A/V Room









Chicken Tikka Masala - Chris Bisson interview

Interview by: Veronica Blake

CHICKEN Tikka Masala follows the fortunes of the Chopra family, of Preston, as they arrange for their only son Jimi (Chris Bisson) to become engaged to Simran, a pretty, well-educated girl from a respectable Indian family.

Simran is perfect in every way but there's one major problem, Jimi is in love with someone else... his boyfriend Jack!

Here, IndieLondon's Veronica Blake talks exclusively to Chris about the film and his career so far...

Q. Chris you’ve been incredibly busy. You’re currently touring with Kiss Me Kate. Your film Chicken Tikka Masala is about to released and you’re also appearing in Where the Heart Is and Shameless. How do like to relax when you have a free moment?
I’m pretty old fashioned for a 24-year-old. I like to play a round of golf, to potter around the garden, and visit markets. There’s this great mixture of people in Camden. This eclectic mix of nutters, myself included. When Keith Duffy first came over to work on Corrie we liked to visit the market, looking for retro clothes, or go to Cottons for dinner. Few people realise that I’m West Indian and my parents are from Trinidad.
Many people think I’m Hindi or Sikh, come from India and I’m always being sent scripts which feature Asian characters, but my family are from Trinidad, so I was raised on peas 'n rice and curried goat.
So whenever I’m in Camden I love to go to one of the reallly good West Indian restaurants, such as the Mango Room or Cottons, which has a nice vibe when the music kicks in late at night.

Q. How did you get into acting? Did you attend stage school, appear in school plays?
No, I never did any of that. I was a very shy and retiring child, very quiet. Never knew what to say to people. I completely fell into it by chance. I know I don’t sound it, but I am actually very shy still. I got offered a job on telly when I was 12 and started from there. My dad very kindly volunteered me to be in a fashion show that my auntie was doing, so I got an agent as a result of that.
I really didn't want to be in the fashion show. I was so shy. The worst thing you could have asked me to do was to walk down a catwalk in front of an audience with music pumping out.
I hated the idea. But dad volunteered me because they needed another kid to take part. I’m one of those people who walks with my feet pointed inwards, so I had to straighten them. So that’s how it happened, and that’s why I’m in sunny Cardiff today.

Q. Are you ambitious?
No not at all. I’ve given up acting before, but people keep offering me jobs. I just do whatever feels natural in my life. I don’t have any strategy or masterplan to go to Hollywood.
I read the scripts which people send to me and I decide what I want to do, I do what feels right. I live organically really.
I do this acting which is all a bit strange and go off and do all my parties in London. But then I can’t wait to get back and potter round my garden, and check how my plants are doing. I feel like I’m fighting a constant battle to go home. That’s all I seem to want to do in my life is want to go home.

Q. Your new film, Chicken Tikka Masala, looks like it was a lot of fun. What was it like working with Saeed Jaffrey?
I’ve worked with Saeed before. He played my dad in Coronation St. In fact, Saeed, bless his cotton socks, said to me one day when we were filming ‘When did I first work with you?’ I said Saeed you played my dad on Coronation St. for a year!
He was great to work with, Saeed, very funny. Perhaps his memory was somewhat clouded by the Chardonnay. He loves a glass of vino and loves to talk. He’s got so many interesting stories to tell.
He’s done so much stuff and been so many interesting places. Saeed’s great. He blesses the camera before each take. I’m not sure what religion he is, but he always raises his hand and does a cross sign before each take.

Q. Chicken Tikka crosses the stereotypical racial and gender barriers in how it portrays not only Asian culture but also homosexuality?
It treats the gay relationship in a very organic way. It’s not graphic, not hammered home, never played. It’s just a normal relationship/ friendship. To do justice to my gay friends. I played a gay part in Shameless, but I’ve never played a big Queen. Unless the role requires it. It’s refreshing to play to see gay characters as normal people. Which is what they are.

Q. You’ve played gay characters and portrayed them so well in both Shameless and Chicken Tikka Masala. Do you get chatted up by gay men when you go out in Manchester or Soho?
Nobody presumes I’m gay. Not at all. It’s just a character isn't it? It’s just a job, it’s work.

Q. When you go home after a day filming, what would you rustle up in the kitchen? A Chicken Tikka? What’s your favourite dish?
I’m quite a good cook actually when I apply myself to it. I just don’t tend to cook often - I never seem to have the time. Especially as I’m single, I tend to go to dinner a lot. Cooking for one’s no fun is it?
I don’t tend to cook from recipie books, though I’ve got to say Jamie Oliver’s fish pie is the best fish pie on the planet.
I love spicy food. I was brought up on West Indian food and I love it. I grew up in Mancester, and one of the few places where you can actually buy decent West Indian food is on Moss Side.
So I always pop into the local cafes on the way to and from work, for some curry or stew or roti. I just love spices. When I shop, I buy lots of spices and think how I’m going to put them together afterwards.

Q. How do you switch off after a day on set?
. I like to play golf, which is a fairly organic thing to do. I turn my mobile off, meet a few friends and go for a walk round the countryside and hit a ball as you go round.
I like pottering round my garden and going to garden centres. I must be one of the few 24-year-old lads who loves visiting garden centres. I say to me mates, ‘do you want to come to the garden centre?' But none of them want to. They say ‘you must be joking!’.

