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What was it like to be a part of Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985?
Laundrette was my first film, before then I had been doing a lot of theatre (since leaving drama school) and Rita Wolf, who played Tania knew Hanif and suggested he and Stephen Frears, the director, meet me. I was young and the film/tv business was totally new to me. At the time we thought we were making a ‘small’ film for Channel 4 to kick start their inaugural film season. It was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival (before it was going to be shown on the television) and Jeremy Isaacs who at the time was Head of Channel 4, pushed for a cinematic release. Which of course it did. The shoot was 6 weeks and was a very enjoyable one. The cast and crew were all young guns with tremendous energy. Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe had just started up Working Title that produced the film and of course went on to producing many fantastic British films. Rebecca O’Brien was an assistant at the time and is now Ken Loach’s main producer for his film company Sixteen Films. It was like one big (young) happy family, as they say, and because Hanif’s script was so good, we kind of knew we were on to something special. The whole (anti ) Thatcher thing was going on at the time and there felt that there was this undercurrent within all of us that we were fighting the system in our own small way. It was a great experience working with the likes of Dan Day-Lewis, Stephen Frears and of course Hanif as well as an exceptional cast and crew.
How do you feel about returning to My Beautiful Laundrette, this time playing Papa?
To be honest, a bit strange. I haven’t seen the film for well over 20 years and to be revisiting it, though I have many memories of it and have had to talk about it on various occasions at screenings etc, is a bit like déjà vu. I’m honoured to be asked to be part of what is going to be a very exciting production and for me as an actor I feel blessed that I have been asked to play Papa. Nikolai Foster put it beautifully in an email he sent me when he had the idea of me playing Papa. His words were: ‘Here’s a slightly random idea. What about (playing) Papa / There feels like there could be a lovely synergy/poetry in this’. I’m going into it with what I hope will be with fresh eyes. To be honest I was bit miffed not to be asked to play Omar. Obviously bathing in Oil of Olay every day for 34 years has not helped me to stay looking young !!
34 years after the release of the original film, how do you think 2019 audiences will react to this story? Have attitudes and society changed since then?
There are many elements within Hanif’s story that will resonate with all ages who come to see the play. The desire to ‘better’ oneself, family issues and also there’s an endearing love story.
There’s been a continual integration of different cultures within our society and a lot more acceptance though in recent times there has been a backlash towards the Muslim and Jewish communities from some quarters for various reasons.
I think (British) society has become a lot more tolerant in it’s attitude towards gay people but unfortunately there is still a degree of homophobia sometimes resulting in disgusting comments (Anne Widdicombe recently for example) and actual physical attacks on members of the gay community. I would say that ‘Laundrette’ is timeless, even though it was written over 30 years ago, and issues that existed then still surface now in one way or another but with Hanif’s script it has been and is still being told in an informative and entertaining way.
What do you think putting My Beautiful Laundrette on-stage will bring to the story?
Nikolai Foster, the director has some fantastic ideas how to bring the story ‘to life ‘ on the stage, Hanif has written an amazing stage adaptation that really fleshes out the characters and the excellent stage designer, Grace Smart will be making the whole experience incredibly visual. The Pet Shop Boys who are doing the music for the show will give it another dimension with their 80’s twist on it musically and the cast who are mostly young (I’m including myself there) are brilliant. With all the above factors and with Nikolai’s assured direction this story is being given a fresh retelling…and about time too.