7th March 2023
Interview: Christopher Richmond
Photo Credit: David Reiss
Having achieved his start in acting with an award-winning performance as Romeo in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2018 production, Bally Gill has gone on to build a career filled with eclectic roles. He’s previously been seen in the BBC dramas This Is Going To Hurt and Sherwood, and he’s next to be seen in Alan Bennett’s Allelujah alongside Jennifer Saunders and Judi Dench. We were lucky enough to catch up with him about his career so far and his role in the film.
We’ll next see you starring in Allelujah, which will be out in March. Can you tell us what is the film about and who you play?
Allelujah is set in the geriatric ward of a Wakefield hospital, which is under threat of closure from the government. The residents, staff, and volunteers rally together to try and save it, with the help of a local camera crew who are documenting the day-to-day life of the patients and staff on the ward. I play Dr Valentine, who is a lovely, empathetic, caring but slightly idealistic doctor from India, who is at the forefront of trying to save the hospital.
What was it that appealed to you about the role?
What appealed to me about the part was the opportunity to lead a project with so many incredible creatives attached, and finding out about the cast afterwards was the cherry on top. Dr Valentine is the perfect doctor really, and is absolutely the person you would want looking after yourself or loved ones if you were in that situation. I felt like this was such a wonderful opportunity to challenge myself.
You star in Allelujah alongside Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, David Bradley, and Jennifer Saunders. What was it like playing alongside these titans of the British film scene?
It was an awful experience, absolutely terrible. Obviously not! It was an absolute masterclass; every single day on set I was working with a different icon of British stage and screen. What stood out the most though was that every single one of these people was so incredibly down-to-earth, warm, and welcoming, never making me feel that I didn’t belong there with them.
What did you learn from working with them?
I’m not sure where to start with this, as there are so many things I could put in here. Really, just listening to everyone on set, and just taking in their years of experience, their stories, their advice, was just the most unbelievable opportunity. The one unanimous thing I learned from each person on set was just to never feel like you are better or know more than anyone else; it’s always a learning process, and you can learn from every single person you come across, so stay approachable, ask questions and you won’t go far wrong.
What was the atmosphere like on set?
The atmosphere was unfailingly warm, open and calm. All the creatives and the cast made this process an absolute breeze! Also, there were lots of dogs who came in to the set regularly, so that made it even more perfect.
This isn't your first role dealing with the medical profession and the current climate of the NHS - you have previously starred in the BBC Series This Is Going To Hurt. Why do you think it's important to reveal the truth about the difficulties of the medical profession through the medium of television and film?
As with anything, the more it’s talked about, the likelier it becomes that something will be done to help. The NHS has been the backbone of our society since its creation, and is something we all need to protect, so showing the truth of what’s happening to it, with cuts, staffing shortages, underfunding, mental tolls of the work on the staff, can only mean we are facing up to what’s bringing the NHS to its knees. Hopefully showing all of those struggles will allow those in power to recognise that something needs to be done to help. And also, in true British fashion, if we can have a laugh while talking about something serious, then it makes us 10 times more likely to listen.
Have you always wanted to be an actor?
I discovered acting at around age 16, and once I caught the acting bug, I never really looked back! It was really an accident to be honest. When I was younger, my dad took me to see some pantomimes and musicals as I began getting interested in the arts. He was the first person I confided in about becoming an actor. And he’s the main reason I’m an actor today. He then inquired about youth groups at my local theatre in Coventry and really has supported me throughout this whole journey.
What was it that appealed to you about the profession and when did you realise it might be something you wanted to seriously pursue?
Honestly, acting was one of the only things I was better than average at. I was, and still am, fascinated by it, by telling stories and learning about people and their experiences and cultures. I think when I was 18 I hit that fork in the road that we all do at that age, and I decided that acting was the thing which kept my attention more than anything else and what I was most passionate about. I had great teachers, which I think is so important to anyone pursing their dream. They had faith in me when many didn’t and I’m indebted to them for not giving up on me.
One of your first major roles was as Romeo in an acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production of Romeo and Juliet. How did you feel when you learned you got such an iconic role with such a major production house?
Elated! I think that’s the only word for it really. I had been at the RSC for two years before landing the part of Romeo, in a variety of productions in smaller roles and understudying main characters. I actually thought I was going up for the understudy of Romeo when I first auditioned, until after the second round of auditions when I asked the director, Erica Whyman, who she was thinking of for Romeo, and she gave me a funny look and said ‘you?’.
What did you learn from playing the character?
I gained knowledge and confidence in reading, understanding and performing Shakespearian language, which then led me to read pretty much every single one of his works, which I don’t think I would’ve done had I not worked so much with the text in Romeo & Juliet. Everyone thinks that Romeo is the romantic, sexy leading man, but I actually thought the opposite about him; I think he’s the villain of the piece. He gets rejected by Rosaline, goes to a party that he knows he shouldn’t be at which incites yet more violence between the families, moves on to Juliet, with whom he falls in love and subsequently marries against their families’ wishes, he then kills Juliet’s cousin (Mercutio notwithstanding), gets banished, then sneaks back into the town, kills Juliet’s suitor Paris, then finally kills himself and in effect kills Juliet, so how much blood is on his hands?! And yet people still find him so sexy?! He doesn’t realise that his actions have consequences, so that’s what I leant into when playing him.
How does Shakespeare differ from more contemporary roles?
Language. I think with Shakespeare, he was the best at giving his characters the language to express how they’re feeling; he wrote these poetic, emotional dialogues, and these direct, open monologues, so we were never in doubt about how that character was feeling. With film & tv now, it’s much less common for these characters to openly discuss how they feel; instead, they rely on non-verbal cues and close-ups, so we really see how they feel as opposed to being told. Also the character arcs in Shakespeare are so much bigger and more complex than real life people have. And in effect makes it more challenging for actors.
Another of your major roles was as Neel Fisher in BBC Drama Sherwood alongside Adeel Akhtar. How did it feel working alongside him?
Firstly let me start of by saying how incredible Adeel as a person. He’s genuinely such an intelligent, warm and welcoming human being. We really had to thank Lewis Arnold for helping us with that relationship. We had a lot of discussions and character work before we had even shot anything. Usually you don’t get much time for that on screen. It felt very theatre-like in that respect and really helped us bond together as a company.
What was the experience like?
The experience was amazing! We had our own little family of Adeel, Joanne Froggat and I. I mean, it always helps being surrounded by a group of genuinely insanely talented people. Like if you look at the cast of Sherwood alone, it’s just a who’s-who of unbelievable British talent. I’m just so happy for the success Sherwood has had, and I’m so glad James Graham has had the recognition he deserves following on from that.
What is it that makes him one of your acting heroes?
Adeel is one of those exceptional talents who genuinely transforms into every single character he plays. If you put his work in a lineup, one after the other, I don’t think you would recognise him from one to the next; what’s amazing though is that he doesn’t let that change who he is off-screen too. Watching Adeel never feels like you’re watching someone act - it actually feels like you’re watching a documentary about the character he’s playing. He’s one of the best British actors around today.
What is your dream role?
I mean, Judi Dench did say she was calling in a favour for me from her Bond contacts, so that would be one off the bucket list!
What would you like to achieve in the future?
I would say that it would be great to carry on playing great parts, in amazing projects, and create projects that really speak to and impact the people who watch them. So only a small ask, really!
Is there genre of filmmaking that you haven't covered yet that you would like to?
I would love to do something light-hearted in the future, so maybe a rom-com? Oh, and definitely a superhero movie. Or, if we’re really getting specific, Star Wars please!
Allelujah hits cinemas on the 17th March.