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BAFTA TV Sessions 2021: Leading Actor

7 June 2021

Rhianna Dhillon: Hello I'm Rhianna Dhillon and this is the BAFTA Television Sessions Leading Actor panel supported by TCL Mobile for the second consecutive year and we're very appreciative of their continued support and are delighted to welcome some of their special guests today. 

Welcome also to the media who are attending today's session. This particular one might look a little bit different to the other media Q&A panels which have been taking place this week because it's recorded in collaboration with BAFTA Television: The Sessions, a virtual series which celebrates the nominees from this year's Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and the British Academy Craft Awards. 

We're pre recording today's session for the benefit of the media in attendance. It will be broadcast on BAFTA’s channels at 8:00 PM on Friday 4th June, and we'd like to remind everyone here today that all content from this session is strictly embargoed until Friday, 4th June at 8:00 PM, when this broadcast has concluded. For the media, this content is intended to complement your other media Q&A and to provide you coverage for Friday and Saturday's papers and broadcast shows ahead of the ceremony. And we'd like to reassure the media that a clean feed will also be provided via the FTP site. As with all of the other media sessions.

Now for a bit of housekeeping, if you have a question, please use the Zoom Q&A function at the bottom of your screen and we'll come to these in the second half of the session. If you're a member of the press, please state your name and publication. Closed captioning is available now, which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen via the CC button, and you can also follow a live transcript of the event via the link in the chat. We've got a short trailer from TCL Mobile to kick off today's panel. Here we go. 

[Trailer plays]

And now for a final introduction for broadcast purposes before I welcome our panel. 

Hi I'm Rhianna Dhillon and welcome to the BAFTA Television Sessions Leading Actor supported by TCL Mobile who are for the second year supporting the TV Sessions and we're very grateful to them for their continued support. Joining us we have Paul Mescal, Shaun Pares and Waleed Zuaiter. Hello.

Paul Mescal: Hello!

RD: Hey. It's so great to see you all. 

Shaun Parkes: Oh yes hello. 

RD: There he is. Oh, congratulations to all of you. 

Waleed Zuaiter: Thank you. 

SP: Thank you very much. 

RD: I can't wait to get started. Paapa Essiedu will be joining us shortly, he's been filming this evening and John Boyega and Josh O’Connor sadly can't be with us today due to work scheduling, but we're gonna have a great chat. Uhm, let's dive straight in Shaun you're in a very, very cool South London gallery right now I can see. I want to talk to you--

SP: I am. 

RD: It looks amazing--I want to talk to you about the real Frank's daughter, Lenora you met and she told you his story. What in 2008 or something? 

SP: That's right, that's right. I'm sorry. 

RD: Yeah, so so well. Just what happened in those 12 years that meant you ended up playing him?

SP: Well, I petitioned my local council. Now what's happened is is that basically you know what, you'd have to say was building up to this. Certainly actors like myself and you know, just actors around the world, really. But certainly in this country there are loads of untold stories about this country, the Americans you know and  a lot of the the rest of the world you talk to them about English culture and they know from the news, but in terms of our history they can't pick too many things to point at, you know? So a role like this comes along, Lenora bless her, she's telling me about her father twelve years ago, thirteen years ago and I knew at the time this was a story that needed to be told. You know, it's a true London story and I love those, I love when they're real. I love when they have heart and soul. I love when there's a message. 

You know, and this was one of those stories, so it was only a matter of time. I also, as I said to her a couple of months ago between you and me, said to her that 

I'm going to play that role one day. That's certainly what I was thinking in my head when she told me she's telling me the story and I'm thinking, yeah, good, that's me, that's gonna be me. Seriously, you know. So years later when it turned up, you know it's one of those things where the signs the signal had been put out and it turned up in my life and I'm very honored and very lucky and I hope we see more London stories. You know, more English stories for the world to look at and make up their own mind. 

RD: What if Lenora had said no to you playing her dad? 

SP: Well, fortunately, well, that's when you realize fortunately, you know we had a good time twelve years ago. This is why be careful you know, when you're when you're on the way up you be careful who you talk to and how you talk to them, 'cause fortunately we did get on and I got a lovely photograph from her and her mother on day one of shooting, you know one of those kind of like, you know, good luck kind of things, as if I wasn't under pressure already! But no, it was lovely. It's it's been a lovely kind of completion of of that tale, as it were, you know. 

RD: And speaking of personal projects, Waleed, how much did Baghdad Central speak to you when you first heard about it? 

