Interview with Nina Wadia Zainab Has .The Frumpiness of Pauline Fowler, But Funnier.


By Larry Jaffee

Last issue we had a blast from the past with the interview with Gary McDonald. This issue we go back to the future with our exclusive chat with Nina Wadia, who will appear on EastEnders on our US public television screens within the next two years. But in the UK, her character, Zainab Masood, actually left Albert Square in February after more than five years of playing the resident Asian matriarch, who she reveals was modelled on the .frumpiness of Pauline Fowler, but funnier.. It was actually Wadia.s second stint on the show. The first was a minor role in 1994, playing a nurse treating Michelle Fowler.s gunshot wound. The actress revealed to the Walford Gazette that she didn.t much follow EastEnders by the time she snared the second role, but it used to be her cousin.s favourite show . until 2007 when Wadia won the role.

.My being on the show ruined it for her,. Wadia laughs, of her cousin, who could no longer enjoy EastEnders. By the time she joined the cast, Wadia had quite a resumé, mostly in British telly comedies such as Goodness Gracious Me and The Vicar of Dibley, but also dramas like Skins, Holby City, Murder in Mind, Doctors, and even an episode of Doctor Who.

She admits that it was a little awkward to join EastEnders because she was friendly with several of the actors who had been the Ferreiras, the often-derided Asian family. Wadia played a caterer with them in the feature film Bend It Like Beckham. Unlike the Ferreiras, the Masoods are Muslim, and Wadia pushed the EastEnders producers to introduce a storyline about her having a gay son. Since leaving EastEnders, she has worked in a production company that she founded with her husband, principally a composer. They have two young children, one who was born a few months before she won the role of Zainab.

The interview took place via Skype at 6 a.m. on a late May morning.

Nina Wadia: I like your sign behind you. (In the .Carry On and Keep Calm. style, it says .England Is Mine and It Owes Me a Living.. Walford Gazette: Thanks. I got that at a Morrissey concert in January. Are you a Morrissey fan?

NW: No, but my husband is, though. I find him too depressing. WG: Our mutual friend Terry Mansfield is amazed how much I am into British culture, and I think that sign sort of sums it up. The last time I woke up this early to do a transatlantic Walford Gazette interview was about seven years ago to talk to Leslie Grantham (Den Watts), who was then promoting his book.

NW: (laughing) He.s a blast from the past.
WG: I am somewhat familiar with your character because I.ve been to London a few times in the last five or six years, and would, of course, tune in during those weeks and learn about the new families in the Square, including the Masoods. A few times you were at the centre of things going on. What do you think your children think about their mummy being on telly?

NW: I don.t let my children watch it because of the adult material. The headline in the paper was: .Wadia Bans TV for Children.. I didn.t do that; I just don.t let them watch the adult stuff. My daughter, the 9-year-old, once was asked in the playground about .the horrible man beating her.. My son, on the other hand, who has never ever seen it, he just likes the music. By pure coincidence, the French teacher of their school teaches them the days of the week in French to the tune of EastEnders. My son started singing it, .Mummy, mummy... And I couldn.t stop laughing.
WG: What did you think when you heard that there was a newspaper called the Walford Gazette?

NW: The first time I ever heard of the Walford Gazette wasn.t yours; it was the one they have at our reception desk that the product managers put out. It shows on the first page everyone who is going to be on a particular production team, and the blocks they.re filming. It.s always funny. They have silly quotes of the day, and cooking tips. They always interview someone who.s behind the scenes who says how crazy the show is. There.s a caption page every week. They.ll take a still from one of the scenes that was shot the week before, and they always print the best ridiculous caption that the actors think is happening. One guy you should interview who.s been on the show forever is an extra actor named Michael Leader.
WG: He.s the milkman, right? We had a conversation once about doing an interview, but he was afraid he.d get in trouble. I told him none of the other hundred actors we interviewed ever got in trouble.

