6th February 2023
Interview: Christopher Richmond
Photography: David Reiss
Styling: Charlotte Malley
Grooming: Firyal Arneil
Romcoms are a much rarer occurrence in the cinematic landscape today than they were in the nineties, and so the release of each new contribution to the canon should be celebrated, especially when the film has strong and positive South Asian representation both behind and in front of the camera. Mim Shaikh can soon be found in the upcoming multicultural romantic comedy What's Love Got To Do With It? alongside Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson and Lily James, which achieves precisely this. The film tackles themes of love and marriage between London and Lahore, and is a truly multi-cultural effort evoking the likes of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. Mim spoke to us about the importance of undertaking a role in such a unique film, as well as his hugely varied career as an actor in the likes of Informer, Daytimer and Shia Sunni.
You can soon be found in What’s Love Got To Do With It. It looks really great! Who do you play and what appealed to you about the role? How did you feel when you got the role?
I play the younger brother in a nuclear family ensemble. My characters name is Farooq, which translated from Urdu to English means “distinguishing between right and wrong”. He’s just got married to his wife and is living at home with his Mother and Father. The narrative of the film really appealed to me mainly due to the fact that we hardly ever have films like these made. It’s quite a rarity to read material from a script which focuses on my own experiences. There are only a few British films which have done so in the past; I can name ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, and ‘Bride and Prejudice’. So to read material which looked at reflecting the concept of love in a South-Asian family unit was beautiful. Especially being from a Pakistani perspective, usually these stories are told from an Indian or Punjabi perspective. I think I was drawn to the fact that it spoke about my experiences growing up as a Pakistani in Britain. I was sat in a restaurant with my Auntie when I got the call from my agent that I landed the role. She filmed the moment of me finding out I got the role and I think I uploaded it on my IG because I was just oozing with pure brown boy joy.
The film has strong South Asian representation in front of and behind the camera. What was your experience like working on a film so closely linked to your own South Asian heritage?
It was a moment that I would never forget because although I am an actor I felt as if this job led me to draw upon my own personal experiences and convey them on the screen. To work with a such a talented writer who has 10+ years of lived experiences in Pakistan, and a director who understands the emotional nuances and undertones needed for audiences to feel something due to their Bollywood film background was so refreshing because usually the jobs I would go up for wouldn’t have those cultural intrinsic subtleties included in them. I also think it’s fair to say that this film helps to shine a positive light on Pakistanis in Britain. It’s very rare to read scripts which are inclusive and diverse, but this story nicely reflects the commonalities present between British and South-Asian humans who are just looking for love. It’s made by the same production company who made ‘Love Actually’ and although that was 20 years ago, it’s nice to see that films which focus on an underrepresented diaspora are being Green lit. I read recently that Richard Curtis, the writer of ‘Love Actually’ had only one regret when making ‘Love Actually’ and that was the fact that there was only one black actor present within the film. This is why I think ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ is going to do so well, because there’s an array of diverse cast and crew that worked on the story and it’s told from a British perspective. There was a South-Asian make up artist working on the film, a South-Asian runner, someone in the lighting department was also South-Asian. So you’re right, there was inclusivity present in front of and behind the camera on this project.
What was your experience of working alongside Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson, and Lily James? What were your highlights of working alongside such acclaimed performers?
My Mother is the biggest Bollywood film fan I have ever met. I told her I was filming with Shabana Azmi and showed her a picture of us on set and she started listing the films she’s done. She was so happy for me.
Emma Thompson is such a national treasure in this country, and it was a privilege to be able to witness her at work. I was trying to pick up as many gems as I could and I think ultimately I learnt that it’s all about how you treat your fellow cast mates and crew. She was so great at handling all of that. After I finished filming, I would go home and watch ‘Sense and Sensibility’ the film which she wrote and starred in. I’ve never worked with Shazad before, but as we were exiting our trailers on my first day of filming he came up to me introduced himself and reminded me that we met at a Dunhill BAFTA party the year before. I remember doing a read through with Jeff Mirza for a project called ‘Count Abdulla’ before the pandemic and he brought a sense of familiarity to when we filmed the family scenes. I just tried to be like a sponge and soak up everything in front of me because it’s not everyday you have Oscar winning actors perform with you in a scene.
You’ve starred in a hugely eclectic mix of film and television across your career starring in a massive variety of roles. Which roles and projects stick out to you as your favorites and why? Or is it too hard to choose?