WZ: Very, very personal. Similar to Sean. It was one of those things where all the stars were connecting but in a weird way, because when I first got the the audition I was just very skeptical, I just felt like it was going to be another stereotype Middle Eastern role and Western, you know, media and I think I’d been pretty jaded at the time and then also I I had just lost my father like about three months before. So I was really not in a in a good place and had a very negative filter, but once I kind of removed that filter and and just really, you know, looked at the role and what was really behind it. It was everything that I was looking for. And you know I lived in Kuwait when Iraq invaded, so I was at 19 years old and I had the experience of living through a war and through an invasion, and so it was very personal to me, you know, and it was something that kind of catapulted my adulthood. So those are experiences you just never really forget and I just had a feeling like once I kind of, you know, removed that filter that you know nobody else can play this role. It's well, like I was, I was born to play this role, that was the feeling. So yeah, very, very personal. 

RD: How did you prepare mentally to return to a war zone even though of course it wasn't a real one, but it was, it was. 

WZ: Well, unfortunately the war is still going on. So it was, I mean, all we had to really do is turn on the TV or just dig into what's happening in Iraq and as as late as January 2020 when when we premiered at the BFI Film Festival, you know before COVID, demonstrations were breaking out at a, you know, accelerated pace and so we were like wow, this story really needs to get out so that people understand the roots of what we're currently seeing today, and yeah I mean so it was something that was very current. It was like a period piece that was in within our lifetime and just very, you know, in terms of preparation, I think a lot of it was just really connecting with the material. The writer who wrote the novel which the series is based on, Elliott Colla, is just a remarkable human being and his wife is Iraqi and he based my character really on his father in law. There's a lot of of Khafaji in his father in law, so it was very personal to him too and we got to meet and that just made it such an organic process. And then Steven Bouchard, who's an incredible writer just elevated everything. And so much of it was just something you know, I just felt in the writing and in the nuance there were choices that I would make as the character, but also as Waleed, so it just felt very, very natural and then and then most of it was just about connecting with this incredible cast that we had. Really incredible cast. Our directors were phenomenal. Uhm, and it was just a real pleasure, as hard work as it was it was so much fun every day. 

RD: Paul, I want to come to you and you know I think the the the best thing about Normal People, Normal People is just how ordinary they are and yet extraordinary. Tell me about what really spoke to you about Connell the very first time you read the script. 

PM: Yeah, I think from the first couple of pages of--I read the novel just as the audition came in, and it's kind of one of those pieces of source material that I became incredibly scared of straight away because it was very identifiable and I think when something is identifiable you kind of recognize yourself within it and go like oh if I don't get this then maybe this, uh this career isn't for me and things like that, but I I think it's because I identify with him, I identify with the situations he's been in and I also see my friends in him. You know, I see people who I love and care about within the kind of capsule of him so it was kind of totally I just recognized the kind of heart and soul of them very quickly.

RD: And your your chemistry with Daisy is essential to us believing in your relationship and the world around you. How much rehearsing did you have to do to develop your relationship? And is there such a thing as rehearsing too much? 

PM: Uhm yeah, I think we we worked with the wonderful director Lenny Abrahamson on the first block and we didn't do a huge amount of say like, uh like standard rehearsal, like we kind of spent about a week together prior to it and talked about the character and would very tentatively touch on scenes and then very quickly run away from it. 

RD: Right? 

PM: But yeah, I think it was more so kind of achance for me and Daisy to meet, see each other. But we we had done a chemistry read before it, so I think there was a kind of understanding that we would work together well and I could not have asked for a  better partner for that show, yeah.

RD: I see that Papa has joined us. Hi, congratulations. 

Paapa Essiedu: Oh yeah, so, so sorry I'm late. Pathetic. 

RD: No, please don't worry. You've been working very hard. 

PE: How's it going? 

RD: Good, uh, we're having a lovely chat. Can I dive straight in with you, are you ready? 

PE: Might as well, right? 

RD: I wanted to ask you about, it must have been really special having Michaela always on set as director, writer, actor. How did that aid your process and understanding of the character and the story? 

PE: Yeah, it's dope. It's obviously dope like as actors often like so much of the the work on--like you do all the preparation work you can before you turn up on set, you know you learn your lines, you kind of come up with ideas, whatever. But I'd say like 60% of the time when you're actually on set you're kind of like what are we actually trying to do here, and like what is the sense of this scene and you know, like everything is so bitty, you know, like it's hard to kind of always have a kind of anchoring in them where you are in the story and what exactly you're trying to do so it's an absolute gift, a dream, to have the kind of brainchild of everything right there beside you. And like Michaela is like look, we all know what we know about Michaela, she's an extraordinary person but like she's got a huge appetite for collaboration and for growing a story as as we go so you know, there's a story that's on the page, there's a story that you know we did in the read through, but that's a very different story to what we actually came up with on set and then even more different to what TXed on television. It was an ongoing process, but having her it kind of just like allows those moments when you really, really are like what is happening here?

RD: How often did that happen? 

PE: How often? 

RD: Yeah.

