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West Is West - Aqib Khan interview

Aqib Khan in West Is West

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AQIB Khan talks about getting his big acting break on West Is West, the sequel to East Is East, and travelling around the world with the film.

He also talks about his audition process, his hopes for his acting career now that he has caught the bug and why he’s keen to impress on his own merits rather than trying to be like someone else…

Q. How are you handling signing posters and seeing your face on them?
Aqib Khan: It’s alright. It beats school!

Q. What was your audition?
Aqib Khan: It was the swearing in Punjabi scene, when we come back from the police station.

Q. How did you come to audition for the part?
Aqib Khan: My head of year gave me an audition slip. I’d never done acting before, or even thought about it… it was a whole different thing. But he thought I should go and so I then asked my best friend and he said [puts on a dumb voice]: “Yeah, yeah, go and be a movie star!” My family also said I should give it a shot. I was the last guy in out of 200 in Leeds – there were more around Manchester and London and supposedly they were all from drama schools. But I didn’t think about that. I just did my thing and they rang back a week later telling me to go to London. I told my mate and he was over the moon. My family were like: “Chill… you haven’t got it yet.” But I went down and I got it.

Q. Did you do anything to celebrate?
Aqib Khan: Well, they rang a week after I did the audition again and I was just stood in the back garden with my baby sister and there was a phone call and someone picked up and then everyone started screaming. My whole family were there as well, which was coincidental.

Q. Is your family in any way similar to the Khans in the film?
Aqib Khan: [Laughs] No! Well, my mother’s the authoritarian! She’s George Khan! But we get along well. I mean every family has there ups and downs but not as bad as that!

Q. What surprised you most about being on a film set? Was it like you imagined it?
Aqib Khan: I couldn’t imagine anything because I’d never done it before. It was just wonderful. I mean waking up at 5am… it was the best reason for waking up at 5am. They became like family to me after a bit. But that’s what made it so comfortable. I mean, working with legends like Om Puri normally would make you nervous but because he’s such a good person he made me look forward to everything and made me comfortable to be myself.

Q. I gather he also felt very paternal towards you on set. Did you look up to him in the same way?
Aqib Khan: No, I was just watching him and I learned something every single day – the way he conducted himself and the way he just woke up, after being half asleep, and he was able to turn it on just like that. I tried to do the same thing but it didn’t work!

Q. Has it made you want to be an actor?
Aqib Khan: Yes, 100%. Before West Is West I was worried about what I was going to do in life but this has come along and if I said I wanted to be a Hollywood star when I was younger, I’d have been described as a nutter. But I’m on the road…

Q. Will you go to drama school?
Aqib Khan: If I was going to continue doing this, I think I’d do it through first-hand experience. I think that would be much better. I have an agent now and have been offered a few roles. So, this isn’t just a fluke… which I thought it was.

Q. Have you got anything you can talk about coming up?
Aqib Khan: No, I can’t talk about anything right now [laughs]. I’m stalling until the film comes out but it would be good for my CV, with some big stars in it as well.

Q. Was it challenging filming in India and being away from your family for so long?
Aqib Khan: Yeah, my mum and my uncle were supposed to come but they had visa problems. I mean, I couldn’t even get there… I mean, I nearly didn’t get there. As soon as I got there I had to shoot on the first day. So, I was thrown in at the deep end. It was my first day of shooting, I’d never done any rehearsals, I had a half an hour to rehearse, so I didn’t because I didn’t really know what to do. So, I thought let’s just film. It was boring without the camera being there.

Q. Do you almost see this role as being in your destiny, as you were often mistaken as ‘that kid from East Is East’ when you were younger?
Aqib Khan: Yeah, once some guy said: “You look like that kid from East Is East…” I had a duffel coat with fur on it, and it was raining, and he said that to me as I walked past him. And now five or six years later I’m actually playing him. I don’t remember who that kid was, but he’d be like: “Oh my God!”

Q. Did you speak to the writer, Ayub Khan-Din at all about getting into character?
Aqib Khan: I didn’t meet him until afterwards. The first time I spoke to him was in Toronto when he rang Leslee [Udwin, producer] and he said to me: “Hi Aqib, I’d just like to say you got my character spot on.” And that was him as well… it was an autobiography. So, that was the biggest compliment I could have received for this film. Forget critics and stuff… I was playing him. After he said that it was a massive boost for me. I was like: “Wow!” I was doing press junkets as well and I was a bit dazed afterwards.

Q. Do you think you would have felt more pressure if you’d met him earlier?
Aqib Khan: Yeah, but there was pressure from the start. I mean, this was the sequel to East Is East, Om Puri, Jimi Mistry, all these people. So, I just tried not to think about it and remain confident.

Q. What’s it like touring the festivals like Berlin and Toronto? Have you been able to meet people that you’ve maybe idolised?
Aqib Khan: No, I didn’t meet many people. When I was in Toronto, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez were there. And who’s that bloke? George Clooney… he was there. There were loads of actors. But these were people I’d just heard of. I’d never seen them really because I wasn’t into film much growing up… just the funny ones like The Hangover, Harold and Kumar and TV. So, films… I didn’t really idolise film stars that much but now I might start to [laughs]. Who knows… But I wouldn’t want to be like anybody. I mean, even in football, I wouldn’t want to be like someone. I’d have my own attributes and then see if they’re good enough to get me recognised or something. I’m a bit vain like that.

Q. What’s your favourite abiding memory of the whole experience?
Aqib Khan: There’s so many. Off-set, on-set… there’s not one particular thing, it’s the whole thing. Even now, the red carpets, these press junkets. These are massive experiences. It was a bit stressful in India because I didn’t have my family there. But that only lasted for a couple of days because then I made a new family. The only person I missed was my baby sister.

Read our review of West Is West

Read our interview with Om Puri