Manjinder Virk is a name worth remembering. She’s the kind of actress who has been quietly laying the foundation for a long and substantial career. Parts in Holby City and Call the Midwife have paved the way for weightier roles. She’s starred in BBC1’s Ordinary Lies and Peter Kosminsky’s Bafta-winning Britz on Channel 4, and now she’s the newest star of beloved British murder mystery, Midsomer Murders. Her work as a writer-director is garnering acclaim too.

Glass catches up with the Coventry-born actress and chats about stereotypes, the rise of women filmmakers and her goals for 2016.

IMG_5554Manjinder Virk. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

You have just finished playing Dr Kam Karimore in Midsomer Murders alongside Neil Dudgeon and Gwilym Lee. How was the filming experience?
It was a blast to do. Great cast and crew, brilliant story lines. Very Inventive. A lot of it is shot out of doors in beautiful countryside and in these amazing mansions, so we saw all the seasons. Amazing guest artists too.

You play the first regular Asian character on the show. Clearly that is significant for the series, what does it mean personally for you?
For me it’s a job like any other. I took it on because I thought the character was fun and I thought I could do something with her. She’s smart and competitive and I like the way the shows writers developed her.

Midsomer Murders has become something of a British institution starring John Nettles in the 1980s and now Neil Dudgeon in the lead role as his cousin DCI John Barnaby. The show is sold to many different countries around the world and regularly attracts over six million viewers. What’s is like to be part of something so venerated by it’s fans worldwide?
As an actor you go into the job and you look at the character and the storylines. This is a show that is on its 18th series, in order to keep anything on for that long, you have re-invent it without losing the essence of what it is.

As a whodunnit, it has to keep a lot of the storylines up in the air and you watch because you want to know who committed the murders. It’s incredible. But for me they wanted to develop a rounded character and that’s why I came on board. I liked her.

IMG_5533Manjinder Virk. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

She’s a pathologist?
She is. I learn something in every episode. She’s very competitive and smart and has a kind of nerdiness about her because she is fascinated by what she is doing. And she has her work cut out as she is constantly being challenged by all these murders. For me that was great because she loves her job.

You are returning to film as Phoebe in Fiona Tan’s first feature film History’s Future. Tell us about that?
It came about because I had a role in the film The Arbor – to which I had a similar response to as Fiona Tan’s film and this came about because of that.

The Arbor is Clio Barnard’s award-winning film about the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar.
Yes, Clio is an artist and I remember reading it (The Arbor) and thinking this was really special and beautiful and heart breaking. It was only when I saw the finished film that I realised what it was and I had a similar response to Fiona’s film. The story and images drew me to it. It’s an incredible and thoughtful journey about one man who loses his memory. How we are all essentially made up of memories. And what happens when none of that exists anymore. Fiona has created something really beautiful.

As well as an actor you are also a filmmaker.
Yes. In my own work too I’m interested in the experimental, in telling stories and ideas that are not linear. I trained in contemporary dance and my background means that I don’t always want to do straight narrative stories.

I shot lots of interviews at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. My director of photography and I went down and shot lots of film and I put it on line that night. There was an immediate response to a very controversial figure. Opinion was very divided and black and white as to why they were there. These are not the films I send out to festivals but it’s about exploring my voice and finding out the things I want to say.

Your second foray into filmmaking, Out Of Darkness, starring Tom Hiddleston, Riz Ahmed and Monica Dolan premiered at the 57th BFI London Film festival, and won best film and best drama at other festivals. How did the idea come together?
It came about after reading something about aid workers and post-traumatic stress and also a personal experience of someone close dying. I wanted to put those ideas together and writing something about the experience that unifies people. It became one monologue through nine people. Death affects us all and is something we are afraid to talk about, especially in the west. I wanted to talk about that. And also how war affects us.

IMG_5563Manjinder Virk. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

You’re currently researching a film called Birth. Was that born of Out of Darkness?
Yes. Out of Darkness was quite sad and I wanted to make something about hope. So I’ve got a clear idea of how I want to do that. It’s finding the time to get it up and running. When you have a few different projects they feed into each other.

You’ve just played the lead role of Emma in Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma for BBC Radio 4.
It’s a two-parter called Memsahib Emma and its set in 19th century India in a fictional village near Calcutta. It translated really well in that setting.

Women in the film industry seem more prevalent, is that something you are seeing?
There is still a very low minority of women who are making film, which still needs to be pushed more.

Is there a correlation between the type of films women want to make and the films that will be produced in cinema?
When you look at someone like Kathryn Bigelow – she is not doing stereotypically female films. I think stereotypes can always be reverted. Women should be allowed to tell the stories they are interested in regardless of point of view.

Did you have an artistic upbringing?
My parents are both writers themselves. It was unusual for a whole Asian family to be involved in the arts. The stereotypes don’t really apply. Whatever I wanted to do, I was supported which allowed me the freedom to develop my voice and to do the work that I am doing.

Any goals for 2016?
Every year I make a list of things that I want to do. But as an actress it’s out of your hand. But as a writer and director I can try to get things off the ground. Yes I do have goals …

With her cool intelligence and quiet confidence it seems sure that Manjinder Virk’s goals for the New Year have every intention of becoming a reality.

by Gabriella Crewe-Read

Photographs: Justin van Vliet

Midsomer Murders is broadcast on ITV weekly on Wednesday at 8pm
History’s Future will premier at the Rotterdam Film Festival later this month
Memsahib Emma can be heard on BBCiplayer Radio 4