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Waffling With... ADEEL AKHTAR

We chatted with the star of TV's River and Utopia, and movies like Four Lions, Convenience and Pan.

Interview by Troy Balmayer (@tbthereviewclub)


I read that you left behind law for the world of acting; what gave you that bug for performing?

Yes, I was studying law. My girlfriend was auditioning for drama school and I went back for my law degree which my parents, you know pushed for that, then found out about the Actor’s Studio in New York which, it’s all attached to 1940’s/50’s Stanislavski but formalised more. I had taken some summer courses and stuff at school but the Actor’s Studio was affiliated with New School University and was more like a degree and not as intense…just a bit of intensity. I kind of fell into it and it gets to a point of a drive to going for it.

That’s a prestigious school so that’s incredible.

David Fincher goes to the film schools, gets the students to tell him their ideas and says ‘It’s shit…’ and keeps going down the line. Like a way to get someone to fight for it I guess. Though if Fincher told me to sit down I’d find a seat or something lower than a seat!

I love Four Lions, Utopia and your work with Angelos Epithemiou, showing you have a generous mix of film and TV credits. What do you like about each medium, the pros and cons if any?

I say they’re equally challenging and as equally rewarding as the other. It changes for me; it doesn’t really make a difference if you believe the story being told. It’s about the emotional truth being told to the audience. Right now it’s different as I’m doing A Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward Theatre. That comes with riding a wave of being a story told by other people; maybe it tells the same thing but in an original way.


I got back from New York recently and watched BBC’s River in one sitting; it’s smart and very engaging. I was wondering did the cast receive the story in one go or did you wait in instalments to find out what happens?

We got…so yes, we got the first two early on and then in two’s after that. You do it in three units; each unit has a different director. The exciting thing for me is to be part of not knowing, til it’ll unfold, of not knowing the end. That’s nice in not having a weight on; I can play the normal instead. My role then can have some normality against the chaos without me always thinking of how to play the character to the end.

Concerning River, was there, if any, of your own self brought to life in your portrayal of the character Ira?

Not really, I didn’t draw from anything. I think he’s got a lot more patience than me; he hangs about and sees things through, not like me at all. I think in life you’d find another partner or get reassigned whereas he gives people space to figure out what to do and also is like a care giver, humbled by (John) River being such an amazing policeman.

That’s very true; he shows a lot of time for River; that balance is done well throughout the show, a great character to assist the more human side of him.

Yes, with the character, it sort of says meeting your own vulnerability can open up your own perspectives. I liked that the cop drama didn’t outweigh the mental side of things; it wasn’t all guns and chasing or too serious.

It had a fine layering of drama and lighter moments which helped a lot. Do you look for something with more comedy or drama?

Ideally you want one thing that does everything, a nice thing to have a bit of both. Now it has to fall into one category for TV, they want one or the other, which is hard for people trying, unless you have that experience behind you. Abi (Morgan – writer of River), she can be left to her own devices; she has clout to do her thing.

As you mentioned, Abi Morgan can create brilliant stories, and did so with this series. In general what do you look for to get you to say yes to scripts for shows/movies?

If the writing’s really good you can picture yourself doing it. It makes you think you can do it and play about with the part, like to go in directions never done before. So yes…the writing. You want equal amounts of challenge and ability which usually comes down to the writing. It engages the imagination and that’s the best place to be in.

Whilst talking about River, you got to have a majority of scenes with Stellen Skarsgard, who is a prolific actor. What was it like working with him?

He’s the sort of fellow who gives everyone a hug and asks how they’re doing. He was the first person on set and usually the last, having a lot of scenes/moments before the rest of us were needed. It never affected his demeanour, he was very nice and accommodating which is good to be around; it helps you work to that level. I’d say I was impressed with how he was when the cameras weren’t rolling.

That sounds helpful and a good experience; no bad ones yet I take it?

No…generally I’ve been lucky to come across very nice people; it’s only the environment that can bring those bad experiences. I think to do this stuff; you kind of generate a feeling of how you could be around them…if you get that!? I’ve never found anyone closed or arsy, it’s all been good.


Okay, I have to tell you that I love Utopia also. What did you like about playing Wilson Wilson?

Thank you…I liked he was bumbly and awkward and a bit socially inept, but he was pushed to a point of having to be in a position of something beyond his imagination…that transformation was great. Like how a normal person can be pushed to the extraordinary, I like and find it fascinating to see the change.

It was such a rich and visual story, it must have been great to be a part of?

Dennis (Kelly – creator of the show) is a very smart fellow, amazing and packed it with so many things, all the issues covered were immense.

What was filming that eye torture scene like?

You know, just like a normal day of acting. You do the thing, then have lunch with a bit of eye hanging out and then get back to shooting. With Dennis, he’s got a lot of ideas; if he doesn’t write it down it just stays a thought rattling in his mind.

That’s something he needed to get out of his mind!

Yes, he finds a character and puts it to that. It involved a bit of acting. It was a strange day, I know I said it was normal but there was a point where I walked into the bunker and remembered seeing a play at the 59th East 59th festival/theatre in New York that do sort of Fringe plays from Edinburgh. I remember watching ‘About the End’ about a bunker, with it opening on a man masturbating in bed and his girlfriend comes in. It was about a couple in the room staying away from a nuclear bomb; the guy was saying he was protecting the girl from the outside…so I felt that in the bunker and realised that Dennis wrote the play. There was that connection!


So apart from A Christmas Carol, which sounds interesting, what other possible exclusive reveals may you have about what you have coming up?

Yes, there’s the show over December and I’m in a drama coming out in January, but I can’t say more than that. As an actor I kind of relax even knowing after January I have nothing coming.

I’m sure something will come, you are a talented performer.

I hope so too, I have bills to pay!


River is available on DVD from Arrow Films November 23rd.

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