PE: No, I I mean to be fair, I don't know if that's more, if that's down to my own insufficiencies or just like the everyday struggles of an actor, but like I mean, it happens a lot. You know, especially I May Destroy You. It's not like a traditional format. it's not unnecessarily a linear timeline, so it jumps about a lot and the characters have very intense you know hours and then like time passes and you know we have to fill in the in between bits and yeah, that's partly our job, but it's great to have someone who's at least got an overarching idea of what she's trying to achieve. 

RD: Now I've met Ita O'Brien, the movement and intimacy coordinator, who both you and Paul, you both worked with her, and I know how incredible she is. Tell us about the difference it made to your performance having her on set. Paul?

PM: Yeah, I like I suppose I find it hard to kind of preface it with I had no understanding of what it was to work on a set, let alone like in an intimate capacity that Normal People definitely has within the story, so it's kind of like the standard in which I just associate is normal now, which I think is actually really healthy and 'cause I I just can't imagine that process without a very clear professional voice who is totally focused on that one, like that one part of the show and it kind of allows everyone else more freedom. It allows me and Daisy to have a direct line to her and Lenny and I think it just opens up more capacity for conversation. I think there's probably a stereotype that like intimacy coordinators is like oh, it's not  fuckin’ real or fresh or anything like that. And that's actually not what you're chasing in those situations or definitely like you're actually looking for to begin those scenes from a place of comfort and be as confident as you can be within that. I think Ita was just so wonderful and and intuitive with how me and Daisy liked to work. So I just, I hope, and I think we are seeing it becoming a more steadfast position on sets now. I think it's it's vital to be honest. 

RD: Yeah, Papa was was your experience similar? 

PE: Yeah, totally I I couldn't agree more if I’m honest like, you know it's a commonly held misconception that sex scenes are sexy or like, you know fun or exciting or whatever. They're not. They're like, they're, so awkward and like there's so much other thinking going on. You know you're concerned about what you look like, what you're doing, what the other person looks like, what they're doing, whether you feel comfortable, if they feel comfortable and I feel like without an intimacy coordinator, you're really kind of like heading out into the desert and hoping you don't starve. You know, like it's, it's wonderful to have someone whose total focus is on protecting that space. And like just like, yeah, it's just like it kind of, like Paul says, it's not about interrupting the spontaneity, or how organic the process is. It's about like ring-fencing an area for you to feel safe to kind of play, and to do the scene you know, so you can actually focus on what the scene that is written down is, and you can focus on the other person as a character  'cause you're not worrying about whether they're feeling uncomfortable or whether you're feeling uncomfortable, you know, so it's just that sets the rules in a really clear way that allows you to feel more relaxed and therefore makes it just for me way easier to do the job. 'cause I've I've had instances before where we haven't been given that kind of space and like there's so much kind of like subconscious communication that you're hoping is happening, but you don't want to be misinterpreted or whatever you know so yeah. It’s amazing. She's like a completely unique personality, she's got a fantastic way of working and of putting people at ease and she like gets involved herself so you're never gonna feel like an idiot 'cause she's gonna make an example of herself before before you'll have to. 

RD: Shaun, I want to come to you. There's such a great ensemble cast in Mangrove. What does working as an ensemble add to your performance as an individual? 

SP: Well, well I guess it depends on the ensemble, but again with Mangrove specifically, we, you know what? Sometimes you just you know what needs to be done. 

And no one really needs to tell you. And I, I think everybody on that set knew what needed to be done and didn't really have to be told. Sometimes you have to be dragged up. You might be tired that day or emotional but you know, great ensemble cast, but we hardly ever really spoke to each other as ourselves. 

RD: Really?

SP: I mean, we did. We did. But that said, we spent so long, you know, as those characters meaning you know, in the court scenes, you know we were sat in those seats for so long that pretty much all day we hardly ever left those seats. So you know, and there wasn't really time for coming out of character, if you like. There wasn't time for for for too many jokes. It wasn't really a jokey piece and everybody understood that. So everybody kind of respected the piece. So as an ensemble, as I say, everybody knew what needed to be done and and did it. And just in case we didn't, Steve was there to remind us. So that was great 'cause every now and again you do you do need you do need someone to remind you and yeah it was amazing to have that focus. You know, I'm I'm sure for for all of these shows, it's the focus. The care and attention to detail that really shines through. When the writing is so clear and obvious that as long as you don't get in the way it, it will shine through. And I would imagine that's the same with all with all of these pieces, but it it certainly was for us, you know, as an ensemble, and especially when you're doing a true story. It's a true story. I mean, you just don't get in the way. So great ensemble cast, lovely in terms of as I say the intense nature of the piece and lovely to have actors who understand what's required and just get on with it. 

RD: How do you decompress? I mean, all of you do feel free to jump in, but I just you know, all of these roles are so intense actually. I would think if you're kind of playing that character all the day, you know, days at a time, how do you leave that behind if you have a day off or just going to sleep? 

