Twenty8k – Parminder Nagra interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
PARMINDER Nagra talks about making gritty British thriller Twenty8k, returning to England to make the film and becoming a little star-struck at the prospect of sharing scenes with Stephen Dillane.
She also talks about her time on ER, especially during the final episodes, and what it was like to meet Anthony Edwards and share a scene with George Clooney upon his return.
Q. What did you like about playing Deeva in Twenty8k?
Parminder Nagra: I just love that she has this real strength about her and a real tenacity. She doesn’t really let anything phase her even though, really, she gets herself into some quite sticky situations. She just keeps going. I loved being able to play someone like that. She’s unsure about the situation but she didn’t really seem too unsure about herself, which is what I’ve played a lot more of in the past. So, it was nice to be able to make concrete decisions and go with it.
Q. Is it rare to find such a strong role for a female protagonist within a crime thriller like this as well?
Parminder Nagra: I know. And also something that’s written by Paul Abbott and Jimmy Dowdall is a good opportunity and I just wanted to be a part of that and experience that to know what it’s like. I’m glad I got to do that with this movie.
Q. Did you meet Paul Abbott?
Parminder Nagra: I did meet him but I actually ended up meeting him in LA, which is just bizarre because I was doing the film in the East End. He was working on Shameless at the time as well, because they’re doing the American Shameless. So, those guys are just so incredibly busy all the time. I would carry on working with that man all day long. He just writes really well and he writes dialogue that doesn’t have unnecessary things that don’t need to be said, which I like. I think he just really gets it.
Q. The film was shot at a time where London is changing and attempts to reflect that. Was that something that appealed to you about it?
Parminder Nagra: Yeah, at the moment it looks to me like a lot of pockets of London are like one huge building site [laughs]! I didn’t even realise about Crossrail! But the movie obviously addresses that, especially with the Olympics going on. But obviously it takes a slightly darker look at it all. The film is about corruption, greed and gangs and unfortunately some innocent people get caught up in all of that.
Q. How challenging was the shoot? The film looks incredibly stylish but I can imagine it was done on quite a low budget?
Parminder Nagra: It was. It was on an incredibly low budget and I guess the places they saved their money was so they could get these expansive shots of London. I have to say when I saw them I went: “Wow!” I don’t feel like we see that too often, especially those huge aerial shots. They almost became like another character in the movie and it’s pretty stunning actually. It’s a fantastic city, London… not a quaint little town. There’s a real underbelly of stuff that’s going on too.
Q. You’re surrounded by a pretty great cast too. Was that another part of the appeal?
Parminder Nagra: When they told me who else was going to be involved, I was like ‘God’. Jonas, of course, I’ve seen from Robin Hood. But he turned up looking much beefier! I was like: “Oh my God!” And Nichola Burley, who I think is just an incredible actress, and Kierston Wareing… she has huge, huge range. There’s also Kaya [Scodelario] and Michael Socha, who is incredibly funny and smart and fantastic. And then Stephen Dillane, who kind of scared me when I first met him, to be honest with you! He’s just such an amazing actor and it was partly that… the admiration for somebody like that slightly unnerved me. But then I couldn’t wait to have a scene with him. We don’t have a tonne of scenes together but I was grateful for those we did.
Q. Do you still get star-struck around people?
Parminder Nagra: Yeah and when you admire people in that way it becomes even more difficult, especially if you’re acting with them because the pressure is on. You either rise up to it or you get crushed. Hopefully, it worked on me this time.
Q. And on the other hand you have the newcomer, Sebastian Nanena, playing your younger brother. Did you feel protective towards him at all?
Parminder Nagra: Do you know, the only times I’d realise that this was his first thing was when he’d crack up in between takes. He’d do it so well when he was ‘on’ and he’s really young. But it was real the stuff coming from him. He just got stuck in and did such a great job. I don’t feel like we had to hold his hand in any particular way or overly explain anything. I hate doing that anyway as an actor. I really just want to be able to get to the set and have a good experience. If you’ve done your homework and learned your lines, then you should just be able to play off of them rather than dictate what the other person should be doing. Blocking-wise, sometimes, you have to. If something is better said in a more intimate fashion, then yes, but I just hate meddling with that sort of thing. If the person’s could, you should just let them get on with it.
Q. How did you become involved with Twenty8k?
Parminder Nagra: It was through normal channels. The producers sent the script to my agent and they sent it to me, so I read it, saw Paul Abbott and Jimmy Dowdall’s name on it and I felt like I could do something with it. It was actually my first job back after having my son… this urban, dark, gritty thriller. It was just the chance to do something different. I needed to as well after having been in a series for six years. It’s so bizarre, even though people know you’re an actor they just start to think you can’t do anything else. So, it was nice to just be able to go and do something like that.
