Season 2 – Episode 5: Threads of Silk and Gold
MARCH 22 – 09:00PM – BBC AMERICA
MARCH 22 – 11:30PM – BBC AMERICA
Damian: Hey Jassa, we’re both lads from the Midlands! You’re from Leicestershire and I’m just down the road in sunny Staffordshire. As a drama student at college, I remember I was in this taxi one day talking to the driver and he asked me what I was studying. I told him it was performing arts and that I wanted to be an actor. I’ll never forget his hideous diatribe – basically telling me that I should train for a proper job and colleges shouldn’t even be running such courses that promote lazy wannabees! Did you ever come across this kind of attitude in your part of the Midlands?
Jassa: My fellow Midlander! I grew up in Leicester but I was born in Coventry. Does that make me an East meets West Midlander? I’m half Indian so it seems appropriate. I never came across that kind of attitude so explicitly. The closest was my grandfather insisting acting was a good hobby. In true Indian tradition he wanted me to become a doctor or a solicitor. Now I’m on TV he’s much more agreeable.
I was always wary of the wannabee label. I was surrounded by a few growing up and my instinct was to distance myself from them. I trained in ballet for eight years while I was at school through Leicestershire Arts in Education. My teacher Graham Fletcher was an ex-principal with the Royal Ballet and through him I saw how performance could be a career. It was show business and I’ve always treated as such.
Damian: Jassa (Singh) Ahluwalia was one of the great Sikh leaders during the 1700s, did your parents have high expectations of you from the very beginning?
Jassa: They’re still waiting for me to return and conquer the fatherland… I’ve never felt like they’ve had expectations. They’ve just been incredibly supportive, allowing both me and my sister (fellow actor training at the Academy in New York) to define our own criteria for success.
Damian: You’re a prolific actor and have enjoyed a diverse range of roles including a polar bear, a cave wall and a stalagmite – tell us about your journey from Oadby, Leicestershire to worldwide fame…
Jassa: I believe the cave wall and stalagmite may have been the same role… And worldwide fame?! You’re still going to have to buy me dinner… The journey began with Graham and Leicestershire Arts in Education. Through ballet I explored musical theatre and through that I discover acting. My Year 10 work placement was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Through a few audacious phone calls I’d secured a placement at agency Independent Talent (then ICM). There I witnessed the inner workings of the industry which allowed me to strategise. I was quite a forward thinking 15 year old. I used university to move to London – UCL halls were all central. I dropped out when I got my first big job (Art Attack) and I’m now represented by Independent. My first meeting there having a tea made for me felt like a landmark moment.
Damian: You missed out the Morris dancing, tell us about the Morris dancing – the readers want to know about the MORRIS DANCING!
Jassa: Your research is too damn thorough!!! I was a member of the Morris Dancing Club at Launde Primary School in Oadby. I loved it. We were a group of lads getting to show off at the school fair, hopping about and whacking sticks together. Part of the allure was also having seen the older boys do one dance in particular. The “sword dance” I believe it was called. Basically, mid dance, they’d weave their sticks/swords together to form a star which one of them could hold above their head. How the sticks stuck together was a playground conspiracy. The day we learnt how to do it we felt like we’d been initiated into a brotherhood, bonded by straw hats and ankle bells.
Damian: You trained with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and played Peter Pan in panto – do you have what it takes to look good in tights – you know what I’m talking about right?
Jassa: I believe Robin Williams once described the ballet as “men wearing pants so tight you can tell what religion they are”. Nobody ever thought I was Jewish.
Damian: You’re only twenty-three and you’ve already been an actor, producer, TV presenter, dancer and singer-songwriter! Why can’t you just focus on one thing and give everyone else in the industry a chance of some work?
Jassa: No one gives you a chance to work in this game. You have to seize opportunities and see where they take you. I like adventure! Every experience informs the other. Presenting taught me how little I enjoy performing as myself, acting exposed me to some incredible producers, producing gave me insight into how to conduct myself on set, dancing has given me the skills to do my own stunts where possible, my singing has given me the skills to handle intense vocal work and my writing makes me more discerning as a reader/listener/viewer. I feel like I am focusing on one thing – doing the best work.
Damian: Tell us about the album you’ve released – you’re not going to be another bloody Jerome Flynn are you?
Jassa: Haha! I didn’t know about Jerome’s music history! Thank you Wikipedia. My album All Your Letters was a side project and area of creative interest. It taught me a great deal about myself and I’m very proud of what I achieved but it’s not something I’m actively pushing at the moment. Though that may change in the near future. And if anyone wants to do a Wikipedia article for me I’d be most grateful. The one I tried to publish were removed for being ‘about a real person, which does not indicate the importance or significance of the subject’. It’s good to stay grounded.
Damian: You played a burns victim in Casualty – it is compulsory for EVERY actor to appear in that show at least once?
Jassa: Of course. I was devastated when The Bill came to an end. How else was I to get the industry stamp of approval?! Fortunately Casualty was there to save the day.
Damian: You are perhaps best known for the sitcom Some Girls – I’m far too pretentious to watch anything on BBC Three – what’s it about, who do you play and why is it such a success?