SP: I didn't really have a day off. I didn't. I think I had one day off and so, it's interesting that you asked that because actually, I also lost my father a few years ago, and so these kind of emotions were still--we have to kind of scratch the surface too much, you know before not the Hulk but it's like you're always angry. It's one of those things where, you know, certainly with a role like that, you have to go to certain places but you have to go that far. But unfortunately, you know when we think about loved ones and and we think about the horrors of the planet and whatever else as I say, sometimes it doesn't take too much to be right back there in the emotions. And how do you decompress? By learning the next scene for the next day 'cause there's no time to dwell. There's no time to sit back and go, yeah that was good, that was great and pat each other on the back 'cause you gotta do the same thing again tomorrow, you know, and don't let yourself down. I don't know how the others think, but uh, that's certainly my take on what we were doing. 

RD: Waleed, you were nodding there.

WZ: Yeah, I I had almost the identical experience. I mean I maybe had one day off throughout the whole shoot, but on my off day and we had alternating weekends and then sometimes those were gone because we were traveling and I had to do dialect coaching on the weekends and stunt work so I really didn't have a day off. I didn't have time to meditate like let alone to have a day off and that's usually how I ground myself so it was--and it was trial by fire for me because this was my, let alone like not only my first lead, but my first series regular so it was, and you know, so much of that was the adrenaline that was driving me through it because of the excitement and I didn't even feel like the responsibility, like I was like bring it on, you know, the responsibility. This is what I've always wanted to play and it's a heroic Arab role, so I was like OK, great. My work is cut out, but it it got to the point where and my wife was visiting to witness it but I just got really burnt out and luckily the head executive producer Kate Harwood was visiting Morocco at the time and I told her I said I need a break. 

One of the things that I think I learned in my journey on this was, and I think some of this is also in that anger post my father's death and I think it was like I didn't want to not be honest anymore, I was done trying to please people and it was really like self preservation, but I'm so glad I asked for it because I did get a break because there's, uh, you know, it's like you're you're mirroring what the character is going through and it's to a certain point where it's very helpful but then it it, it becomes counterproductive like I was starting to be angry on set and I remember I actually spoke to the director of the second block, Be, and he was so supportive and I said, listen, I cannot make this afternoon’s scene. I actually said I couldn't make the scenes today. 

This was after I was in the makeup trailer and then he totally respected it and he goes do me a favor, can you show up for this afternoon scene? And I said, yeah, I'm going to go and get some sleep and I'll be here this afternoon so I mean it was very scary, but it was just that's what it was. It was just self-preservation. 

RD: Paul, I want to talk to you about the directing, speaking of directing and blocks. Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie MacDonald are both fantastic directors in their own right. Beautiful Thing is just one of my favorite films of all times, I was so excited to see Hettie on this. Tell us about adjusting to their different styles of directing and the impact that that had on your performance. 

PM: I find, this is probably a cop out, but I find it very hard to remember like the detail of this shift. I think what was useful was, so Lenny directed the first block and at the point in which Hettie entered it was episode seven and I’d played Connell for two and a half months at this point. So it was very-- 

I had gotten comfortable with actually being on a set and being comfortable taking space and not kind of you know, kind of apologizing for your presence all the time, which I find is a really difficult thing to do personally, and I don't know, that was kind of the adjustment period. And once I kind of scary feeling of feeling like, you know I was comfortable with him now Hettie kind of came in-- and that was totally due to the kind of connection that I had with Lenny and Daisy, and it felt very kind of intimate in approach that like notes would be given carefully and quietly and intimately, it wasn't for everybody was for me or Daisy, so I felt confident and safe in that, and Hettie really took the mantle as well and she, like the latter half of the series for Connell is kind of where the wheels start to fall off a bit. And she has like, she worked in the theater as well so she had a really technical approach in certain aspects to unlocking scenes with like the words and I found like with the scene with say the therapist, for example, that really useful that there's certain triggers and once you kind of pull focus to certain sentences you go oh it makes total sense why that's triggering an emotion because of the work that had been previously done in the first six episodes, so it felt really quite seamless. And it's also the thing that the guys have mentioned that kind of level of exhaustion and fatigue and it's kind of like you just get to a point with it where it's like you're prepped, you're ready, you're tired, you're fine, you're safe, you're doing, and I like you kind of remind yourself that you sign up to do this because you have this obligation to yourself to kind of play characters that challenge you and put yourself--I actually I don't speak on behalf of other people, but it's like I enjoy putting myself in a position of discomfort with characters because it allows me to interrogate it in a safe place for me, if that makes sense? So that has nothing to do with the question that you originally asked, but I personally found that their approach is really quite similar in terms of the characters were at the very center of motivating their decisions and that made it quite easy to kind of transition into those. 

