📷 : Paul Worpole
Gurjeet Singh could recently be seen performing as Robbie in the new adaptation of the 1916 classic of Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange Theatre, finishing the run earlier this month. Series Three of Ackley Bridge is currently airing on Channel 4, in which Gurjeet reprises his role of Naveed Haider, with one of his favourite scenes to be aired next week in episode eight alongside Sam Retford as Cory Wilson. Catching up with Gurjeet, we chat about his recent run in Hobson’s Choice, playing Naveed in Ackley Bridge and where his professional acting career started.
What is Naveed Haider like to play in Ackley Bridge?
Heʼs a lot of fun to play. Iʼm actually older then Naveed’s character so itʼs a lot of fun putting on a school uniform again and becoming a mischievous student. Heʼs a lot different to me, so I get to explore a whole different life. I also get thrown a few challenges whilst filming. Iʼve had to ice skate, perform Shakespeare, do stand-up comedy, perform classic music-hall style performance, bingo call and dance… the last two the audience wonʼt get to see, but they were lots of fun to learn.
How is the experience on set of the Channel 4 series?
I donʼt know if we can call it work. We literally laugh and make jokes, prank each other all day… whilst weʼre not on set I should say. When weʼre on set we get the work done… and still laugh a bit. True to a lot of filming sets, the actors only actually film for a small percentage of the day, depending on how many takes you get it in. The rest of the time weʼre bonding as a cast – playing games and joking about. We created a makeshift ping-pong table which we call “Crazy Ping Pong”. Weʼre like a big family at Ackley.
Have you had a favourite scene to film?
I had such a fantastic time filming Naveed’s main episode for series two, episode ten. The whole experience felt very special and I loved every second of it. It was a great creative journey of ups and downs, changes, re-writes and improv. I love working with different actors on different scenes. Thereʼs a different vibe/relationship with Nasreen played by Amy-Leigh Hickman to Cory and Riz played by Sam Retford and Nohail Mohammed. But I particularly loved filming a scene for this series, during episode eight, with Sam which youʼll see soon.
How would you say Naveed has changed over the years?
Heʼs definitely more confident and integrated into the school this series. During series two he was the new kid. Trying to fit in and make friends. This series he understands more of who he is and where he wants to go. All whilst still dealing with teenage life and family.
Can you tell us about playing Robbie Singh in Hobsonʼs Choice at the Royal Exchange Theatre?
Robbie Singh is a cool, confident, cheeky Punjabi Sikh boy, who was born and raised in Manchester. Heʼs youthfully exuberant and a photographer. He runs around Manchester in his Reebok classics taking pictures with his Nikon camera. A bit like Spider-Man/Peter Parker but more trendy. A bit like me but more cool.
The show received great reviews, how did it feel coming to the end of the run?
Itʼs fantastic that we had great reviews… but the reason why I got emotional on our final curtain call was because of what we did as a team (cast, crew, creatives). We made history telling this story in the Royal Exchange. A universal story with a predominantly Asian cast. A first for the theatre. We took on the mould and smashed it with our grand mix of non-apologetic, beautiful brown, Desi roots! During our last show, we came on for our second bow and a ran and leap through the air and shouted “yes!”. The energy and love from our audiences lifted me, it felt like I was flying. We did it.
What was it like being involved in the new version of the 1916 classic?
Iʼd never heard the story before so all I knew was this brilliant adaptation by Tanika Gupta. And I canʼt tell you how proud I am to be a part of this company, of this cast, telling this story of my hometown in my hometown! The story shines a light on different Asian communities within Manchester. Itʼs not an Asian story though, itʼs one for everyone to watch. A story of family, fathers and daughters, love life. It just so happens that these characters are from an Asian background. We had so much fun creating this show. There was lots of laughing involved.
Had you worked at the Royal Exchange previously?
This was my debut at the Royal Exchange. I saw my first piece of theatre there… trained there with the Young Company… saw shows here that re-inspired me and blew me away… now Iʼve opened my first show there! A very special moment in a magical theatre.
