it was only in hindsight, when we met at one of the pre-press things that I realises that that's who it was. And all everyone kept saying to me was “Did you like his Elvis outfit?” and I had no idea what they were talking about and then it dawned on me what they were saying.

VL: Have you seen Shamim Sharif's second film?

NW: The World Unseen? Yes. I think they're both being released at the same time. They have the same two actresses and as far as I know, similar topics, except that The World Unseen is set during Apartheid time in South Africa. Both are slightly semi-autobiographical. It's a bit heavier, drama-wise than I Can't Think Straight, which is a romantic comedy, at the end of the day.

VL: But you're not in that one?

NW: No, I'm not in that one and I've told her off for that! So she says that any movie she makes from now on, she's going to make sure there's a spitting house-keeper in it.

VL: Do you have any more films coming up?

NW: Do you know, I would love to, and in fact a couple of Bollywood films came my way as well, because I'd just done a Bollywood film before EastEnders came my way, called Namaste London. But unfortunately, when you sign with EastEnders, you're not really allowed to do any work for other channels or film work, though they might be relaxing that shortly. So if it does come my way, absolutely. I was kind of gutted I had to turn down a couple of Bollywood projects that had come my way but then I've got EastEnders to balance it out, so I can't complain. But I miss Light Entertainment, I miss doing comedy work, purely, you know? That's why I keep Zainab a bit light – I make sure that she has a sense of humour or at least plays a sense of humour.

VL: You mentioned comedy. Do you have any particular career influences?

NW: Well, my growing up was bizarre – I was born in India, but I'm actually of Iranian heritage. Grew up there till I was about nine, then went to Hong Kong for the rest of the time, which was where I first saw, you know, TV from the UK and from the States. And one of the first comedy shows I ever saw was Blackadder. And I found that struck a chord with me and I thought, 'Okay, now that's my sense of humour'. So for me, that whole generation of comedians, all the Not The Nine O'Clock News people, they really inspired me, so that's kind of the path I wanted to take. But I found that at drama school, my teachers would say, 'Well don't restrict yourself to that because there is the ability to do drama'. So I then went down the theatre and Shakespeare route for a while, which I loved, but it wasn't satisfying enough, so I was very lucky when Goodness Gracious Me came along and it was exactly at the right time for me and my career to be picked out for that.

VL: I guess your early love of Blackadder explains your propensity for sarcastic put-downs?

NW: Absolutely, yes.

VL: Prior to the Masoods, EastEnders had a fairly bad track records for Asian families, thinking of the Ferreras in particular. What kind of feedback have you had for the Masoods?

NW: Touch wood, possibly the best I could ever have asked for. Mostly because when I get stopped in the street, it's not for any other reason than people going, 'Oh, you made me laugh last night'. And actually, that makes my day, because I love that within a huge soap like this, people get what we're trying to do with the Masoods. We want to make them real, but we want to make it about the characters, we don't want to make it about the religion. Because that was a huge issue when I was asked to play the part, they said, 'Would you be nervous taking on a British Muslim woman?' and I thought, 'Actually, no, because at the end of the day, I want people to like Zainab Masood for who she is – or hate her for who she is, I don't mind – but I wanted it to be about the character. I wanted it to be character based and character led. Because if you think about it, when they cast white actors, they don't go, 'Well, you'll be Christian and you'll be playing that', you know? So I liked that they went with that, I liked that they said, 'Okay, well let's really invent this woman then, let's make her three-dimensional' and my brief was, let's create someone that people will love to hate. And I hope I've done that!

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