RD: I love it when answers go off track. It's the best. Yeah, don't worry. Quickly, like Connell, is a man of simple pleasures, it's not like there are outlandish costumes or wigs to get you into character. So what was like the final part of the process of becoming Connell each time you were on set? 

PM: I talked to Sally about it, Sally Rooney who wrote the book, when I first got the part. I was like--I was talking to her about her adaptation for television and she was like Connell was really hard to write in the first episode because in the book context he doesn't say anything for the first kind of—he says a couple of words here and there. And then I was kind of thinking about that. I was like OK and this is kind of wanky actor talk but I was like OK, if he's not saying a lot, there's lots of references to him kind of making noises, like little ‘hmm’.

RD: Oh the [clears throat]?

PM: Like with those things when you start actually just doing them mechanically. I would kind of do that before because it incites a kind of anxiety for a character like that, it's like their tics and triggers because I feel like he walks around in a very similar body to myself. So it's like finding that kind of

back footed kind of obs--I think he’s a great observer, so it was kind of like stepping back, retreating into to him a little bit and kind of just little tricks like vocal tics and kind of internal rhythms, and so on. I found that really useful. 

RD: That's so interesting. I guess Paapa for you it's completely kind of contrasted because there is so much playfulness in the costumes and the makeup in I May Destroy You. It's been nominated this year and so how was that to kind of find your way to the character of Kwame? How involved you get as well? 

PE: Yeah, great, I mean. We were lucky to work with great artists and designers. We had at Lindsay Moran, Bethany Swan as our makeup designer and costume designer. 

And yeah, I guess for Kwame, like perhaps like, I don't actually walk in as similar a body to Kwame and so like hair, makeup, costume was really useful for me because it helped me kind of that bridge that distance or make that distance towards the character and like for him, particularly, like his clothes are like his armor, they're like another skin, they're like another layer for him. He wears so many different masks and we see them kind of like taken off and put on at various points in in the show, but costume or clothing, fashion is a big part of that for him. You know it helps him feel confident. It helps him feel like he can fly in the face of whatever is put in front of him, and you know, like there's a kind of contrast between that and if you've got something tangible to kind of put on it kind of allows you to be like more vulnerable when you can take it off. You know you can focus on something that's a little bit more raw maybe, or more exposed underneath, you know, so it was good to kind of like make a distance towards something but also useful to kind of like use as a counterpoint for those moments where we see a bit more vulnerability from him. 

RD: Tell us tell us about the importance of capturing those moments of just joy throughout I May Destroy You alongside all of the trauma. 

PE: Yeah, well, I mean like look, there are many uses or many attributes that you know –we tell stories for many reasons you know and I think I May Destroy You, to be fair, I think even when it was pitched, it wasn't pitched as a kind of drama, you know, and it definitely wasn't pitched as a kind of examination or meditation on trauma. It was, you know, a show about many things, but I suppose focusing on 3 central figures who are just young black Brits living in London and coming up against many challenging things in in life, you know? And some of those things are traumatic and difficult and brutal and you know a lot of a lot of the story is about the journey to kind of take that on and move through that. 

But it's also about friendship and it's about love and it's about joy. And you know, I think there is something radical sometimes about seeing that, and especially seeing that from young Black Brits on television in Britain on BBC One. I kind of grew up watching BBC One. I remember I grew up watching it when there was four channels before Channel 5, you know and like it wasn't something that you often saw. There were real kind of like trailblazing shows like Desmonds or whatever but just like you know having the right to kind of live in your own skin and enjoy that and be proud of that and share that, it feels radical, you know, so that was. for us, definitely, completely as important a focus of our attentions as you know, the level of detail that need needed to be attended to for the more traumatic moments. 

RD: And I do love how you are seeing these three young people who are friends. There's no romantic attachments between them.  It feels incredibly authentic. Did you have to work very hard to develop that camaraderie? Was it really, really natural? Did it all just click? That’s what we like to believe, isn't it? 

PE: Yeah, I'm not going to do him dirty like that. You know I would love to say that we're just brilliant actors, you know. And like we actually hate each other and we just made it work for the scenes. But like Michaela and Weruche are wonderful, amazing, inspiring women and just like really easy. I've known Michaela long time, actually I went to drama school with her so we've got a kind of like pre-existing relationship, but I'd never met Weruche until I think the day of our first read through or whatever, but like she is like so much of Terry, you know, so much of the kind of sunshine that kind of shines out of that face that character’s face, is her. You know she's just like a very vivacious person, full of life and humour and she's brilliant, you know? So it just makes your job easier when people are wonderful but also I suppose, to kind of like jump off of what Shaun was saying earlier on there was also a kind of--there was a commitment to what we were doing. You know it was like, yeah, it was like this is still work and like there are some really, really difficult things that we have to investigate through this story and you can choose to kind of like do it cosmetically or you can choose to kind of do it because it looks good or you can choose to really investigate it and dig deep into it and to be able to do that you need to be, you know, surrounded by people who also are committed to doing that, and I think I was very fortunate or we were very fortunate to be surrounded by people who were ready to jump in both feet and get into deep, deep, deep water and not kind of shy away from it. It's a real privilege to find yourself in a room with artists who are willing to do that and do it again, you know, do it, go home, sleep, repeat. You know it's a taxing thing to do, but yeah, we were very fortunate, and you know you're bonded by those experiences as well which then again kind of like feeds into the relationships you're trying to build. So yeah, magical in many ways. 