How long were you rehearsing for the play?
We rehearsed the play for four weeks. It was such an interesting process and great fun. We basically mess about, play, see what works and what doesnʼt… and laugh a lot!
Can you say about your time in The Bay?
I had originally auditioned for a different role in The Bay. I did my work and auditioned but it ended up going with someone older than me. Thatʼs the thing about auditions, you never know what theyʼre looking for. All you can do is do your work, give them no reason not to hire you and the rest is up to them. After not getting that I got a call saying theyʼd like to offer me another role.
How long were you filming this role and what was it like watching the finished production?
I was only filming for a brief time. Iʼve not actually seen all of the end production. At the time we were filming Ackley Bridge series three and then straight after went into rehearsals for Hobsonʼs Choice. Iʼve only recently had the time to start watching TV again. Iʼve just finished the new Stranger Things season, When They See Us and Iʼm currently watching Beecham House.
How did you get into acting and when and where did your career start?
I always loved imitating characters and doing accents when I was a kid. In primary school, we would do these ten-minute improvs at the end of the day which I loved. In high school, I was fascinated by drama class. I continued that fascination through to college. But what sparked this fascination was when we watch Schindlerʼs List in drama class. I remember watching Ralph Fiennes as Amon Göth, a monster. Then watching him in an interview, gentle, almost shy. That blew my mind. How can you do that?! I went to do Performing Arts at college. Towards the end of the two years, I was auditioning for drama school. Long story short, I got close but I didnʼt get in. I then had a second chance in college with the end of year showcase. I auditioned for that, got through and after performing got signed by my agent. The world was now my oyster. So I start auditioning and auditioning and auditioning… but Iʼm not getting anywhere. I audition for the National Theatre, they like what I do but they see I have no training. So they give me some great advice. At this point, my agent says the same thing to me. So now Iʼm not being put up for auditions, I still have an agent and some great advice. I travel back to Manchester and join the Royal Exchange’s Young company. I train with them. I also join a theatre company called NWTAC, I train with them. At the time I was working in a Post Office in a ghost town of an office complex. So I use to sit at the till and read scripts and interviews etc whilst my boss used to sit in his office at the back of the shop. Itʼs almost a year later. Iʼm closing up the shop when I get a call. Itʼs my agent. Iʼd not heard from them all this time. So I sneak out of the Post Office and call them back. We chat and they say the National Theatre remember me from my audition and want to see me tomorrow in London. Itʼs 6pm, my audition’s tomorrow at 1pm! I do my work, I get to London and do my audition. Ten minutes into the journey back to Manchester I get a call to say Iʼve been offered the part. My first professional job was in 2015 at the National Theatre in an original production called Dara.
What do you enjoy about screen and stage work and how different are each to do?
I enjoy both for different reasons. With screen work itʼs the precision. Performing down a camera lens that picks up all of your human emotion. Whatever you think the camera will see. With stage itʼs the open freedom to play. To be there live, on a stage where anything can happen. To feel the energy of an audience. Both thrill me in very different ways.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I get to be a big kid. I can be anything I want. I literally get to practice life. To learn new skills. To do things you canʼt in real life. To make people laugh and feel all of these emotions. To educate people and open eyes to whatʼs around them, see new people, different communities. Bring people together, to show the world that actually we all feel the same things no matter our differences… and we laugh a lot.
Can you talk about your upcoming career plans?
If I told you Iʼd have to kill you… ok Iʼm the next James Bond!… No, Iʼm back to auditioning and ready for the next project, whatever that may be. Thatʼs the life of an actor. Itʼs a very exciting time! But if any producers, directors, casting directors, Star Wars or Fantastic Beasts, Marvel or Doctor Who etc are looking for a young, fearless actor, can someone mention my name. Itʼs Gurjeet Singh and tell them I look forward to meeting them.
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