Interview: Adeel Akhtar (Convenience)
Matthew Turner | On 02, Oct 2015
Two shop robbers screw up the crime and end up working there for the rest of the night in Convenience. The BAFTA Cymru-winning comedy, which stars Adeel Akhtar, Ray Panthaki, Anthony Head and Verne Troyer, is released in UK cinemas today before landing on DVD and VOD on Monday 5th October. We catch up with the Four Lions and Utopia star to chat night shoots, the cancelled Channel 4 show and falling into a Netflix black hole.
How did you get involved with Convenience?
Well, I initially did a play with [co-star and producer Ray Panthaki] over at Trafalgar Studios and it was a play that got transferred from the Red Lion pub and we started chatting at that point and became friends backstage and we’d talk about other projects that we wanted to get involved in. And he introduced me to a fellow called Simon [Fantauzzo], who’s the writer, and we just sort of collaborated and bounced ideas off each other and talked about the things that we wanted to do and say from there. That turned into the script and then we cast some people and then we all just sort of chipped in to our story lines to try to make it funnier.
So it was very much a collaborative effort? How many people were involved?
Well, Simon first and foremost, he’s the writer, but I would say that there was Ray, because he’s the producer, and he had a lot to say about what would work and what didn’t work. Keri to a certain extent, because he’s the director, he knew how scenes would flow into other scenes. And then we all sort of chipped in, but it was Simon’s writing primarily – we just added bits whenever we thought we could make it funnier.
The outtakes at the end of the film make it look like it was a lot of fun to work on.
Yeah, it was lots of fun. I mean, it was a slog, only because we had three weeks of night shoots, so we started at six at night and we went all the way to six in the morning. I don’t know if you have any experience of night shoots, but they can sort of do strange things to your biological clock. Suddenly it’s six in the morning and that turns into your evening and then you’re having a drink at your local Wetherspoon’s at 10 in the morning, because it’s your 10 at night! So that happened halfway through, but I think that was all in keeping with the film itself, because it’s got a strange, absurd sort of feeling to it anyway.
How long did it take to come out of the body clock thing?
About a week and a bit – a couple of weeks before you start getting used to being back in the normal world and back to normal times and stuff. I mean, I went to see a friend of mine who was finishing her shift at 10 in the morning and I sat at the bar having a drink at 10 in the morning, which isn’t what I normally do. So that was a bit of an indication that I had to be a bit more sensible and get back to normal…
What was it like working with Vicky McClure and also Anthony Stewart Head?
I only had a little scene with Anthony and he’s a very sweet man. He came in only for a little bit of time, but in that time he had to douse himself with petrol. Basically, it was a really cold day and obviously it’s water in the petrol can and it was cold, in the midst of Wales, it was a cold, cold evening, and he was very professional about the whole thing, just carried on and did it to the best of his ability and did it really well, I think. He’s a lovely, lovely man. And Vicky is just the best person to have on set, just a consummate professional and absolutely inside every part that she plays.
The camera really loves her, as well. We notice Keri gave her lots of close-ups…
Yeah, she’s excellent. The camera loves her, everybody loves her – the cast, the crew, she’s excellent, she’s an amazing person.
“[Four Lions] went by so quickly, because it was one of the first things that I’d done and I felt so out of my depth…”
What about Ray, who was obviously both actor and producer. What was it like working with him?
While we were doing the play, I heard about Ray and all the stuff that he’d done with Kidulthood and just from the industry, people would talk about his company and his producing credits and stuff like that, so when we did the play, I was kind of in awe of who he was and what he’d already achieved at that point. And then he said he wanted to work with me and I was over the moon, really honoured and privileged that he would even think about wanting to do anything with me in it. And then him on set, he kind of had to – I’ve already told you about the hours, how we were finishing at six in the morning every day. And my job at that point would probably be over, I might stay up and have a little chat with people, but I would go to bed and try and get enough sleep to wake up to do the next day’s shooting, but as soon as that happened with Ray, his whole other job [kicked in], so he would finish his acting and his other job would have to start, where he would have to go over the footage of the day as a producer, and see what was missing or what was needed or what was necessary and then chat to all the individual departments about stuff – I think on one of the worst weeks he had, like, six or seven hours sleep for a week or something. So he worked really, really hard for it. I think if you chat to him, you’ll find he went through quite a steep learning curve of how much he can do, really! But it was just a testament to how dedicated he is to the whole thing and how much he wanted to get it done.
