Losing Heart

‘Losing Heart’ coalesced in my brain over a couple of years, borne essentially out of frustration, more than anything. Coming out of drama school four years earlier, I’d trained in the Classics… at drama school, you’re kind of spoilt. You start to believe you can play anything. ‘Give me a part; a 9-year-old boy, a 90-year-old woman, I’ll do it’. Of course, reality says different and once you leave the sheltered, heady confines of your training, the harsh light of the industry comes to bear.

As a British Asian actor, this meant that I wouldn’t work until a role asking for an Asian- Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi -landed and that was all I would ever be asked to do, in an accent that, as a transracial adoptee, really wasn’t something I that would come easy. But it was more the restriction, the notion that I couldn’t play anything simply male, my age and British, that stuck. There was an inherent limiting, not to mention a racism that meant roles would be few and far and what there was would most likely be a disappointment in terms of portrayal.

Even on radio, I would be employed only to be asked for an accent. An endless, insistent, pernicious stereotyping. The roles tending to be negative, reinforcing tropes I had no interest in maintaining.

Racism was bad enough without it being reinforced, restated over and over on the box in the corner of everyone’s home. How would things ever change, that being the case? I felt I had to make a stand, even if it took food off the table. I waded through what became a bunch of agents when they realised I was prepared to turn work down, rather than accept something I regarded as backward, or insulting.

So, by 1997, I was ready to step out of the shoes of being merely an actor for hire and attempt perhaps to control a little of my own destiny, but also attempt to create work I actually wanted to do, sparking my interest as an actor, rather than just paying the bills.

I was interested in Master Improvisation and knew long-term Mike Leigh collaborator, Marion Bailey from a corporate video we’d done. She agreed to come aboard and direct the four actors, so long as I took care of everything else, camera, lighting, organisation, money, etc. So that’s what we did. I found a two-flat converted house in Lewisham we could hire, filming downstairs with the office upstairs and then swapping over for the other couple.

The first bloke I turned to was my great mate Alan Brooke. Too good not to be working, as far as I was concerned. We’d done our three years together at Guildhall, perhaps bonding because we’d come from something else before we arrived at acting, he Dairy Farming and me Mechanical Engineering. Two actresses I admired from the year above, Paula O’Grady and Lehla Eldridge and we were in business.

It was a brilliant experience, a great, fun shoot though, I remember having flu and a terrible lung-wrenching cough for the duration. But we shot Kodak Super16mm over a long weekend, having spent weeks developing our characters under Marion’s careful tutelage.

There are so many stories, as there always is when making a film. Originally, the Arts Council refused me the money, but Guildhall Tutor, Ken Rea got in touch and changed their minds.

I also managed to land some cash through Guildhall from the William and Eva Fox Foundation. It was enough at least to get the film in the can, but not enough to cover the huge expense of film processing and blowing up to 35mm.

The film was actually, technically never completed. Although I found a small amount, from Stanley Fink, then the FCO at City firm called E,D & F Man, a place Paula worked at when she wasn’t acting, I never found that last lump sum. Shorts didn’t sell, so no investor was ever going to get their money back

So what exists is in fact what’s called the ‘One Light’, which I later transferred to DVD and finally, preserved digitally. A ‘One Light’ is the original film-stock that rolls through the camera, usually used as a guide for the final product, stuck together with tape, not made beautiful in post with colour-balancing, etc, so it’s incredibly rough and grainy, with tears and all sorts. It also financed my first feature film..

And, as my first film, it will always hold a special place.

Not least because, just 6 years later, the life-force that was Alan was gone.