Jassa: Heathen! It’s brilliant. It’s a comedy about a group of four teenage girls who live on the same inner city estate. I play Viva’s love interest, a loveable badboy trying to do good by the name of Rocky (“cos I’m a fighter innit”). I believe it’s success has been down to it’s commitment to honesty. I can’t think of any other shows that truthfully depict young girls and the challenges they face growing up now. In my opinion this was the highest praise we could get: South-London school drama Some Girls doesn’t fall into the Skins trap and manages to portray teenage life realistically, says 16-year-old Grace Berger – The Guardian.
Damian: I’m thinking of getting my chest waxed (Christmas present for my partner – lucky girl!), any advice?
Jassa: TRIM! Trim before you wax. Half way through the procedure, tears in my eyes, the beautician “taking care” of me told me I should’ve trimmed. HALF WAY THROUGH!!! The smoothness is unrivaled though. Lucky girl indeed.
Damian: I was excited to hear about your film Journey to the Moon thinking it would be a H. G. Wells/Jules Verne kind of sci-fi thing but then I found out it was an all-singing, all-dancing cast of children playing adults! What’s up with that?
Jassa: Sorry to disappoint. That was the first film I ever did. I got the lead role through open auditions and pure obsession. I can’t remember how many auditions I went to. And the film’s not even been released! I hope it does find distribution some day. Netflix perhaps. It’s very fun and rather ridiculous. All the songs were written by the Monty Python musical geniuses Andre Jacquemin and Dave Howman.
Damian: I’ve heard you’ve done it on other projects but did you have to flirt with the casting director to get a part on Ripper Street?
Jassa: Maybe… I didn’t actually meet Kate but her assistant was rather lovely.
Damian: Tell us about tonight’s episode of Ripper Street and your character?
Jassa: I play telegraph boy Vincent Featherwell. A fiery young soul with dreams for the future. A future with his colleague and lover David Goodbody. Tonight’s episode is a powerful story about the forces that drive us and the conflicts therein.
Damian: Tonight marks the return of the fantastic writer Toby Finlay in the first of two episodes he’s written for the second series. Viewers will remember he also wrote two for the first series including one of my favourites, The Weight of One Man’s Heart, did you get to meet him and was he wearing that hat?
Jassa: It seems we have similar tastes dear boy! Though Tournament of Shadows was the crowning jewel of the first series for me. I try not to fanboy around Toby but I inevitably fail. We were all out for drinks together. A lot of drinks. There was point where people stopped ordering rounds and started getting bottles. I vaguely remember saying goodbye in the back of a taxi somewhere. But I distinctly recall that hat being ever present.
Damian: Toby’s scripts for the show are brilliant and he has a fantastic ear for dialogue but he has a strange fetish for flowers and indeed birds (I’ll remind the reader that your character is named Vincent Featherwell and the aforementioned episode features copious references to them including the metaphorical love birds Drake almost gives to Rose) – can we look forward to similar imagery tonight?
Jassa: You are clearly a much more astute viewer than I. I’m familiar with several of Toby’s fetishes but not this one. Though I have been a little preoccupied with Alfie’s character being named Goodbody. My hours in the gym are clearly wasted on Mr Finlay.
Damian: I’ve mentioned my previous acting experience and was wondering if you could have a word with series creator, Richard Warlow and get me a part on the show? – I don’t mind who I play so long as my character wears a top hat, a cape and sports one of those walking sticks with a sword hidden inside…
Jassa: My grandmother used to have one of those! If I can find it I’ll take an assisted stroll over to his office and have a word.
Damian: You’ve just finished playing David in an epic American mini-series called The Bible – is this based on a true story?
Jassa: A book of some description I’m told.
Damian: So you’ve fought with Goliath, could you take down Damien Molony for me please? He’s not that great in a fight without Drake – plus, he’d probably be asleep anyway.
Jassa: Sure thing. I’m yet to take revenge on him for flicking me the Vs off screen while we were shooting my close ups. I have the sling at home.
Damian: Tell us about your future projects – I’m excited by The Whale – will this be more Moby Dick or Free Willy?
Jassa: Dick and sperm. No killer Willy. It’s the most incredible piece of storytelling. A truly brilliant ensemble cast, including next week’s Ripper’s Paul Kaye. I recently went in to do ADR and I had to take a break I was so shaken by the power of what I was watching. It’s a one-off feature length drama for BBC One which tells the true story of the sinking of the whaleship essex by a sperm whale and the crew’s torturous struggle for survival. The event was the inspiration behind Moby Dick.
Damian: One final question, why do you drop your trousers in lifts?
Jassa: I only do it when I’m going down… Haha, no. I do it when I’m going up too. You really do do your homework don’t you?! I was in the lift with my mate James Cleave at the studios where we shoot Some Girls – he was the floor runner (and also the 1st AD on Modern Man). We were heading up to the production office. A big open plan area that the lift opens up onto. As the doors pinged open I dropped my trousers and ran out screaming, “JAMES!!! GET OFF ME!!!” Sadly the office was empty. He used the stairs for the rest of the shoot.
Damian: Jassa, thanks so much for doing this interview – you’re a great sport! I’ll meet you in the lift after the show…
Link to the short film Modern Man: http://www.jassaahluwalia.com/producer/
Hey Richard, if you’re reading this, you still haven’t returned my calls. Listen, I’ve watched Mary Poppins several times so I’ve really nailed the cockney accent – what do you say? Even just a small part in the show would be fine Richard. Hello, Richard… Richard… RICHARD…
~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~
PLEASE NOTE: This interview originally appeared last November and both The Bible and The Whale were broadcast over the Christmas period in the UK.