A short film that I starred in which was directed by Rizwan Ahmed was my entry point into the acting industry it really got me ready for what would be required of me years later. It was called ‘Daytimer’ and it looked at how South-Asians would go to daytime raves during the day because their parents wouldn’t let them out to attend a party in the evening. The documentary I made about going to meet my biological Father in Pakistan called ‘Mim Shaikh: Finding Dad’ also comes to mind just due to its sheer emotional substance. Another short film I starred in which got nominated at the Children’s BAFTA Awards called ‘Shia // Sunni’ was pivotal for me to understand what connects with audiences, and that religion can be an important subject matter to tackle. ‘Freehold’ was another film that I would say was good for me to understand what is required to be a leading man. It was the first film that I had done, and I recently watched it back as it was on TV and started to cringe at my own performance. Aside from those, there are also a handful full of read throughs which I attended that have helped inform my point of view, one of those being ‘Pirates’ directed by Reggie Yates.
What are the different challenges between working on film and working on TV? In what way are they different and in what way are they the same?
I starred in ‘Informer’ in 2018 which was a TV drama for the BBC. The storylines are a lot longer in television and as an actor I had to really understand what was needed for the entire production at every given moment. So if we were filming a scene which appears in Episode 3, I had to figure out what just happened beforehand and what happens afterwards to convey that characters point of view in that current given moment. That’s also present within the film medium. However, I think in a 6- part television series there’s more work for you to do to prepare yourself for. ‘King Gary’ was another television project which I starred in, it was a comedy for the BBC and I remember everything was just done a lot quicker. The same goes for my small appearances in ‘Doctors’ and ‘Casualty’, these are both long running serials in the U.K and working on them can be like you’re part of one long conveyor belt of talent that are being picked up and then dropped back down. That’s not to look down on actors who work in television, just a mere comparison of how the jobs can feel different to one another. I view them now as a right of passage for performers to help hone their craft. I think both the film and television mediums are also the same as well because at the end of the day you’re still filming through a camera, and you’re telling a story. It’s just the medium which changes. It’s all storytelling at the end of the day.
You’ve also got a significant career under your belt as a broadcaster. What are the differences and challenges between working as a broadcaster and working as an actor?
I graduated from the University of Leeds, after studying Broadcast Journalism and all I ever wanted to do was become a radio presenter on BBC Radio 1Xtra. I was the first South-Asian daytime presenter to present a long-running radio show on that network. But I always wanted to be able to
broadcast and act, when I was at the BBC trying to build up a broadcasting career at the Asian Network, I remember people telling me I had to choose between the two. Which I struggled with because I loved both. However, I think you just have to compartmentalise which projects you’re doing and why you’re doing them. In broadcasting there’s a lot of yourself that you are offering and sharing and in acting obviously there’s somewhat of a mask because you’re conveying the feelings and inner-dialogue of a character that is not you. But over time, I’ve come to realise that that my broadcasting informs my acting, and my acting informs my broadcasting. By that I mean, when you’re broadcasting and interviewing a vast array of guests you can really learn about the human experience. When you’re acting, these nuggets of information that you have acquired are really valuable to help you paint a picture for a character you are trying to convey. Both my work as broadcaster, and actor has now started to inform my writing. They both compliment each other in the long term. But sometimes people can’t see it like that. I guess it’s perspective at the end of the day.
What else would you like to achieve in your career? What are some of your dream roles or accomplishments?
During the pandemic I started taking writing more seriously. I had always written sketches, pranks, debates etc for my Youtube Channel (Youtube,com/MimShaikhOfficial). But I started learning more, by listening to Masterclass sessions from established writers like Aaron Sorkin, I gained the confidence in writing my own stories. I finally got round to writing my first feature film which is loosely based on my journey to Pakistan to meet my biological Father for the first time. I would love to be able to get that script optioned and work on my own features as a writer/director. I have another script written too, but it’s just about getting people to believe in your idea I guess. On top of that, trying to align myself with the right projects as an actor is the game plan. I would really like to work with Jordan Peele, I think he’s such an engaging storyteller; ‘Get Out’ is one of my favourite films of all time. As is Ryan Coogler; I think what he’s been able to achieve with Black Panther is awe inspiring. I would also add M. Night Shyamalan due to his love for the supernatural in his films. All in all, to be able to be part of projects which tell an authentic and gripping story would be the dream, and to present some really good documentaries which seek to inform, educate, and entertain audiences would be the cherry on top.