Nethra Tilakumara

📷 : Vanessa Valentine

For Nethra Tilkumara’s first film role she played Singing Soraya in Horrid Henry: The Movie alongside Theo Stevenson, and is currently appearing with her co-star once again in Flatmates on BBC iPlayer as series regular Yasmin, with the Millie Inbetween spin-off following the lives of five teenagers stepping into adulthood. With the latest series of So Awkward airing weekly, Nethra can be seen as Ollie’s girlfriend Kat in the CBBC sitcom. Speaking with Nethra, she tells us about filming Horrid Henry: The Movie, starring in Flatmates and her new role in So Awkward.

For those that don’t know Flatmates, can you say about the series and your character Yasmin?

Flatmates follows the lives of five teens entering their way into adulthood, trying to combat work, uni, relationships and friendships. Lauren moves in to live with her stepbrother Craig, who lives with Declan, her ex! Yasmin is definitely the party animal and the go-getter of the group. She’s excited by life and constantly wants to make the most of every moment and have fun, so definitely tries to not think about any responsibility that’s knocking on her door. She is from a close-knit Asian family who have traditional views which sometimes she doesn’t feel she fits into. She is a firecracker and definitely a character that has challenged me, which is what I loved. She is so confident in who she is and definitely likes persuading Lauren to make the bolder choices in life. I really love Yas and Lauren’s friendship throughout the series; it really blossoms as the episodes go on and the drama unfolds!

What’s the audience response been like to your character?

It’s been really positive, which is so lovely. There aren’t many characters like Yasmin on screen, which is what drew me to the role. She is a young, confident, Asian, bisexual woman who isn’t defined by her sexuality or race. She is confident in who she is, which is what makes her ‘sexy’ and admirable. I’m really grateful that I get to play a character like this as it’s so important characters like Yasmin are seen on screen and their stories are told, especially for young audiences.

Flatmates is a spin-off to Millie Inbetween, aimed at older audiences; were you familiar with the original series?

Funnily enough, I did audition for Millie Inbetween in 2017, for the role of Jesse which the wonderful Rhianna Merralls got. I was down to the finals however didn’t get the role and I was really disheartened by this. However, it just proves that everything does happen for a reason because otherwise, I would never have got the role of Yasmin.

What were the auditions like and how did you feel when booking the role?

I initially did a self-tape back in September and Yasmin was written very differently compared to the character she is now. She was quite quiet and sweet whereas Yasmin now is a firecracker. There were around four/five auditions and the last one was a chemistry read with Tallulah (Greive)! I was really nervous as chemistry reads are just down to who fits better together and what works. The producers, director and casting director were all in the room so it was a little scary but really chilled as we would discuss the character and would play around with the scenes.

I found out I got the role while I was at college after a sweaty jazz lesson and I didn’t stop jumping up and down. I was really excited to get to work and begin filming.

Apart from Theo Stevenson (Craig), who you’d worked with in Horrid Henry, did you know any of the other cast members before filming began?

It was so weird, I met Tallulah briefly at our NYT audition last year. I knew who she was as I auditioned for Millie Inbetween, but she obviously had no idea who I was, haha. Also, a month before the read-through of Flatmates, Grace (Hogg-Robinson) and I were at an audition together. I recognised her as soon as she came into the room! So we had all come into contact without knowing who each other were really.

When you are in-between filming scenes, how do you spend your time?

I will always find the makeup girls for a chat! Or any of the crew or any of the cast who have a scene off or anything. We like just chilling on set, especially on the sofas as when you sat on them you were literally engulfed by the comfiness. Sometimes at lunch, I’ll sneak off for a nap. During the week of the party episode, Tallulah, Grace and I made the most of the sun and our costumes with our own photoshoot, haha.

You play Kat in the new series of So Awkward, what is she like to portray?

Kat is very, very mischievous and calculated, but her exterior could make you think otherwise! She is very fun to play as her mind never stops calculating. She’s a little businesswoman and when she has her eye on what she wants she will definitely go and get it. She’s more like Ollie’s mum rather than his girlfriend, so there’s definitely a rivalry between her and Martha.

How did you find your time in the cast?

So, so lovely. The So Awkward cast are like one big family and I’m so lucky with how everyone treated me when I joined the cast. It’s always nerve-racking when meeting the cast for the first time as I always worry ‘Oh gosh what if they don’t like me?!’. But they were all so welcoming which definitely made it a lot easier. Archie Lyndhurst, who plays Ollie, locked me in my green room on my first day as a joke, so definitely cast bonding at its finest, haha.

How did it feel being cast in a show already popular with a young audience?

It was pretty daunting coming into a show that had been established for five years, especially as it was also my first series regular role. However, Ian, our director, was super welcoming and so were the entire cast and crew, which was really lovely. It’s great to be a part of something that is so loved. It was really fun to do and I learnt so much from everyone around me.

You’ve filmed an episode of Our Girl, what was this like to appear in?

Filming Our Girl was a surreal experience as in such short notice I flew out to Malaysia as that is where they shoot the series. It was great to work with adult actors and see how they conduct themselves on set. Especially Ben Batt and Mark Armstrong who I worked with, they were so welcoming and friendly which immediately put me at ease. The character I played is saved by two soldiers from the army (Ben Batt and Mark Armstrong), as she has been kidnapped by men who sell young girls for marriage, she initially thought she was going on holiday with a friend as she wanted to get away from home. It was great to be given this opportunity to play a character with this backstory as it is so prevalent in news today. Working with Sarah O’Gorman (director) was brilliant as we got to talk through the scene and discuss the avenues we could take it.

What do you remember from your time on set of Horrid Henry: The Movie as Singing Soraya?

I remember us all having a lot of fun working on the movie together as we were all of a similar age – it wasn’t like work at all. I loved being on set, and we would all get really upset when we’d have to go to tutoring!

How did you find the experience working on your first film?

It really enlightened me to what goes into movie making. The call times, long days and working with an entire cast and crew just gave me a taste into the industry and the career I wanted to have. It was a lot of fun as I was so young and enthralled by it all.

Was there anything that drew you to acting?

I just loved pretending that fiction was reality. I’d watch movies and want to be in them. I remember doing a production of Hairspray and having the smallest part, but I just enjoyed being on stage and entertaining people. When I was younger, my mum would say I’d dress up in all sorts and just pretend to be these random people, haha, so I guess I’ve just always wanted to act.

What TV shows do you enjoy watching and do you have a favourite film?

I absolutely love Killing Eve, I would love to play the role of Villanelle, and equally Sandra Oh’s part too (Eve)! I think Jodie Comer is truly fantastic. I would say my favourite film is Unbreakable, it is a psychological thriller with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. I think the writing and acting are phenomenal, I cried at the end as it was so unexpected.

What are your upcoming career plans?

I would love to do more dramas in the future as well as comedy. I really love gritty storylines that I can just sink my teeth into. I’m auditioning right now, I have no idea what the future holds but I am very excited!

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