Interview with Ackley Bridge's Arsher Ali who plays Sami Qureshi

Tell us about Ackley Bridge?

It's a drama set in a fictional Yorkshire town about two schools’ that merge and the resulting growing pains between students and staff alike.

What drew you to the series?

Our inaugural director, Penny Woolcock. She's a fascinating person and her background in documentary filmmaking as well as straight film, has brought a refreshingly non-institutionalised take on the whole process. The fact that's she's only the third female director I've worked with in my career is a wholly separate issue... 

You play Sami, can you tell us a bit about him?

Sami isn't a teacher at Ackley Bridge, he works for the school in a 'community liaison' capacity. So he's supposed to be the link between home, school and the wider local community. Sami has a real care and respect for his job, as it's helped give him a 'second chance'.

He has a rather interesting past and knows Emma from before, what’s the story there?

Sami and Emma were 'high school sweethearts' that grew apart and went their separate ways. Emma progressed to university whilst Sami fell in with an altogether different crowd which eventually saw him ending up in prison. When they meet again at the school, it's a surprise. A great deal of time has passed since they last met. They've both changed a lot. We explore the rekindling of their strong feelings toward each other and whether or not if it's right or wrong in their current predicaments.

Many of the younger characters in the show were street cast from the local community, what was it like filming with them, and the whole experience up in Halifax?

I think we had a great blend of people who were 'street cast' or newcomers like Nazmeen Kausar Hussain and Nohail Mohammed, and more experienced young people like Amy Leigh Hickman, Poppy Lee Friar, Fern Deacon and Sam Bottomley. My interactions with them were mostly off-screen, as a lot of Sami's story played out with Emma.

Halifax is a very unfussy and laid-back place. I want to give a shout-out to the lovely staff at Holdsworth House Hotel in Halifax and also pass on my congratulations to Halifax Town FC who achieved promotion recently! I always feel an affinity for football teams local to where I'm encamped for a job. I didn't get to go down to 'The Shay' to see them, but hope to next time...

Did you give them any tips?

No. I got tips from them. They are a brilliant, talented bunch. They've knocked it out of the park for six. I wish I could have worked with them more. They are naturally more playful, generous and 'in the moment' - all things I prize in any actor. Thankfully, Liz White is all of those things too!

Much of the show is about the cultural difficulties in the town of Ackley Bridge, is that something you were aware of growing up? 

I can't say that I was, no. I grew up in a very diverse city, so those things are less pronounced because they tend not to be an issue in the first place.

What were you like at school?
Geek and proud!

May 24, 2017 12:41pm by Channel 4  

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