During lockdown, Nisha Nayar filmed for new Channel 4 series Before We Die as police officer Fran Keeley, which started airing at the end of May, and throughout her many years as a screen actor, she has worked on shows such as The Bay, Doctors, Cracker and Rose and Maloney. With CBBC show The Story of Tracy Beaker launching in 2002, Nisha played social worker Elaine ‘the Pain’ Boyak over all series of the popular children’s TV drama, and she appeared as a cameo in the new Tracy Beaker Theme Tune video this year. As well as her screen work, Nisha has performed in a number of stage shows, with her most recent being Hope at Royal Court Theatre, and as a long-established voice actor, she has played many lead characters in radio dramas, has voiced audiobooks as well as voiceovers on projects including Doctor Who: Harvest of the Sycorax. Chatting with Nisha, she answers our questions about playing Fran Keeley in Before We Die, her time as Elaine ‘the Pain’ Boyak in The Story of Tracy Beaker and her voiceover work.
Most recently, you played Fran Keeley in Channel 4’s new series Before We Die, can you tell us about the character and what drew you to the role?
Fran’s a no nonsense police officer determined to uncover the truth despite being kept in the dark by her colleagues. The script suggested an opportunity to play along the ‘is she good or bad’ line. That was appealing.
How was it filming the series?
We were one of the first shows filming during lockdown so it was brilliant to be working and Jan Matthys was such a lovely director to work with. We were mostly filming in Belgium and a lot of the cast were staying in the same hotel so we had a lot of fun.
What was it like filming your episode of The Bay as Dr Rahael Malik?
It was a happy shoot and, surprisingly, the first time I’ve played a Doctor.
What was short film Chronos like to work on and can you tell us more about it?
Chronos was shot in one continuous take on 35mm film, which is very unusual. It was wonderfully challenging for all the cast and crew. We rehearsed for a week before we filmed so we could run it like a play. We had an expensive Crane and film stock to be mindful of, so had to be totally on it when we finally shot it.
You played Samira Kohli in Doctors, how was it playing the character and working on the BBC drama?
She was feisty! It was an interesting storyline which ran over several episodes, so was nice to have something to get my teeth into.
What’s it like being a guest star on shows such as Law & Order: UK, Count Arthur Strong, Casualty and The Bill?
It’s easier being a regular than coming onto a show as a guest because the cast and crew get to know each other so well, but everyone is always so welcoming and it’s a small world, so more often than not I’ll have worked with some of the people before, which is always a lovely thing.
What did you enjoy most about being part of the multi award-winning show Cracker as DS Saffron Saleh?
Working with our wonderful director Antonia Bird. I’d worked with her before on one of my first ever TV jobs so jumped at the chance to do so again. Also, having a Jimmy McGovern script and a great cast to play with was fab. Robbie Coltrane is very funny off set.
Can you say about some of your highlights from your time playing Elaine ‘the Pain’ Boyak in The Story of Tracy Beaker over a number of years and how it was being part of the hugely successful CBBC show?
I’m so proud of The Story of Tracy Beaker and Elaine was a gift of a role! She was so much fun to play and it was great playing her for so long as I was able to really develop the character. The writers loved writing for her so I always looked forward to seeing new scripts as I never knew what they’d dream up for her next! The young actors were all gorgeous to work with and a lot of lifelong friendships were formed on that show. We still keep in touch.
You had a cameo in the recent Tracy Beaker Theme Tune music video, what was this like?
It was strange as I’d just come back from Belgium and was in quarantine so had to film my bits myself at home. It made me smile stepping into Elaine’s shoes again!
Over the years, you’ve had many other roles including working on Rose and Maloney, Big Bad World, Out of Hours, Cardiac Arrest and The Buddha of Suburbia, can you say about some of them?
Those, along with Holding On and Doctor Who, are my favourite shows I’ve worked on. They were bold, so well written, and I had good roles in them. The Buddha of Suburbia remains one of the shows I’m most proud of.
Have you seen any TV shows or films recently you would recommend?
Some great things are being made at the moment. Broadcasters seem to be taking some risks again after years of not daring to do so. Jimmy McGovern’s Time blew me away. The performances are extraordinary and it was beautifully directed. Mare of Easttown is fantastic, Call My Agent is wonderful – lovely actors playing facinating characters. There are so many… I’m really looking forward to seeing Dune when it opens in cinemas and can’t wait for the new season of Succession.
On stage, you most recently appeared in Hope at the Royal Court Theatre, what was the show like to be part of?
We had super special Jack Thorne’s words in our mouths and wonderful John Tiffany directing. What more could any actor want! I’d always wanted to work at the Royal Court, so it was fantastic playing there.
How different do you find performing on stage to screen?
They’re technically different but the process is the same. I enjoy both for different reasons. There’s something very freeing about running a play in its entirety and being able to feel how it is being received in the moment by the audience.
We understand you’ve worked on many radio dramas, audiobooks and general voiceover, can you say about them?
I adore voice acting! I’ve done more voice work than anything else. It’s liberating not being anchored to your physicality and limited by it, as far as casting goes. I’ve played many leading roles I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play based on looks. Playing Mowgli in The Jungle Book alongside Eartha Kitt as Kaa was a highlight. She was magnificent and full of amazing stories. I’ve been in several Doctor Who audio dramas for Big Finish. Playing Zanibar Hashtag in Harvest of the Sycorax with Sylvester McCoy stands out as a favourite. And I love general voiceovers because there are many different styles required depending on the medium and you never know what you’re going to get invited to do!
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always been in love with stories. I went through the usual ‘I want to be an astronaut’ one day, a detective the next, then a dolphin trainer the one after… childhood scenario, but fell in love with acting young and was tremendously lucky to have trained at The Anna Scher Theatre. It had an agency attached to it so we got to audition for real jobs while we were there. I guess it’s one way to possibly be all of the things now!
What are you looking forward to now lockdown has eased and the industry is starting to get back to normal?
Continuing to work! It’s brilliant productions are managing to forge ahead with filming at this crazy time. I so hope things become easier for theatres soon.
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