Star of BBC drama In The Club, actress Taj Atwal tells Momtaz Begum-Hossain what it’s like wearing a fake bump and working with the finest women in the industry
Firstly, congratulations on your fake pregnancy! What’s it like having to carry a bump around all day?
Heavy! A lot of people having been asking me this question. I guess it does make you feel more maternal but I’ve definitely not been feeling broody. I feel more empathy for pregnant women now though, it’s not easy having the extra weight but Katherine Parkinson who plays Kim was actually pregnant while we were filming so she really was feeling it. The hardest part was my birth scene, it took 10 hours to film and I had to spend that long scene lying in a very uncomfortable position and screaming through my 'labour'. During the first take the real baby that is used in the scene had a wee on me which meant I had to spend the rest of the day with fake blood, sweat, tears and urine on me!
Were you asked to showcase your giving birth screams at the audition?
No! It’s not something you need to practice as such, as we all have it in us to scream like that when needed. It's less of a scream and more of a guttural, deep yell however we did sit down and practice the sounds. Luckily we had a midwife on set throughout the shoot to help us out!
How did you get into acting?
The desire to 'play' as children is usually squashed out of us but as actors we fight against that. I always loved singing and dancing and I got a lot of support from my teachers at school. When your talents are recognised it gives you encouragement to go for it. I was attending York College when a drama school my college was connected with came to hold auditions. All the other students were really excited and spent ages preparing but I didn’t really know much about drama school or what I was getting myself in for. I learnt my audition piece on the bus on the way there and I miraculously got a call back. I was eventually offered places at a few drama schools but I chose GSA.
As a northern lass how did you take to moving to the south?
It was a culture shock! Everyone was like ‘who is this northern girl?’. I spent my early years growing up in Norwich and then a little village outside of York and went to school in the countryside. I came straight from college where as most people had done gap years and gone travelling. At our first lesson we sat around in a circle and had to say what we had done in the summer– someone said they’d read the great playwrights like Arthur Miller and another said they'd been backpacking around Vietnam. I said I’d been to see a Spice Girls concert!
Tell us about your acting journey so far
Within a year of leaving drama school I landed the part of Jasminder in Stella written by and starring Ruth Jones. It was a part that I felt like was written for me. Ruth had written a character that was so true to life and many of the experiences I had been through – not just because I’m Indian but the way Jasminder fell in and out of love, had wardrobe crisis’, felt like she’d made an idiot of herself.....Ruth is such a prolific writer and landing that as my first role, working alongside such a strong woman was the best start to my acting career. After that I worked with another inspirational British female writer and appeared in the comedy Miranda, then last December I was in Moving On BBC1 where I played the lead character of a young woman suffering from alopecia. It was a phenomenal experience to be cast in that role. My character went through so much, losing her hair, getting bullied....other young girls contacted me with their experiences which was very humbling.
In The Club sees you playing quite a feisty character, Jasmin, what do you like about her?
She’s very confident and has her own opinions which is great. I also like that she’s a very passionate person and wears her heart on her sleeve. I think a lot of people can relate to her, she’s one of those people that when she’s in love she gets caught up in the moment. Love can be very over powering and confusing and it can get you into trouble...something Jasmin has learnt – the nitty gritty stuff is definitely about to start for her in the next episode.
You’re on screen hubbie Dev played by Sacha Dhawan is so sweet, we wish he made us fried cheeseballs for breakfast!
I adore Sacha as an actor and what he brings to Dev is so endearing and quietly powerful. He’s a phenomenal actor and I think a lot of men can relate to his portrayal of Dev.
Kay Mellor who wrote and directed In The Club is a legend, what was it like working with her?
She is an inspiration to all women and one of the most passionate women I’ve ever met. She has achieved so much and I really admire the way she puts women at the heart of what she does. There is a strong team of women within her production company and even her daughters worked on the show. Kay’s been in the industry for so long during which time she’s worked so hard in a job that’s largely male dominated. Bizarrely she’s really good friends with Ruth Jones who I’d worked with in Stella – I feel so honoured to have worked with two such strong women.
Speaking of which, your female costars on In The Club are equally as incredible....
You become like a weird little family, it's like home from home. We begun filming together from January until April and we had a laugh – the men and women. The male crew and cast were brilliant, very mindful and sweet, especially in our birthing scenes when you are in unflattering positions. All the women were amazing and I learnt much from them, Hermione Norris was especially great in fact she texted me yesterday just to say well done and I was thinking I should be saying that to her! She’s been in this industry for a long time and has a wealth of experience and has given me a good few pep talks! Whenever I had question or was feeling insecure I would talk to her or the others about it, they are wonderfully generous women. It’s amazing being able to be so honest and open with people at work, when you’re acting you sometimes have to bare your soul, something other people can’t usually do in front of their colleagues.
Judging by the pictures of green smoothies and yoga references on your Twitter account we’re guessing you’re quite the fitness freak?
I love healthy things! It comes from growing up in the country, my mum used to grow our fruit and veg so I crave green juice and raw foods. You have to stay fit to survive the long hours. I’ve also got an interest in art and want to experiment further with painting and drawing.
So you can tick off prime time drama on the BBC, what’s next?
I’m returning to my first love; theatre. I go into rehearsals in two weeks time for the stage adaptation of East Is East and I’m really excited to make my West End debut. I’m playing the 16 year old daughter Meena and I just found out yesterday that one of my friends has been cast in another role so it’s going to be so much fun – make sure you come and watch it!
In The Club is currently showing on BBC 1, Tuesdays at 9pmEast Is East opens at The Trafalgar Studios, London in October
Follow Taj on Twitter: @Tatwal1