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
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
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
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
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
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).
Back to Latest Articles