Interview with Adil Ray who plays Sadiq Nawaz in Ackley Bridge

You play Sadiq Nawaz in Ackley Bridge – what’s his story?

He’s a local boy done well, really. He’s a very wealthy businessman from the area, and I think he’s managed to achieve great things in the town, and particularly in his own community. He probably gets a lot of recognition for that. He’s the sponsor of the school, and that gives him an even greater opportunity to become a figurehead in the wider community – not just amongst the Asian community, but the white community as well. Ackley Bridge College gives him a chance to do that. I think he’s a very proud man, and proud of the area. He’s proud of his family. But he does have a tendency to play away. I think he’s a man who’s used to getting what he wants, and I think that’s extended to his personal life as well.

So is he investing in the school for philanthropic or self-interested reasons?

I think it’s a bit of both. I think he genuinely does care about the community. I think there’s something really attractive about that, and worthy of respect. He’s very wealthy, but has stayed in this relatively small West Yorkshire town. He hasn’t gone to the big city. He has a real loyalty to his hometown. But maybe there’s an aspect of him being a king in a small castle. I think he has a genuine interest in making the school work, and wanting it to work for the right reasons, and seeing the communities come together. I think he wants the kids at the school regardless of their backgrounds, to come together and dream big. I think you have to give him credit for that. But he’s also very materialistic. He drives a nice car, lives in a big house. He’s a community leader – he’s similar to Mr Khan [Adil’s character from Citizen Khan]. One of the things that makes him tick is a bit of ego.

What was it that drew you to this project?

I think it was really refreshing seeing British Asian characters that were culturally-rooted, but were in a world that we hadn’t seen before. It’s a multiracial academy, and there are academies out there like this, you just don’t see them. You either see a very Asian school in a documentary or a drama, or a very white school. We haven’t seen a combination of the two, and I think that’s great. For me, it was an opportunity to step out from behind the hat and the beard of Mr Khan, and it was a real challenge. I loved it.

How was it, playing a straight role? Had you done much straight work before?

No, I hadn’t. But I had never done a sitcom before I did Citizen Khan. I’m quite happy going straight in at the deep end. It was fantastic, I loved it. It was a different challenge. When I play Mr Khan, because it’s a studio comedy you’re playing in front of an audience, you’re playing for laughs, so you play, naturally, quite big. With this, you certainly don’t. I was so grateful to be working with people like Jo [Joyner] Liz [White] and Arsher [Ali] and great directors. It was great to watch how other people work, and feeding off them, really. I absolutely loved it. Anything that makes me think again about how I do things, and makes me learn something, is just brilliant.

So you felt you learned a lot on this job?

Absolutely. That can only be the way you work, surely? You go in every day, and you learn new things. Here’s me, who’s done five series of a sitcom on BBC One, thinking “Yeah, I can do that!” But drama, and single camera, is a different thing. One thing you learn is that there’s a lot of waiting around. But that’s great too, it gives you a chance to get to know everyone on the team. And with Citizen Khan, I co-wrote it, created it, co-produced it, so you have a finger in every single pie. Here, you just have to stand and deliver your lines. I have to say, that was a very liberating and satisfying experience.

How was it working with such a young cast? 

I thought it was fantastic. The casting directors and the directors themselves – I know Penny Woolcock went out and did some guerrilla-style on-street casting. Some of these kids had never acted before, and they were just brilliant. They really hold the show together, the young kids and their stories, they were fantastic. And they were so nice to be around. They were genuinely excited to be there. And what was really nice was that some of them were big fans of Citizen Khan, which I loved. A lot of them said he was just like their dad or their uncle. There are some real stars that have been born in this show, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of them.

The show was filmed in Halifax – how was that experience?

I loved it. It was great. I went to university in Huddersfield, so it was a real period of reminiscence for me, looking back at that era. Halifax has all these stone walls and the hills and the climate, everything is so like Huddersfield, it really took me back. I really liked Halifax. It can get very cold, but it’s a beautiful place. I stayed in a little hotel literally across the road from where the school was, and where they filmed Last Tango in Halifax. So the people in the hotel were used to having film crews around. It was great. I think it’s so important that shows such as this are made outside your typical cities like Manchester and London, and to get out there into these communities. You could feel the energy and the culture that exists there.

Much of the show is about the cultural differences between two communities – in that respect, were there similar themes to when you were growing up in Birmingham?

In terms of the integration issue? It was a bit different for me. I was brought up in a very white, English area. My mum made a decision, and told my dad that we should go and live in a white area. We went to the local school. My brother was the first Asian kid to go there, and I was the second a few years later. I think it was a very wise decision by my mum. She really wanted us to experience a mixed upbringing, and a broader life in Birmingham. It was difficult at times, we did face some prejudice. But by the time we left that area, the neighbours were in tears, and didn’t want us to leave. The neighbours next door became Uncle John and Auntie Gladys. So where we grew up, in my family, it was slightly different. But of course there have always been divisions, and those divisions will always exist. What we desperately need is more integration. Multicultural schools are one of the key ways forward.

May 24, 2017 7:44am ET by Channel 4  

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