RD: I've got to go to audience questions now. There are quite a few come through and this is one to all of you. Was there a scene that was particularly challenging or difficult to deliver emotionally or technically? Shan, start with you. 

SP: Uhm, no. I would say every single one of them. 

RD: You had a lot to choose from to be fair.

SP:  Again, it was a very concentrated set up so it's not that it was easy, but it was, it is easier to step off you know from a kind of rock solid place you know and be held there by everybody else and the director and the hair and makeup and the costume and everybody’s wanting you to do well, you know. The way that certain scenes turned up were interesting. There's a couple of scenes where the director says, OK, so this is what it's gonna be and you didn't know it was going to be like that until two minutes before. Well, it like pretty much there's a scene where, uhm the verdict is being read out. I don't know if anyone seen it, but the point is that literally two minutes before Steven said OK, so this is the scene and we're just going to keep the camera on you. OK, Sean, go. And then two or a few minutes after it was like ‘action’. And so you're like, uh? What am I OK? I'm going to go with that. I'm going to go with that.

RD: That scene is incredible. You're doing so much with so little in that team. And that was just off the cuff?

SP: It was off the cuff, but again, fortunately, uh, you know, as I'm sure all of these guys will say, I'm pretty sure when the script tells you what to do, you do it. You know you don't get in the way and you know what needs to be done. So yeah, there are always difficult scenes that you wake up one day and you're just not on it, you're just not there 100%. I don't know you went to bed late last night you didn't sleep particularly well, you got a phone call someone, something happened. You know there's all kinds of things that can take your, you know you point your direction in the wrong place and you have to bring the energy back and focus again to this but yes there’s always reasons why scenes are difficult but nothing particularly taxing. 

PM: Can I jump in there just 'cause you've said it a couple of times and I'm so curious about it Shaun is that the getting out of the way 'cause I'm like, personally I’m like the conscious thought of trying to get out of the way kind of puts me in the way sometimes. But I always ask that question when people say because I feel like it's a constant battle just like removing—I actually don't think it's to do with ego. I think it sometimes is to do with the care and love you have for a project can sometimes put you in a compromising position with the story, so I'm just curious as to how you navigate that and when you say get out of the way, what do you actively do to do that? 

SP: Well, I for me I had to concentrate. I'm a guy who you know back in the day maybe you know my ego would be on set when all of a sudden you know ‘Cut’. OK, we're waiting for, you know, whatever else before you know it’s joke, it's like mate did you see Tottenham the other day? I tell you what mate it’s funny and if you go down this road or whatever else, and you're chatting in the whole nine yards and whatever. OK, we're setting up for the thing are you ready Shaun? Yeah! Yeah, so you know you're chatting and whatever else and they’re like OK action and you're like oh yeah, right, right, right, OK. You know, and then you have to do so much to get back into the frame of mind and just maybe that's not getting out of the way, but it's having--

PM: Yeah, it's putting yourself in the position of like concentration, which is an active thing, so it's actually that… I, I think, like you've kind of just answered the question. 

SP: Yeah, you know. And my ego of like maybe not respecting the work, not respecting what needs to be done, for me specifically--because I know people who can do that, mind, I'm not saying that that's a problem. I know people who can switch it on like that and they are brilliant. I just know at this time what helps and what hinders for me specifically. I'm not speaking about any other actor, but I know for me specifically, I know what kind of works for me and what doesn't work for me. So I made sure that I put myself in the frame of mind and did every single possible thing I knew that helps me achieve what needs to be achieved. 

And that was via concentration, that was via not going out to the pub—what you doing tonight, should we go have dinner or whatever else it was. I just I knew what needed to be done and I got my ego out the way, the one who wants to run amok go dancing. I'm in London so hey, let's go and see all my friends. Again, it sounds weird when I say get out the way, but it feels like that because it you know sometimes I used to do so much to get in the way of the work. You know, I don't know if I've explained myself particularly well, but--

PM: No, I think that kind of feeling of like I worked with an actor recently and it was kind of a similar thing. I think it's because I must have tired of it and it's kind of you want to be--You want everyone to work with you and of course it's a natural thing you want everybody like, isn't he the nicest boy, bla bla bla, which actually for me was getting in the way and you kind of… I worked with an actor recently who's was just extraordinary, uh, kind of going, she is all of those things, but she kind of figures out the day in terms of a kind of a tonal wash of a feeling that she associates with the day and just protects that and brings it. And seeing her do that I was like, do you know what? 

