Q&A with Qasim Mahmood and Niparun Nessa

Q&A with Qasim Mahmood and Niparun Nessa

Qasim Mahmood is a British Pakistani Muslim actor who plays Alan Dangle in our brilliant comedy One Man, Two Guvnors. Octagon’s Community Engagement Officer Niparun Nessa interviews Qasim to find out about his career, experiences and aspirations.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into acting

I grew up in Alum Rock in Birmingham and my parents are both from Pakistan. I was always very imaginative as a child. Rather than play with toys I would picture household items like bottles as characters and creativity and stories would develop from there. My family never went to the theatre but it always fascinated me and I knew I wanted to be involved with the theatre in some way.

I was always very persistent and proactive in pursuing an acting career and researching how to do this. I chose drama as an option in school, enrolled myself into a youth theatre at 16 and then went onto attend a performing arts college. I joined the National Youth theatre and it was a great place to meet lots of people with common interests and be thrown into a world I wanted to learn more about.

What was your first theatre experience?

My first theatre experience was going to watch Aladdin in Birmingham and I remember having an amazing time from the moment I got in, to having an ice lolly at the interval and collecting a badge on my way out. It’s mad now thinking back, how that was my first experience and now I have played the role of Aladdin.

Qasim in rehearsal for One Man, Two Guvnors

Have you found any challenges being a Muslim actor and a person of colour?

It was difficult as I didn’t know anyone involved in acting or the theatre growing up and it wasn’t an industry my community had much involvement in. My dad was very supportive but my mum was unsure as she wasn’t keen on the work schedule and worried I wouldn’t be financially stable. It can be difficult to explain to extended family what I do as it is a world they don’t understand but encouraging them join me on my journey and watch shows at the theatre has helped everyone be more supportive and excited for me. I have taken my mum to see shows and even though sometimes there can be a language barrier she’s always enjoyed them and loved the atmosphere created and that’s helped her to see what I am doing and why.

I grew up in an area with a large Muslim community and went from being at a school with a large Asian community to a performing arts college where I was the only brown boy in the year which was hard. People came from all over to this college and although everyone was supportive, at times I felt as though they were expecting me to be able to answer every question they had about Islam. There were challenging times and I had to remind myself that people were just curious or didn’t understand.

Qasim and Lauren in rehearsal for One Man, Two Guvnors

How did you manage your work schedule over Ramadan and what support could theatres give to those working through Ramadan?

Ramadan is an exciting time and I love when this month comes along. It can be hard at times when schedules are irregular or I’m on my feet all day. It’s important to let those around you know that you are fasting and for teams to be aware of anything they could do to help if you need it.  Checking in with staff and asking whether any support or consideration is needed. Often most people will say they are fine and carry on as normal but it’s nice to have that acknowledgement of a time of importance.

It’s also important organisations take the time to educate themselves and their staff about communities, religions and cultures to be able to support the people they employ and work with.

Diversity in the arts industry from theatre to music and film has improved and continues to be a work in progress. What barriers do people face in accessing the arts or getting involved in the arts industry?

It’s important to remember the differences experiences people have growing up. It’s hard knowing how to manoeuvre in the arts world when you haven’t had access to many opportunities growing up. Theatres and organisations need to be proactive in reaching out to different communities and engaging with them. Our cultures and theatre work overlap so much as south Asian communities are so theatrical. They love a good song and dance so we need to think about how we can connect these more.

One Man, Two Guvnors production image

Tell us about your character in One Man Two Guvnors

I play Alan Dangle who is an actor who wants to marry Pauline and you see the struggles he faces with his relationship. He is a lot of fun to play as he is so over the top and self-obsessed.

Its great being involved in plays about south Asian communities and stories that I relate to. I obviously want to do that, but it’s also been great to play Alan. I’ve been able to focus just on the story rather than race or heritage and play a role where I can push my imagination.

What words of wisdom or encouragement would you give to aspiring young actors and artists?

If I’m being specific and talking to aspiring Muslim actors I would say be patient. Things can get tough and sadly you may fail a lot but remember you learn from failure. Don’t be disheartened. Learn from each opportunity that comes your way. When you do enter those spaces don’t be afraid to say what help and support you need. Creative spaces are supportive spaces. The worst that can happen is people say no but then you just look for something elsewhere and that resilience will help you grow.

Surround yourself with the right people and people who will guide you to follow the path you want to take. That process can be difficult too but these spaces and people do exist. Look into youth theatres and connect with local theatre groups.

Qasim as Alan Dangle in One Man, Two Guvnors

MACFest is an award-winning Muslim arts and culture festival which holds events throughout the country. MACFest events celebrate Muslim arts, global history and diversity in a wide range of settings encouraging communities to connect and learn.

You can find out more about MACFest here. 

One Man Two Guvnors is on at the Octagon until Saturday 25 June


Rehearsal images by Bolton Documentary Photography

Production images by Pamela Raith