NW: He.s the sweetest man. When I first joined, he put a rose by my dressing room door. He said he had been a fan of mine from other things. I.d always get flowers, chocolates, and poetry written for me. The sweetest thing he ever did was when he wrote a note that said, .You.re playing Saeed.s mother? You.re late for school!. I.m playing 10 years older than I really am. He absolutely made my time so special there. The first actor I met when I joined was Jaime Baldwin, he plays Jay. I told him, you.re like a 35-year-old trapped in a 13-year-old.s body. He.s hilarious. When we met he said, .All right doll, I.ll look after you, don.t you worry.. The second actor I met was Rob Kazinsky, who plays Sean Slater, who I recently met again in LA and is going to be in True Blood. We just absolutely got on. Whenever we left the gates together, the girls would absolutely scream, .Oh my god, Sean Slater!. They were so in love with him; it was hilarious. It.s such an iconic show. It put my family (the Masoods) on the map. It.s a great thing because work comes your way.
WG: And also it helps create your own projects with your own production company, right? It.s similar to another former EastEnders actor, Martin Kemp, who.s now producing his own films.

NW: Yeah, definitely. It.s the way to do it today. Our company had been running for nine years. But it.s helped getting other work. The only downside [about gaining fame through EastEnders] is that everybody thinks they know you. A woman in town met me and smiled, .Oh, hiya. My George is doing really well.. I went, .Yeah, that.s nice,. thinking who the hell is George and who the hell are you? And she asked, .How are things with you?. I said, .Really good, thank you.. She stops and stares a bit, and says: .I.m so sorry, I thought you were my midwife.. The thing I don.t like is when they come up to tell what they think of the character. One woman was quite aggressive. She said, .I think you.re disgusting, the way you treat your son. My son is gay and I think you.re disgusting.. I thought, it.s my character, it.s not me. What do you do with that? I didn.t even say anything back. I don.t want to engage in a debate. She.s absolutely deluded if she thinks that.s what I.m like.
WG: Once I went with Deepak Verma (EastEnders. Sanjay Kapoor, with whom Wadia acted in White Teeth) to a Bob Dylan concert in London, and witnessed firsthand the hassle you go through. At least a half dozen guys wanting to know, .Where.s Gita?.

NW: The other thing they.ll do, in my local shopping centre, I.ll get a crowd form around me. It.s funny the first time, but then you think, I.ll kill someone.
WG: Are you still being recognized now that you.re off the show?

NW: People are waiting for me to come back. They don.t accept that I.ve actually left. They say, .Your husband is really missing you. When are you going back?. All that kind of stuff, and I go, .I.ve left the show.. And she.s .Yeah, yeah, but when are you really coming back?. People really do invest in this show and love the characters. People also love to hate my character. One of the biggest compliments I ever got was when a woman said, .My husband throws things at the screen when you.re on.. I thought that.s the best thing about my character. She.s this really highly irritating woman, but you can.t wait until she.s on screen because you know she.s going to annoy you. Those are the types of characters that I think are really special. They make you laugh, and want to strangle someone. And then you get a storyline when someone.s horrible to you, and as much as you despise this character you sympathize with her. That.s the beauty of Zainab.
WG: Do you see any of the actors outside?

NW: I see everyone who was directly related to my .family.. Ricky Norwood, who plays Fatboy. I see Di Parish (Denise Fox) a lot. I keep in touch with Laurie Brett (Jane, Ian.s love interest). I made some very dear friends from the show. To be honest, I saw more of them than my own family for five and a half years. At the end of the day they do become sort of your surrogate family. The show is a very big decision and commitment: a) to do it, and b) to leave it because it.s such a national institution. Honestly, people think I.m still in it, it.s crazy.
WG: Is your husband also an actor?

NW: He.s a producer and composer.
WG: How is it to work together in the production company.s projects? Does it strain the marriage at all?