This is--I totally stole her from her and I was kind of like this is the way to do it because it's actually your ego is the thing that is making you present a version of yourself and then you transition quickly into playing the character and it was actually watching Emily do that I was like OK, just protect, protect yourself, protect the work, and I think that's just exactly what you described. So thank you.

SP: Yeah, that's it. You said it better than I did in less time so yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right. That's it. And take! You know this is it. I'm fortunate enough to have grown up and worked with some people who I learned from, I really learned from, you know, I respected what they did and I knew for me that that was what was gonna help me. I register when I see other actors on set what they're doing right there. And it might not work for everyone, and it doesn't matter that it doesn't work for everyone because we're not robots. 

PM: But somehow seeing them do it gives you the license to try it, you know?

SP: Absolutely.

PM: And it's that thing of like taking up not like space with ego, but space like creative space and going like this is actually beneficial to the work. 

SP: Absolutely. And that's what I know you guys did because it's obvious. But yeah, that's my take. 

WZ: I was gonna say. 

RD: Yes, Waleed sure. 

WZ: And I don't know how everybody else feels about this, but I think sometimes fear is a good thing. And I felt that on Baghdad Central I mean every single day. But those scenes where you're challenged, or when the director yells something across space or whatever. I mean on the first block actually Alice Troughton yelled something at me and it just shook me to the core and she just said, and it was like a wide beautiful shot and I'm walking so for me it was like oh OK this is like some atmospheric beautiful shot. And it wasn't, and so she basically said she goes:

Pick an effing emotion. And it was just like everything in me and I was like, OK brought back to where I'm going right now and what's the next scene and what just happened and that was just a great education. Because sometimes we don't know what's happening. Sometimes we don't know what it looks like, what it feels like, what, you know just simple things like camera angles and one of the cameras tracking you from behind. I mean, I learned that on the film that I did, and that so much emotion was there and then when the camera is like a little bit to your profile, that also picks up emotion and so it was just when you're on set every day, you're learning from incredible people, like our director of photography, and the cameramen had known each other since they were seven years old these two Belgian guys that were phenomenal. So I was like, 

you know that energy and that camaraderie I was a part of that whole energy, and that just was just really, really amazing, but anyway, I mean going back to like, you know, I tend to get in my way quite a bit and I think we all do as actors because we’re thinking a lot, analyzing a lot and what was helpful about the limitations that I had in terms of time is that I had no choice but to be present in every single moment. And I think that's what not only makes us believable actors, it’s what's important about life. I mean, you know, 

just to be present and just to kin of… So anyway, those things about getting out of our way I mean it's a part of our job so yeah, I mean like I could never be the guy that's joking, never. I'm like always like in the back, pacing back and forth and it's great but sometimes--I'm getting better at it, like joking between takes, it all depends on who it is and who's saying it to you and if you could still kind of use it 'cause it's great energy, you're still keeping the energy if you could use it into the next thing, but once I had to literally tell somebody who was talking and wouldn't stop, I was like, uhm, may I have your attention, please? You know, I was just very polite about it even though I was bummed because it is something that a lot of actors do, it's controlling those nerves and keeping the energy. Maybe it's subconscious, but I just think it's fascinating. 

RD: Yeah well, Paapa if you're kind of preparing for a day on set, I mean was it episode four is an incredibly tough kind of moment for Kwame? How do you prepare for that beforehand? 

PE: I don't know I kind of like try not to see like scenes as hard scenes and easy scenes because I feel like that's another thing that kind of attempts you to get in your head about it or get in the way of it because you're like Oh my God the scene becomes bigger than what it is and like I really kind of vibe what Paul is saying about that thing about like sometimes it's like the noises or whatever that… I always find it easier to kind of like think of scenes as more than just like the lines that are on the page. You know, like we've all kind of like been in that position where like you get a script through and you kind of go through the scripts to be like what lines does my character say? How many lines are there in this page or in that scene? As if that's what the character is, or if that's what the scene is and it's not. You know, like this is a visual, it's a audio visual art form, you know so there's so much more than what some someone says and like scenes or episodes like episode four are about the repartee and the flirtations, and you know like the things that people say to each other. But like so much of it happens in silence, or so much of it happens in those bits between the lines or between the scenes or whatever and that's something that you can only find on the floor. You know that's something you can only find in the moment you know, and I feel like if you allow yourself or be brave enough to release yourself from the shackles of it's just about the lines or just about how many lines I've got, then there's a whole kind of like of other subterranean world that you can find and explore that just like infuses everything with so much more life and then allows you to get away from yourself because like then curiosity takes over and then kind of the unknown is introduced to you and yeah, I always find that really, really helpful in approaching those like so-called hard scenes because like the hardest thing you can do is be like how am I gonna summon up X emotion at X points to, you know, cosmetically look like I'm sad or I'm happy or whatever you know? But like if it becomes more than that, if it becomes more than those individual moments and becomes a little bit more global almost then, then I feel that that's good preparation for scenes like that. 