Do you have a favourite scene in the finished film?
I didn’t know they were going to do this until I saw it at the premiere, but that bit where I say, “It sounds like it’s going to be high drama…” and Ray’s taking his gun out and we’re about to go into the petrol station to hold it up and there’s this really ominous music and I turn round to him and say: “I didn’t even get a hard-on.” I like being surprised and I didn’t know they were going to put that sort of music in it, I didn’t know it was going to be treated in that way, but it was and it was funny.
You seem to choose very interesting roles – I was just thinking of your role in Stranger Things and stuff like that. What do you typically look for in a script?
It’s different on different scripts and at different times in your life, isn’t it? At that point, with Convenience, I was looking for a funny story, and I think that’s what we got and the funny relationship between these two characters. Stranger Things, I had just come back from drama school, so I’d just spent about three or four years in New York of being in drama school and I’d just come back and really wanted to dive into a film with people I knew and also who would allow a story to avail its own self, as opposed to chasing a narrative. So I was really keen on that at that time in my life. And now, I think because I’ve got a bit more of a body of work behind me, this is the first time I can say no to some things. Not all things, but some things. And I’m definitely looking for certain roles and certain parts now, in this stage of my life now. At the moment, I suppose I’m looking for stuff where there is an Asian man in the lead role or one of the lead roles and it’s not a strange thing for that to happen. Also, a really good script, a story worth telling.
What are your lasting memories of making Four Lions?
In all honesty, that whole film went by so quickly, because it was one of the first things that I’d done and I felt like I was so out of my depth, just being in that place with those people telling that story with Chris Morris and all that stuff, so I couldn’t really pick anything out. All I can say is that it gave me a sense of, like nothing’s too absurd, as long as you back it up with enough motivation. There’s no story you can’t tell, as long as you’ve done the work and you’ve done the research – there’s no joke you can’t tell, as long as you dedicate yourself to the joke. I suppose there’s just this feeling of, if you’re going to do something, just be bold with it.
What are your thoughts on Utopia and why the show was cancelled?
It came down to numbers, from what I was told. They basically didn’t get the amount of viewers that they needed for it to go to a third series. That’s all I know about it, really.
Presumably you’re aware of the public reception of the show?
Yeah, the people who enjoyed it really liked it. It just didn’t get the numbers. But the people who did like it really liked it and started a petition and stuff like that to try and get it back on.
There’s no word of renewal on, say, Netflix or Amazon or something?
No, but old David Fincher – I don’t know if he’s that old at all, but old David Fincher! – said he was going to do something with it. I think they had got a cast together or they were just about to start doing something and making this American version of it, but then it never happened.
Are you much of a Netflix or VOD fan yourself?
I watch the odd documentary on Netflix now and again. The Queen of Versailles, that was good. What else? The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, that’s hilarious, all the Louie C.K. stand up stuff. New Girl, for my sins. New Girl, I watched that from start to finish! But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Suddenly you go, “Yeah, I’ll try that” and then you’re wishing you lived in an open-plan loft apartment in New York somewhere, sharing a breakfast with 30-somethings. I’m always dipping in and out, really.
We recommend Tabloid, if you’ve never seen that…
Yes! I have seen that. It’s dark, isn’t it? This is going to sound a bit sad, but if I’m home alone, there was another documentary, about Fritzl, I think, and I was like, “Do you know what? Life’s dark enough as it is, let me just watch New Girl”. So that’s where the New Girl thing started.
What’s your next project?
My next project is a BBC drama, which we’re filming in a couple of weeks time, a short little thing where I play a dad whose daughter is going to get married to somebody he doesn’t like. And then I’m also doing a play, A Christmas Carol, at the Noel Coward theatre, which is like a West End-y type of affair. Jim Broadbent is playing Scrooge and then there are five other actors playing lots of different parts and I’m going to be one of those five. So if I was going to sell you the play, I’d be like: “Come and watch A Christmas Carol with Jim Broadbent playing Scrooge! And I’ll be there.”