NW: Oh yeah, hugely. Our first foray out as a producer with the film Four was tough. I have a different idea about producing than he does. I have to put my hands up and say he.s much better at it than I am. And I.d rather be, and should only be, in front of the camera . definitely not that side for me. I found it tough. Also Four was filmed three years ago in the coldest February in the night-time in a warehouse. We got very lucky with our cast, but it was very stressful, looking after the family and doing EastEnders. The way it would work would be I.d come home at 8 in the evening, that.s when he.d go on set for the night shoot. He.d come home at 7 in the morning. We.d get the kids off to school. He.d sleep, and I.d go off to work. It was madness, absolute madness, but worth doing because we have a calling card that we.re very proud of. It.s being sold all over the world. We.re very excited.
WG: What did you make of Los Angeles while you were there?

NW: I just got a manager there now. I came away with one. He loved my show reel because I have the very curious mix of comedy and drama. I knew from a very early age that I was a character actress, not a lead actress. So I think that.s worked in my favour. He signed me up in the middle of pilot season. What I do like about it is that over there if someone does like your work, they actually talk about that. Whereas over here, no matter how many years you.ve grafted you still have to prove yourself. Over there, they barely know me, but they had my show reel and CV, and they went, .You must know what you.re doing.. I love that about it. I told them it would be great to work with someone like Steve Carell or Tina Fey. They.d say, .Yeah, they.re making a movie, let.s put you up for it. It.s so forthcoming: WOW! Here, it.s like if you want to work with some people, up above your station, it.s a really weird feeling you get. So I do like that about that town. It.s a bit fast-paced for me. I think maybe if I was there in my twenties I.d love it. But being there in my forties and a family woman, I found it all too much. I don.t think it.s a very family-oriented place. I didn.t help myself living in West Hollywood. It.s a town where they just want to create. Everything is about the creative person. Everything is about bringing the right people together and making something happen. I find that over here you.re not as much proactive. Ninety per cent of the women over there were not in relationships. They were not with children. They were not married. It comes down to that you have to dedicate your entire time to the business, and they do. Whereas over here, there.s much more of a balance. Women actually do try to have it all here, and it doesn.t really work. You have to be hugely committed to what you want to do with your life, and a lot of men over there (in LA) decided, we want to make money, we want to make movies, we want to be successful . that is it, and that.s what they do. It.s very quick there. If they think something has to happen, it happens straight away. They want to make that movie yesterday. They don.t want anyone else to have that movie, or steal it. It has to be NOW, NOW, NOW. Whereas over here, it took us three years to get our first movie off the ground, waiting for funding, trying to find the right cast, begging people to do this that and the other. It.s hard. Whereas over there it.s if you want to do it, we.ll make it happen for you. My husband just went to Cannes for our next project. He got more response in two days than we.ve had in six months in London. Everyone there was willing, actually itching to help.
WG: Did your LA manager set up anything for you?

NW: Yes, I have to go back for a couple of projects, one in particular. There was a very cold moment when I said I couldn.t do the pilot because I had to finish a job here. They said, .That.s all right. We.ll just shoot the pilot with another actor and replace her with you if it gets picked up.. I thought, don.t do that to another actor, that.s horrible. I.ve just been offered The Vagina Monologues to do again, and I.m torn there might be something in America for me at that point. So I don.t know what to do. But it.s nice to be in that position, rather than the position I was in 10 years ago when I was literally hoping something would turn up. I do believe there.s a lot of luck involved in this business, and that thing that you have to be in the right place in the right time. I do a lot of radio here. Radio is the best medium. I.ve played everything from Aborigine to White South African. Accents are the one thing I love to do. I.ve met so many amazing actors who have fallen by the wayside who never got their break, and it.s upsetting to see them.
WG: Have you done American accents?

NW: No, it.s the one thing I haven.t. I get things like Sri Lankan woman born in South Africa. I certainly won.t insult myself doing an American accent for you (laughing).





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