Exclusive Interview with Meena from Meera Syal’s Anita and Me
Amrit catches up with Chandeep Uppal, Anita and Me star that played the lead character in Meera Syal’s film adaptation in 2002.
The 25-year-old tells Amrit all about how her career kicked off as an actor from the young age of 13, after she begged and pleaded her mum to take her to the casting call for Anita and Me. Uppal enjoyed drama and was encouraged by her teacher at Arthur Terry School in Sutton Coldfield to audition. Uppal remembers the wondrous casting director Jina Jay, known for Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, Atonement, The Others and so on coming to her school to tell her about her audition along with Shaheen Baig of The Others and Brick Lane.
The Birmingham born and bred thespian has always stayed true to her Brummie roots as she realised the expense to stay in London could not be covered by a 9-5 job while chasing the actor’s dream.
Working alongside Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar, which started from the 8-week filming of Anita and Me allowed Uppal to be exposed to their pride in heritage. To Uppal, heritage means what her predecessors have achieved and where she comes from. She believes in the saying “you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re from”.
Uppal’s doorway to the acting world was opened with Anita and Me on to other performances in BAFTA winning My Life as a Prop Act, Holby City and Waterloo Road to name a few. In 2013 Uppal worked alongside James Corden and Matthew Baynton in The Wrong Man and also appeared in Mount Pleasant.
Here’s more on Amrit’s exclusive interview with the star who played Meena of Anita and Me…
1. You were just 13 when you got the role! So, how old were you when you first began acting?
Anita and Me was my first acting job. Before doing it I hadn’t got any acting experience but I would say that I took it on ‘professionally’ when I was 18.
2. What was the reaction of your friends and family during this time?
I actually got told I had the part during the school holidays so I wasn’t at school to share it with everyone, but my family were really excited. I don’t think you ever really imagine that you or someone close to you will get a chance like that, so it was amazing. Also we were such huge fans of Goodness Gracious Me, so getting the chance to work with and learn from Sanjeev and Meera was more than I could ask for.
3. Filming Anita and Me you got to work with some amazing names in the industry. Tell me what it was like working with the likes of the novel writer Meera Syal herself, Sanjeev Bhaskar and of course the late Zohra Sehgal.
Meera is such an intelligent woman and although I didn’t necessarily understand it at the time, the story is so close to her heart that her passion for it was unmistakeable. She was always there on set with us to contextualise what was going on and to support us. I think that both her and Sanj have championed the fact that comedy with Asian characters isn’t just for Asian people, but also that your heritage is a huge part of you. And they’ve never pretended to be anything other than what they are.
And of course it was an honour to have worked with Zohra. I’m sure that anyone who has worked with her will agree that her energy is unreal. It was really funny because between takes she would sit down peacefully and quietly, then when the camera was rolling before you knew it she was pulling out this great big Kirpan with all of her might!
4. The Kirpan scene is no doubt one of my favourite scenes from the film, but on a serious note her role in the film played a significant part to Meena at that transitional time in her life. Is there anything that you took on board from this?
Zohra was actually only on set for a few days, but I remember Meera telling me how much her Dadima (grandma) meant to her. And at that age children do feel the difference in generations between their parents. Parents always tend to nag and moan, they’re not fun but in the film it was important for me as Meena to see the free spirit in Zohra. Now, I can see that I was too young to understand at the time but in hindsight I can fully relate to it.
5. Since the film, what doors did that open up for your career?
The main thing that it did for me professionally was allow me to get an agent. It’s really difficult to pursue an acting career and get auditions without one. But personally it taught me a lot about discipline and how to behave in the workplace. Everyone on set from Meera to Kathy Burke to Lyn Redrgrave was so professional. They always respected the crew, were never late and knew their lines. This was a great example to me as a new, young actress.
6. I understand that you didn’t study to become an actor in terms of the traditional footsteps of university. What advice do you have for young people facing the expectation of going to university?
I would say if you are going to give those three years of your life to university make sure that you’re not just doing it because ‘that’s the done thing’. Do it because you are going to study something that you love. It doesn’t matter if you come out of university and do something that is totally unrelated to your degree because nobody expects you at the age of 18, to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Make the choice that is right for you at that time, but know that what is right for you will always change. So, if when you’re 30 you decide that it is right for you to embark on a journey of education again, that’s ok. I didn’t go to university because it wasn’t right for me. I really didn’t want to sit in a lecture hall and have to write essays. I just didn’t have the passion for it. I wanted to work because that’s what I was and still am passionate about. I’ve always wanted to create my own life and for me university couldn’t give me the freedom of choice I’m always looking for.
7. Who is your inspiration and who would you most like to work with, and why?
My inspiration is and always will be my grandfather. I always work to continue the hard work that he started (if I can!). At the moment I’d love to work with Lenny Henry because I think that the work he is doing to campaign for ethnic diversity within the entertainment industry is brilliant. He makes great points about diversity not just being what you see on screen but that it’s to do with commissioners, directors, writers, producers – everyone. I think that it’s really important the media register the impact of the lack of diversity on public attitudes. I think they need to take more responsibility with whose working behind the scenes to properly portray modern life on our screens.
Quick fire questions:
Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla
Heels or Flats? Flats
Tea or Coffee? Tea
Cats or Dogs? Dogs – I have a King Charles called Buddy
Breakfast or Dinner? Breakfast
PC or MAC? MAC
Sweet or Savoury? Sweet
Scone or ‘Scon’? Scone
Shower or Bath? Bath
Mum or Dad? Always a daddy’s girl!