Q. Are you currently dating?
I’m open to offers at the moment. Only very solid, well thought out proposals. I tend not to get into relationships unless I see a future in it. Which means that I actually spend a lot of time being single.
I see my mates dating this girl, then another, but I just don’t see the point. I may as well be single, maybe I’m odd.
That whole celebrity lifestyle doesn't lend itself very well to single actors in my position. It’s very difficult to find someone.
Then when you do find them, if they don’t work in the industry it can be very difficult because I’m away working a lot. It’s hard to actually spend enough time with someone to build up that sort of trust and that relationship.
For me, to be away working all the time, doing Kiss Me Kate with loads of young dancers. When you’re filming away and have to phone home to say you’re not coming home tonight, I’ve got to stay, you need someone who understands all those aspects of your life. It can be tricky.
I’m totally faithful once I’m committed, that’s why I wouldn't get into a relationship unless I was going to be committed. When I’m in, I’m in.

Q. Do you come from a traditional family. Will they arrange a marriage for you like your character Jimi in Chicken Tikka Masala?
No, I’m Catholic. My parents are from Trinidad, so my culture is West Indian. Rice 'n Peas. It’s funny when I’m in Italy people tend to think I’m Italian. Or Greece, they think I’m Greek.

Q. So are you stereotyped?
Yes it can be very difficult. People only send you scripts if they’ve got an Asian character. And I’m Chris from Manchester I don’t see why I can’t play any of these parts.
And it really does narrow down the amount of parts that you get offered, or scripts which you get sent.
It can be incredibly frustrating. People have this common perception that because you play Asian parts, you must have an Asian heritage and background and culture. That I just be Punjabi. Everything that you see on screen is something that I’ve learnt. Be it Punjabi I’ve spoken, or Muslim customs. I’ve learnt it. That’s what I do. I make people believe things which aren't true.

Q. What would be your dream role or director?
Kiss Me Kate has been a dream role for me, working on a musical. Because that’s facing my fears, as it’s something I’ve been scared of. So that’s been absolutely great, and it’s lovely to be back in the theatre.
So in some ways that’s a real milestone in my career. I love playing gangsters and baddies. I always get sent nice characters, all nicey nicey scripts. And I really need to start playing against type.
It’s much more interesting. I’d love to work with Tarantino, that would be fantastic. It’s just the freedom which the actors have and the way that he shoots, it’s interesting.
I’ve always wanted to play a Dubliner, North Side Dub. A Dublin scally. I just love the Irish accent. I’ve got some family in Ireland. My stepdad’s sister lives there.
One of my best mate’s, Keith Duffy, is Irish. Actually, the whole Dublin thing comes from Keith Duffy. When he first came to do Coronation St. He came to live at my house while flat-hunting. So my accent is a replica of Keith’s. I go to Ireland a lot, I love it.

Q. So did you lead Keith astray? Show him the Manchester night life?
There’s no leading Keith Duffy astray. He can do it very well on his own. He’s Irish and always gong to find a pub. He wasn't messy, he was quite tidy. Probably because his wife, Lisa, has whipped him into line over the years, so he knows better.

Q. How was the former Boyzone star on set?
He was great. It was hard work for him at first. We’d sit up, have a bottle of wine, and go through all of his scenes, work on them together. All credit to him. He knew what he had to do, he knew what the problems were. He knew what people were going to say about. ’Ah yeh he’s from Boyzone and trying to be an actor’. And he knuckled down and did some serious work.
He’s a natural, he’s a showman. He loves it.

Q. You’re currently single. What qualities are you drawn to in a woman?
She has to be relaxed and easy going. Accommodating and has to have a sense of humour. Funny and witty. Has to be able to have a laugh. She has to be my best mate, got to be a bit daft as well. She does’nt have to be a beauty. And not an actress. Oh God no, I tend to stay away from actresses. They make great friends, but they’re all generally a bit potty.

Q. Tell me about your new film, Chicken Tikka Masala?
I play Jimi the only son of an Asian family who are trying to arrange a marriage with a pretty girl from a respectable Indian family. However they don’t realise that he is gay and in love with another man.
He resorts to desperate measures to avoid the arranged marriage without incurring the wrath of his traditional parents. It’s a comedy of errors, examining relationships and love that rise above issues of culture, age and sexuality and see no boundaries.
They sent me the script, and I liked it and said yes. I had some free time before I started shooting Shameless.

Q. How did you feel about playing a gay character?
I’m an actor. I make people believe things that aren't true. That’s what I do for a living, so I had no qualms about playing a gay character.
Thing is when you’re straight, kissing a bloke, it’s not nice for me. As an actor, you put yourself through all sorts of things. It’s just a part.
If I had to do graphic scenes I would have to think about if I wanted to put myself through that. Playing a gay is no different from playing any other character. It’s just one of his traits.

Q. What has been your favourite role so far?
My favourite role so far is the character I’m playing at the moment – Gangster No 1 in Kiss Me Kate.
I just love doing the song – Brush Up Your Shakespeare. I’ve always been scared of singing and dancing. So I’m really facing my fears by doing a musical. I just love it. I’m a proper show off. We’re touring with it, and currently at the Millennium Theatre in Cardiff. I’m also appearing in the TV series, Where The Heart Is.

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z