Posted: 01 August 2023

Artist Spotlight: Actor & Playwright, ASIF KHAN

Ahead of the opening of the very great GREAT EXPECTATIONS this September, we caught up with one of the cast members and a dear friend of the Tamasha family. Bradford-born, South London based, Asif Khan is an actor and playwright and was one of the members of our very first Tamasha Playwrights group back in 2014.

RADA trained, his acting theatre credits include Tartuffe (RSC/Birmingham Rep Theatre), Love, Bombs & Apples (The Kennedy Center – Washington DC, San Francisco, Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and screen acting credits including the likes of Spooks, Doctor Who (BBC) and Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4)*. And this September, he’ll be playing Jagu in Tanika Gupta’s adaptation, directed by Pooja Ghai, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Now, enough from us! Let’s get to know, Asif Khan!

What attracted you to Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of this classic?

I love the idea of exploring this well known, classic story, in a fresh and exciting new way. Tanika really transports you into the village Rajshahi, where much of the play is set and later in Calcutta. It’s a story many know and have read, so those audience members will now experience it in a whole new way. Equally, some of our audience will know nothing of the original, but will hopefully enjoy this version, as it really does stand on its own feet. It’s just a great story, with fascinating, interesting characters. Themes which still resonate today. Also, I’ve been wanting to work with Tanika for a while. And Pooja!

Tell us about this production of GREAT EXPECTATIONS

It’s Charles Dickens’ classic novel, but set in 1903 Bengal, during the British rule of India. The same framework, but cleverly transported to a completely different landscape. The character Pip in the original story is now Pipli, and the character Joe, who I’ll be playing, is now Jagu.

How do you prepare for a role like Jagu?

The script. It’s all about the script for me. I can’t play original, I can only play Tanika’s adaptation. I dig out everything I can in the script. I’ll read it through a number of times and try and absorb everything about the character, his relationship to the other characters, the setting, the world, the given circumstances etc. This will give me all the clues to step into Jagu’s shoes, what he desires in life, and the type of man he is, what he wants. Then it’s up to me as an actor to move myself towards what’s on the page. I always find it helpful to use Stanislavski’s approach and I’ll also explore the character’s physicality, vocal quality, accent, and in the story, Jagu is a cobbler, so learning about his trade and how he does his job will be essential. Whatever prep I do, it has to lead me to a place where in performance, I can be completely free, unrestricted and able to listen and interact with the other characters.

How did you get into theatre?

I always enjoyed performing in school, but when I went to the University of Bradford (before drama school), on the campus, was a small theatre called Theatre in the Mill. Once I walked in and got myself involved in various productions, I knew that it was something I definitely wanted to do as a career.

Who were your creative inspirations growing up?

I always enjoyed watching comedy. Anybody who could make you laugh. I really wanted to be able to to that. Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, most definitely – that had a big impact. I loved watching him in that. My dad used to love his comedy too and always watched sitcoms like: Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Only Fools And Horses, Last Of The Summer Wine, The Brittas Empire. So I got into them too. Loved watching Art programmes too: Art Attack, Hart Beat, The Joy Of Painting etc.

What’s a mantra you live by?

Work hard, follow your heart, be kind to people, be kind to the world.

Playwrighting or acting?

Both. But Acting is where I started, and what I know most. Although they’re connected, I very much use a different side of my brain to do each, so when I’m writing, I only feel like a writer and when I’m acting, I only feel like an actor.

What was the last play you saw?

It was Lenny Henry in August In England at the Bush Theatre. Fantastic.

What was the last compliment you received?

My 6 year old said… ‘Daddy you’re the best’.

What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?

Just go for it. Doors will open and opportunities will come. Don’t let rejection and negativity prevent you. Believe in yourself. But work hard and always be willing to learn. The learning never stops.

After GREAT EXPECTATIONS, what’s coming up next for Asif Khan?

Family time, definitely. Time with my kids. I’ll be away from home doing GREAT EXPECTATIONS and I always get swallowed up in the plays I’m working on, so family time is important. But also, I’ve got various plays on the go, which I’m writing, so I’ll crack on with those. As an actor, we’ll see!

Watch Asif in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, running from 8 September until 7 October at Royal Exchange Theatre.

*Full biography can be found on Asif’s website.