He’s hot, hunky and high in the clouds, Sonia Ahmed catches up with soapstar Valmike Rampersad
What have you been up to since Asiana last caught up with you?
I finished up working in LA and while there, auditioned via Skype for my role in Cloud 9. When I got back to the UK I did a series of screen tests and costume fittings and read two different parts so the team could check what kind of chemistry I had with the other characters.
How are you finding being the lead, Ajay Shah in Cloud 9?
It's been an intense but amazing experience so far. I am hugely grateful for this opportunity. It is my first lead role in a daily TV series!
So what’s it like being on set?
We have a lot of fun though the team work incredibly long hours, sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day. Luckily we have an amazingly talented and fun crew, which makes the long hours worth it.
You have played a diversity of characters in the mainstream media how does this role compare?
Ajay started out life in Cloud 9 as shy and naive. He comes from a very sheltered background. However, as he interacts with the residents of Cloud 9, he learns about life and growing up. He has to earn a living for himself, away from his family. He experiences alcohol for the first time in our Valentine's special and almost alienates himself from the residents because of his drunken rant. He finally gets a job but it is working in a bar, cleaning the toilets and washing the dishes. He punches one of the other residents for making a move on his sister in our Holi special - all things he would never have done before.
This role is very different from any of my other roles, including the manic depressive I played in Open Secrets and the assassin in Hotel.
Do you share any character traits with him?
There are elements of my character that are similar to me, and those are the traits I bring to the role in order to make it believable e.g. the polite nature of Ajay. Mostly, we are very different, which is great, as it gives me more to play with in order to make the portrayal a challenge.
The characters aren’t stereotypical either…
Indeed - the characters have good normal jobs, live away from home, are educated and don't all have typical London Asian accents. All of these roles could easily be played by any other ethnicity, they are not Asian specific, hence its appeal.
Tell us about some of the storylines.
We cover a number of things without preaching about them for example interracial relationships that are portrayed as a part of life rather than their being an actual story line about it not being acceptable. Our female lead, Simran played by Rakhee Thakrar is 26, her folks live in India, and she is a glamorous professional working independent woman who lives on her own. She has been through cancer and there is an ex drug addict, Gurpreet played by Anya Lahiri. There are so many characters in the show. Nisha played by Niki Wallia is a single working mum, divorced and we see her getting on with her life.
Have you reached Cloud 9 yet?
Ha - I have no idea what that feeling would be like, but I can say that every day I go on to set, I am very grateful and can't wait to get started.
Do you have much say on your wardrobe for the character?
We have an amazing costume designer, Karmjit Kalla, who has created unique looks for each character. I was pleasantly surprised when I had my first costume fitting, as the wardrobe was not what I had envisioned for him. From time to time I make suggestions to Karmjit, but she is on top of it so doesn't really need my advice. Of course the make-up designer, Geeta Karena, also consults with Karmjit and together they decide the overall look but I don't suggest anything to Geeta, as I don't have a clue about make-up! Then our amazing Director Gunjan Hazarika signs off before we go for a take.
How are you coping with the hours?
I have learnt to develop a good memory because we sometimes get scenes on the day of shooting or the night before. If we have been shooting for 12 to 14 hours for three days in a row, with back to back scenes, when it gets to around 1am on day three, I sometimes forget the occasional line.
Is it true that you love Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman?
Yes, this is true! There are many other actors whose work I also admire and will go see any film that they are in because I learn from watching them. These three bring a lot of raw emotions to their roles and are completely submerged in their work.
Ajay has struggled to find a job, meet the girl of his dreams and settle in London. Can you relate to this?
Absolutely. I have delved into those experiences in order to bring truth to the character, although from the day I moved to London, it felt like home. However, I did find it quite a challenge settling in LA, so I used that as my experience for settling into Cloud 9.
Do you miss LA?
Yes, the weather is great and the pace is slower, a bit like the Caribbean where I spent my childhood. The work ethic in LA is different altogether. It is such a big machine, but when I am there, I miss the UK and I miss London! There were times when you wanted to quit acting. What gave you the strength to continue? I have a great network of friends and family who have been incredibly supportive. I think everyone goes through that phase of not being able to keep on going when it is quiet or there have been so many close opportunities, like being down to the last two for a role and not getting it. At the end of the day I focus on the jobs I have had and the characters I have played to remind myself why I love acting and that 'wanting to quit' sentiment usually goes away.
You recently celebrated the 50th episode of Cloud 9, you must be so proud!
We were all very proud. It has come round so quickly. The show has grown up overnight, it is so different from what it was in the first couple of weeks, a lot more dramatic with some amazing story lines and to think we have shot 50 episodes in such a short space of time is very exciting. Did you enjoy celebrating holi recently on the show? Yes, it was my first experience of Holi. I learnt a lot from the other cast and crew members about the actual festival. We have had some excellent reviews about the episode itself.
What can we expect next from you character?
I don't want to give too much away but Ajay will continue to grow and learn from his experiences in Cloud 9. Hopefully he will get to go on a proper date with Simran and who knows, fingers crossed they finally get to kiss, provided Raj doesn't turn up!
Watch Cloud 9 on Zing, weekdays at 6.30pm