Q. I loved ER…
Parminder Nagra:* I loved it too [laughs].
Q. I was so sad when it came to an end. It’s one of the few shows that managed to end while it was still very much on top…
Parminder Nagra: It’s funny because I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’d go back and do that show. And I think the rest of the cast would as well.
Q. Do you still stay in touch with many of them?
Parminder Nagra: I do. I actually bumped into Goran [Visnjic] today randomly. I couldn’t believe I saw him in London. But we are still in touch and we just had dinner a few weeks ago, a bunch of us. We became very close and even though we might not see each other every week it ends up being… you see one person or another at least once a month.
Q. You were on stage for a charity event with Scott Grimes recently as well, weren’t you?
Parminder Nagra: I was! That was so random! I got asked to be part of a karaoke event. And no one’s even heard me sing, weirdly. My first ever job I was actually singing but nobody really remembers that. But it was for kids in Africa, raising money for schools over there. It was Unicef. And I said ‘yes’ but it was on the contingency that Scott did it, or if I could persuade Scott to do it with me because he’s such an incredible musician and singer. He’s just phenomenal. I thought that at least if I faltered he would take over. Luckily for me, he agreed to do it and we dueted on Walking in Memphis. He sings that song a lot and I like that song so I thought it would be a good little mix. It was really good fun. It was an amazing band.
I also got to meet some other fantastic people that were there. Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell did a duet. Tom Hanks’ was there with his wife… I was like: “Really?!! Now I have to go up?” And there was this actor called Wayne Brady, who is an amazing singer… firstly, he was late coming to this thing but then went on before us and I was like: “Fantastic! Now we have to follow Wayne Brady.” But people like Heidi Klum… it was a crazy, crazy night. But we raised something like over $400,000. It was a lot of fun and well worth it.
Q. Is that one of the perks of being famous, being asked to do something like that?
Parminder Nagra: Yeah, and like I said it just seemed like such a random thing… asking me to do it! I don’t know quite how that happened really but I’m glad they did.
Q. What was it like being in those final episodes of ER? Was it emotional? It was certainly emotional to watch…
Parminder Nagra: It was really… I was also heavily pregnant at the time as well. So, it was emotional. You could see it wrapping up. I don’t think any of us… I didn’t want it to end, I really didn’t. I knew I was going to really miss these people. Luckily, I’m still in touch with most of them. But it was also buzzy. Even more so, we were trying to do the best work that we could and make it really special and all those things.
Q. What was it like seeing other members of the cast coming back, such as Anthony Edwards and George Clooney? Were you around for both of them?
Parminder Nagra: [Laughs] Anthony Edwards was really nice. He actually said thank you for carrying it on and that was really… I sort of felt like a freshman who had graduated, like I’d gone through this college of ER. I honestly felt like that and here was one of the professors saying: “Job well done, we give you our seal of approval.” Because they were the guys that started it.
And then when Clooney came back [laughs] Linda Cardellini and I actually had a scene with him and I didn’t realise but obviously we couldn’t stop smiling because we were looking at George Clooney as opposed to Doug Ross. We thought we were being quite normal and quite cool but the director came out and said: “Girls, can you just not smile as much.” We were like: “OK.” But then when he walked off, we were like: “Really? Do we need to have had that note because we’ve been so normal, it’s fine!” We then watched the episode back and I was like: “That was us toning it down!?” We were smiling so obviously at the fact that this was just a stunning man standing before us. But what can you do? He’s so charismatic and what you see is what you get. He’s just a really charming, honest, nice man.
Q. You’re doing Psych now aren’t you?
Parminder Nagra: Yeah, I’m playing Dule Hill’s love interest and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s totally different and a breath of fresh air. It’s been a good change for me.
Q. Were you disappointed that Alcatraz got cancelled?
Parminder Nagra: I feel like I would love to have had the opportunity to close that show and at least deliver some explanation of what was going on. But unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of the networks and people watching.
Q. Did you know what was going on?
Parminder Nagra: I know a little bit but if I tried to explain any of it to you, honestly, it’s so complicated [laughs]. But there were some things I really didn’t want to hear because it was really good stuff and I was like: “I don’t want you to tell me that now it’s ended! If it had continued, then great. But…” You don’t want to hear you were going to do interesting stuff and it’s not happening because it’s not fair [laughs].