Embracing the character

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Actor Sacha Dhawan is no stranger to stage and screen as he started his career at the tender age of seven, having been inspired by his mother, a former model. She was an extremely modern thinking woman, who was passionate about the arts and encouraged young Sacha to follow his dreams.

Since then, he has enjoyed an outstandingly successful career, including winning a Royal Television Society award for Best Breakthrough in The Bradford Riots in 2007. He has appeared in numerous TV series, including the hugely successful international hit 24: Live Another Day starring alongside Kiefer Sutherland on Sky One, Last Tango In Halifax, Line Of Duty, In The Club, Utopia, No Offence, The Interceptor and in the NBC sitcom Outsourced, where he stared as Manmeet. He is currently filming Mr Selfridge, which he joined for the fourth season, set to air in 2016 on ITV, where he plays a leading role.

His film credits include After Earth, with Will Smith, and The History Boys, alongside Dominic Cooper, Richard Griffiths and Russell Tovey.

We caught up with Sacha after he had finished filming Not Safe For Work, which is the new Channel 4 comedy-drama in which he plays the lead, Danny.

You have had a varied career and are very young to have achieved so much. What is your preference, TV or Film?
All I care about is that if I am doing one project now, then my next project has to be something that flips my last project on its head – so playing a completely opposite character. I love moving from TV to film, so I don’t really have a preference. I like doing it all and I strive to be as versatile as possible.

You play the lead Danny in Not Safe For Work. Describe his character. Did you base him on someone you know?
Like all my characters, I take traits from some people I know, people I see on the street, perhaps even just some kind of physicality. With Danny, it was my immense passion for the project. I had never seen anything like it in the script before. First of all, there was no label to his ethnicity and I love that.

He is just Danny, a unique character. There is no one like him, so it meant that I could do my own thing with him. I also like the fact that he is permanently wasted all the time. But really there is a real heart to this character and I know that in the workplace, the manager is always depicted as a bit of an idiot, but he is really loveable.

I actually don’t like defining it as a workplace comedy drama as it is set in an office, but really it is about all these individual characters. It is a real ensemble piece and the series is about each and every character and they are all very different and have heart-warming stories.

It sounds like it was a fun part to play.
Well, yes, it is an actor’s dream actually. Especially when it is someone who is the total opposite to me. The situations that Danny finds himself are situations that the average person wouldn’t really find himself in everyday life. He will be at work one minute, but by the evening he will be on a park bench somewhere, or will be at a rave in the afternoon! It was really good fun to film and I love the fact that the directors allowed me to embrace the character and be as instinctive as possible.

Sometimes I would improvise and do something unpredictable and that really helps with the character. You will see that in Not Safe For Work that he has a very close relationship with his personal assistant, played by Jo Hartley who plays the character Angela, and their relationship isn’t really that of a manager and a PA – it is the total opposite. She could be his girlfriend or mother and that was a good relationship to play around with in the series. It allowed us to improvise and we spent a lot of time hanging out with each other. Theirs is quite a moving relationship and it can also get a bit dark as well.

Did you get on well with all the other cast members? You seem to be similar ages?
When you are doing an ensemble piece it is so important you get on, otherwise it doesn’t work as well. Yes, we are similar ages but there are no egos – everyone was so lovely. Also, I have worked with Sam Barnett on The History Boys and it was great to be working with him again. I love working with Sam – he is such a joy.

Why was the series shot in Glasgow as it is actually set in Northampton?
I think sometimes with projects nowadays it just where they can get the crew together, the location, what’s available, not just the actors. I think projects come together very quickly and at the last minute. Even though it is set in Northampton, it doesn’t affect the story – I like that. In Scotland there is a great industry and a great team of resources in terms of crew, real talented people and I am glad we filmed it there rather than London, for instance, where a lot of stuff is made.

How long were you on set all together?
I think it was about a couple of months and, to be honest, it went so fast. I had an apartment of my own and become a bit of a wreck for a couple of months. I looked an absolute mess for a couple of months and time went so quickly.

Five years from now – where do you see yourself?
In five years time I definitely want to be doing what I do now, because I love it and it’s amazing. Ideally I would like to be in a position where I have my own production company acting in projects or producing projects. That is something I have always wanted to do. I just want to carry on telling stories and playing characters that challenge me really. Not just in the UK, but I would love to do more work in America.  So fingers crossed.

by Amanda Bernstein
Photographs: Justin van Vilet

Sacha is on twitter

Not Safe For Work starts June 30 at 10.00pm on Channel 4