‘I’ve had some hairy experiences’: actor Adeel Akhtar on racism, role models and feeling hopeful

date_range 06-Feb-2022
visibility 2

Akhtar has made a successful career out of channelling and elevating the circumstances of underrepresented people, and of capturing the grace and power in everyday actions, even when those actions are questionable. When I ask him about being normal, he says plainly, “Well, I am that.” This is partly because of how he looks: the hangdog face, the dark eyes, a twinkly smile. But also because he understands that even in the smallest lives there are things at stake – a truth he holds dear. “There’s something that makes me realise that we need to see the world we’re living in as full and beautiful,” he says. In 2017, he became the first non-white man to win a Lead Actor Bafta, for his role in Murdered By My Father, a TV drama about arranged marriage in which he is by turns tender and maniacal. (He had already been Bafta-nominated for Utopia, the Dennis Kelly drama.) He’s since appeared in a string of A-list films and television series: as a compromised doctor in Sweet Tooth, the Netflix series; as brother to Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick; as a kindly neighbour in Back to Life, the Daisy Haggard comedy. It is likely you recognise him even if you aren’t part of the subset that already considers him a household name. When Haggard first approached him, she assumed he would be too busy to talk. “I ended up writing him a letter,” she told me. “I thought, well, it’s worth a shot.” When he said yes, she was amazed, and she began to jump up and down. On set, Akhtar would “do all these lovely things,” Haggard recalled, “and I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s gorgeous, I definitely didn’t write that.’”