Last year, Lisa Ambalavanar began her time in daytime soap Doctors playing teenager Alia Hanif, and has continued her role through 2019. Along with Doctors, Lisa also stars as Mia in new BBC thriller, The A List, streamed to iPlayer in October and set around a summer camp and the supernatural. We had the chance to talk with Lisa, who told us more about Mia, her experience in Doctors and what she enjoys about her career.
Can you tell us about The A List, in which you play lead character Mia?
The A List is basically about a Summer Camp gone wrong. My character, Mia, goes to a Summer Camp on a beautiful island and weird things start happening. It’s a mix of very normal teenage problems – friendships, boyfriends, trying to fit in etc. – and the supernatural!
Was there anything that first drew you to the script?
There were many twists and turns that meant I couldn’t put it down! Every episode ended on a cliffhanger, which made me want to pick up the next episode and continue reading straight away. I also loved how the relationships between the characters changed and developed so much throughout the series. As I read through it I found myself really caring for them.
Do you have any similarities to Mia and what was she like to portray?
There aren’t many similarities between me and the Mia you meet at the start of the show. She seems quite shallow and materialistic when we’re first introduced to her, and not very friendly. The Mia at the end of the season – that’s much more like me. Loyal, honest and not caring what she looks like! It was a fantastic character to portray because she goes on such a journey in such a short amount of time. I learnt so much from it!
How did you find the experience acting with the rest of the cast?
Amazing! We got on so well. I’m still close to a lot of the cast now. I’ve seen Rosie, who played Alex, a number of times since we finished filming.
How long did The A List take to film?
We spent about three months filming in Scotland.
Who is your character Alia Hanif in Doctors?
She’s eighteen years old and wants to be a Doctor. Currently, she’s revising hard and taking her A-Level exams. She wants to go to Glasgow University to study Medicine, but she hasn’t got a place yet. We have filmed past that point though, so I know what happens!
Have you had a favourite storyline to film?
I love any storyline that also involves my brother, Shak! Sunjay Midda, who plays Shak, and I get on so well and always have so much fun on set. He’s a great personality to be around. Very funny and has great energy.
How is it filming for a role like this?
Fast! I think any soap is filmed very quickly because of the nature of episodes being aired pretty much every day of the week, but Doctors is filmed especially fast because it has a small cast for a soap. You have to be able to work very quickly and nail a scene in just one or two takes. Then there’s also the medical lingo, which can be quite tough to get your head and tongue around! I’m very different to Alia – I didn’t excel at science and wasn’t very good at studying, I always needed to be more creative – so sometimes I have to research my lines to understand how certain scientific/medical words are pronounced.
What do you remember from your first day on set of Doctors?
I remember it being quite overwhelming, with so many people to meet, but Bharti Patel, who plays my mum, has to be one of the nicest people in the business (as well as an amazing actress) and she took me under her wing. She’s very much a mentor for me and that started from day one. I’ve learnt pretty much everything I know thanks to Bharti and Doctors.
How is the experience walking the red carpet at award ceremonies and do you enjoy choosing your outfits for these events?
I’ve only been to one. It was a great experience, lots of fun, but not something I’m most comfortable with. Not yet anyway. There are a lot of people and you do feel quite awkward having your photo taken. But I feel very fortunate to have experienced it! Hopefully it won’t be the last. It’s tough picking an outfit because you get scared someone else will turn up in the same thing!
We understand you played Kathy Selden in a production of Singin’ in the Rain, would you like to appear in more musicals?
I do love musicals. I grew up watching musicals, both on screen and also on stage when we could. I’ve always been a huge fan. I’m not sure whether I’d like to do a stage musical though – I think musical theatre performers are some of the hardest workers in the business! And the level of talent is just incredible. I’m happy for it to be just a source of inspiration at the moment and to stick to screen acting. However, if I got the chance to be in a movie musical, or a musical TV series… well, that would just be the ultimate dream, I think. The perfect opportunity for my love of musicals and my love of screen acting to come together.
What was your first professional acting role?
My role as Alia on Doctors.
Do you have a favourite aspect of your career?
It’s a tie between the amazing people I’ve worked with so far (from cast to crew to my amazing agents) and the amazing experiences I’ve had. I didn’t train professionally, so I’ve learnt from the people I’ve been around and the experiences of working as an actor. I still feel very much at the start of my journey – and I know I still have much more room to grow.
What do you enjoy doing away from acting?
Being outside and spending time with animals. I’m definitely happiest in the countryside.
What are your career plans for the foreseeable future?
More, more, more! I just want to work. I want to continue acting, gain more credits, work on more projects – and if that means bigger projects and bigger roles then that would be amazing!
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