In March, Ashling O’Shea joined the cast of Channel 4’s soap Hollyoaks playing regular character Nadira, working closely with her co-star Omar Malik, who plays Shaq Qureshi. Also this year, Ashling played lead character Rumi Joshi in Rebel Cheer Squad – A Get Even Series, which is currently available on BBC iPlayer and is set for a release on Netflix. Ashling also has stage experience, including appearing in Eris at The Bunker Theatre and, when leaving university, she booked her first professional job with Little Fish Theatre, who she still works with on a yearly basis. We caught up with Ashling, who answered our questions about joining the cast of Hollyoaks as Nadira, playing Rumi Joshi in Rebel Cheer Squad and her stage experience.
How did it feel finding out you’d booked the role of Nadira in Hollyoaks and what is the character like to play?
Oh that was a really strange morning! I didn’t really react for ages because it didn’t feel real, it took a while to sink in and, to be honest, part of me is still waiting for it to sink in that I’m currently on a national TV show! Nadira is great to play, it was hilarious being able to come into the show and immediately put Shaq in his place.
Can you tell us about Nadira and how are you finding your time in the soap?
Nadira is such a great character, she’s empathetic, feisty, intelligent, sometimes pretty defensive, kind and funny in her own dry way at times! She has a huge heart and really wants to help the people around her, despite not always choosing the right thing to help herself. It’s also been really interesting as a Queer person myself to play a Queer character whose current mindset is so different from my own. She has absolutely made my time on Hollyoaks a blast so far.
How has it been seeing the response to Nadira’s arrival and your storylines?
It’s been great seeing people’s reactions… from the people who are hardcore Jeri fans so really want Nadira to back off, to the people who see that Shaq and Nadira could have a really happy life with one another, to the people who see the blatant chemistry between her and Juliet and really want them to get together instead. Something that’s really touched me is the messages I’ve received where people tell me they feel represented through her storyline or appreciate the way we’re seeing Nadira navigating the exploration of her identity.
What was it like joining the cast and what do you remember from your first day on set?
I was a little intimidated at the idea of joining such a huge cast, but those feelings disappeared really early on when I realised how lovely everyone was. My first day on set was in the Maalik’s! I remember thinking how nice and big their kitchen is and just cracking up at Omar (Malik) and his ridiculous poses. It was a really silly scene to get me into the swing of things so that was a really nice first day.
Is there anything you’re enjoying most about being part of Hollyoaks?
I’m really enjoying getting to play a character I relate to so much and to be a small part in the move to making the representation we’re seeing on screens more authentic representation. There are so many differences between myself and Nadira but if you had told me as a kid that I would see a Brown Queer woman playing a Brown Queer character on a national TV show, I never would have believed you.
What was Rumi Joshi like to play in Rebel Cheer Squad – A Get Even Series?
Rumi was an absolute dream to play, I loved the fact I got to play the clown of the group! She was the one always running because she was late, the one who got awkward and clumsy around her crush, the one who got stitched up in each scheme and had to hide out in toilets and bins… It was so much fun.
How was it meeting the cast for the first time?
This always makes me feel really nostalgic. The first time Amelia (Brooks), Lashay (Anderson) and myself met in person we had weirdly dressed like a girlband?! Our outfits just happened to be perfectly co-ordinated it was like it was meant to be. Meeting the rest of the cast was amazing too, I’ve never fallen in love with a group of people the way I did on that show. Casting did an incredible job because we got along so well that we became a little family which is so rare.
What was it like seeing the completed project and do you have any stand-out highlights from your time filming the series?
It was a pretty surreal experience. I was in Liverpool filming Hollyoaks at the time and then was sat watching my first series lead in a BBC/Netflix show and thought, how did I get so lucky? It was also incredible just seeing how this labour of love came together, the team did a great job because it looked beautiful.
There are so many highlights from the three months we spent filming it’s so hard to pick!
One particular stand-out highlight would probably be having Ramanique Ahluwalia as a love interest. We got to be what we never got to see when we were younger, we got each other through the hard parts and laughed our way through the rest. To be able to share that experience with another Queer woman of the Global Majority is something I will forever be grateful for.
Why would you recommend watching the show on BBC iPlayer and when it’s released later this year on Netflix?
I genuinely think it’s a show that has something for everyone. I think young people will really relate to it as it depicts so much that they face and have to deal with during those years at school but I also think there’s so much for fellow adults to take from it too. It doesn’t matter how old we get, we don’t forget those feelings of trying to find our place in this world or what it is to navigate complicated relationships, most of us are still doing that. The majority of us understand what it’s like to see injustice, sometimes feel hopeless, but want to do something about it. DGM sees the unfairness in the world around them and decide to be proactive. They transform their feelings about it into dynamic change, we could all learn from that.
We understand you have stage experience, can you tell us about some of the shows you’ve appeared in?
One of my favourite stage shows I’ve ever performed in was Eris at The Bunker Theatre. Not only was it my first Irish play (I’m half Irish so this was really cool for me) but it was at one of my favourite theatres. London’s theatre world lost a real safe space and hub of talent when The Bunker closed. I’m so glad I got to perform there and that everyone who made that place so special are now out there in the world making every space they’re in even better! A lot of my other stage experience has been with a company called Little Fish Theatre who became my industry support system and lifelong friends. They gave me my first ever acting job out of university and I’ve been working with them every year since, they can’t ever get rid of me now! They do incredible work for young people and not only emboldened me as a performer but nurtured me into a workshop facilitator.
Can you tell us about your training and had you always wanted an acting career?
I didn’t train in the traditional sense. I went to university and did a theatre studies degree with the idea that I’d graduate and try to get into drama therapy. I always loved acting and as a kid would have loved to be an actor but I never really saw that on the cards for me. Once I started acting professionally, I ended up just training on the job really and taking classes and courses that were affordable while juggling other jobs. Part time courses and young companies are amazing for anyone out there who wants to hone their craft in a more financially viable way.
Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch?
I think This Is Us is one of the best and most beautifully written TV shows ever! I had to stop watching for a while because it just made me so emotional but I’m back on it and watching obsessively again. In terms of British TV, We Are Lady Parts and Dreaming Whilst Black are some of my favourite shows to come out of the last year.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
Honestly, nothing makes me happier than good conversation with good people so most spare moments I get I try to connect with my loved ones. I also love cooking, I’m such a foodie that I love the eating part but just spending a few hours in the kitchen can completely turn around any bad mood for me. It’s my me-time.
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young actor starting out?
Some of the best advice I’ve been given over the years is to advocate for myself. Not everyone is going to believe in me, listen to me or advocate for me so I have to do those things for myself. I have to trust myself and believe I deserve to show up for myself the way I try to for others. I think that’s been a really important thing for me to learn in life, not just in work.
A piece of advice I would give to any young actor, particularly those from marginalised communities, is that there is a first time for everything. Just because you don’t see it, or don’t see it very often or authentically, doesn’t mean you can’t be it.
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