RD: That’s great advice, thank you. We've got a question from Charlotte Rogers to Waleed: As a father yourself, have you taken anything away or learn something new from Muhsin’s character? 

WZ: I was thinking of this a lot because I discovered it when we were shooting and it was actually inspired by a conversation that I had with Elliott Colla, the author of the novel, and he said something that to me came across as, I'm paraphrasing, but he didn't think his father in law was, or sorry the way he said it was his father in law was doubtful if he was a good father. And to me that just, I just connected with that because I do often wonder that to be totally honest, you know. I travel quite a bit and I don't spend as much time with my kids as I would like to and so it was just a very eye opening journey to go through because all you have to do is imagine being in the characters shoes. And my two kids are roughly the same age as the characters. And you know, without a wife, and you know the characters wife died from cancer and you know the inability to get medicine because of the embargo. So you know it was multiple things, and so all you have to do is just say, you know I'm not too far away from that in reality. I mean, having lived in Kuwait when Iraq invaded, my wife had survived two wars, Lebanon and Iraq and all you have to do is just imagine what would happen? What would I do if I was in this situation? 

And what was actually quite painful was that I did really feel like in my life I feel like I have given up. Or I have kind of taken the easy way out and that's a very, like, you know, honest thing. But you know the, what happened was it was very quick for me to realize that once I put my imagination to it and just--it's also too like you know, I'm going off on a bit of a tangent, but you know, women and children are the most that are affected by war, especially women. And to have two daughters that I'm fighting for here was just, you know moving and also important to kind of shine the light on women in in war situations and so that made me just much more aware. I mean, just from some of the reading that I did, and the discussions that I had, and you know, we had a very female heavy production from producers, our main director, our dialect consultant, the Iraqi dialect consultant who left Iraq when she was about fifteen, sixteen years old, so there were some very vivid stories, so I'd like to think that it it's made me a better father and a better parent, and I think it has. It's definitely made me a lot more present with my kids and, you know, appreciate every moment. 

RD: Thank you so much for your honesty and your truth tonight. I feel like this has been really cathartic. Thank you all of you, and before we go I've got to ask the big question, are you all looking forward to attending the BAFTA Television Award ceremony? Are you all going? 

PM: Yeah!

RD: Are you are you going to have like a big group hug? Are you allowed? 

SP: I wanna do something--there's an old Vincent Price film where he goes and takes out all the judges and all the--where do you guys live? No, anyway, no no. 


Yeah, it's going to be a, you know, a nice night. I've never been to one before, so we'll go and have a look and see what it's about. 

RD: I mean, yeah, what? What are you kind of looking forward to the most? 

WZ: Like for me, I feel like I've already won just being nominated. It's just a huge victory and just celebrating and getting to meet you guys and you know, six feet apart and you know, just really enjoying the evening. 

PM: Yeah, it's a cool thing to be able to say. I know that's like such a trivial way of putting it, but it's like it's huge. It's like if I ever grandkids I’ll be like I remember when I was

young, and I got nominated. Like it's so exciting and to get to share it with people and actually just be in a space with creative people for an evening will be really fun, I hope.

RD: Yeah, I think that that's true.

SP: That is true, and I do forget that. I do forget that, you know, we all tell stories, and that's what we've grown up doing or that's what we've chosen to do and we've had roles where, fortunately, you know, we've connected with them as actors and all of a sudden people have looked at that and decided that we deserve an award. But the long, the short of it is, is that we're being rewarded, even by the nomination for doing something that we love. You know that's amazing really. You know, and did we need it? Do you? I don't know if we need it or not, we could be quite happy to have just done the role I'm sure. 

RD: Don't talk yourself out of an award. 

SP: No, no no no no I. I guess what I'm saying is, is that I think I don't think anyone did it for the award.

RD: We nearly got through a whole hour there. 

WZ: That would have been a bottle of champagne that would have been a bottle of champagne on set, at least! But no, no no, what I mean is that I think we would have been just quite happy to have done those roles, that would have been enough. But again, to to be in a room full of your peers, you know, for telling stories, yeah it's gonna be a nice night and I haven't had a night out in about 2 years.

RD: It's going to be really messy. Thank you so much to everyone for watching, for your questions. Thank you so much to Paul, Waleed, Shaun and Paapa. That was honestly a delight and a real honor to moderate. So thank you, enjoy the night and we'll be rooting for all of you.

SP: Lovely

RD: Just thanks so much. Take care guys. 

PM: Thank you.

SP: Cheers chaps. 

WZ: See you later.

SP: Bye.