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Amrita Acharia - The Special Relationship interview (exclusive)

Amrita Archaria

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AMRITA Acharia talks about The Special Relationship, which runs at The Soho Theatre, in London, from February 26 to March 21, 2020. The play is an extremely topical story which follows six British nationals sent back to the UK after years of living in the USA, due to laws which allow foreign nationals to be deported to a country which they don’t identify as their home any longer, following being charged with a misdemeanour.

Amrita discusses the political relevance of the play, what appealed about her character and why it is important that the arts confront hot button issues such as this. She also discusses her career to date, including the forthcoming TV drama Because The Night alongside Russell Tovey, the upcoming third season of The Good Karma Hospital and her early role in Game of Thrones.

Q. What attracted you to The Special Relationship? And what can you tell us about your character?
Amrita Acharia: The Special Relationship is actually the first bit of theatre I have done in years. The play is incredibly timely and an important piece of work. I also love the work of Synergy Theatre Project, a company that works towards rehabilitation and resettlement with prisoners, ex-prisoners and young people at risk of offending through theatre and related activities.

As soon as I met Esther Baker, Synergy’s director, it was clear to me that this would be a challenging and much needed play. The Special Relationship is a verbatim piece based on the transcripts of interviews of deportees. The fact that this is a dark satire dealing with and commenting on true stories alongside the witty commentary throughout the piece really drew me in, along with the incredible way Hassan, the writer, has woven the interviews together to create something magical.

The characters and their stories of crime, justice and separation are all so different and harrowing, and yet the writing still manages to pull out a lightness in the storytelling. To me, this play really reflects what is going on in the world right now and narrates the inhumanity and absurdity we find ourselves seeped in.

Q. And can you tell us a little about your character?
Amrita Acharia: My character is Anne, who I’ve met a few times and listened to the whole interviews conducted with her. She is an amazingly resilient person, a mother with the biggest heart, who has battled with addiction. Her stories probably deserve an entire TV show! Anne is an ex-heroin addict who was deported from the US to the UK after serving time in jail and going through immigration detention. She was adopted by British parents as a baby and had a Green Card, so she was deportable as she wasn’t a citizen.

Anne had to leave her three children behind, and faces arrest if she returns to the States. She has been so open to us with her experiences, and I know its so important for her to get her words out so people know the truth of her story. What seems so black and white often isn’t. I love playing characters that go through some form of change. Anne is a living example of how much someone can pick themselves up, time after time, and start from scratch again – not to mention try and help others while going through hell herself.

Q. The play is the result of real interviews with deportees and experts in immigration and criminal law. Who else did you speak to? And what did you find most surprising about what they had to say?
Amrita Acharia: Well, I spoke with Anne and Nicole – I wasn’t part of the initial workshops or interviews as I was cast after Soho Theatre had secured the run. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a lot of it surprising given the current state of affairs. I think more than anything I could not believe the amount they had endured, how much of it was chance or ‘wrong time, wrong place’, how much of the things that happened were based on survival.

I found it bizarre that most deportations happen due to traffic violations. The accounts of the entire process, the conditions and the lack of support available to the detainees before deportation was astounding. I admire their attitude now in a country that is pretty much alien to them; a lot of the characters were raised in the States and are now starting all over again. All of the women have had to leave their kids behind. It’s the shock of hearing what they have been through and what they have witnessed others go through, and the blatant corruption and relentless inhumanity of the system that really get to you when you talk to them.

Aside from that, their own personal stories are intense – the play peels back the base layers – but when you sit and listen to the interviews in their entirety, it’s something else.

Q. The play feels especially resonant given what’s beginning to happen in the UK, post-Brexit? Is this something that struck a chord with you?
Amrita Acharia: Definitely. It’s one of the reasons I felt compelled to do the play, and I knew how important it was to be able to use theatre as a medium to be able to communicate the stories, to help raise awareness and get the stories that had been shared out. It’s easy to turn a blind eye, and it is difficult to hear and see the effect of everything that is going on. But the more people are aware, the more we are reminded, the more hopefully we can look towards better choices and making changes in the small ways that we can.

Q. Why is it important that shows such as A Special Relationship find their way into the West End? And do you think there’s scope for seeing this developed into a film or TV show to perhaps reach an even wider audience?
Amrita Acharia: I think its incredibly important to get shows like this on platforms that are accessible . It is a commentary and a wake up call to what is happening, and hopefully in a way that makes you really understand and have an opinion on it. It would be amazing to have something like this on screen of course, but there is something immediate about theatre and being present with the story here and now that I think makes the impact even more powerful. You can’t distract yourself too much from what’s going on like you maybe can if you’re at home watching TV!

The Special Relationship

Q. The arts seem to be quite a springboard for raising awareness of real world problems: there’s a growing fearlessness in depicting [or uncovering] complex problems that impinge on human rights. I’m thinking of shows such as Baghdad Central on Channel 4 or Knives Out or Knock Down The House that provide entertainment while offering alternative perspectives to the establishment view. Is it an exciting time to be a part of the artistic community right now?
Amrita Acharia: It is always an exciting time to be part of the artistic community – the world is constantly moving and evolving. I think more voices are getting a space to be heard now and a bigger variety of stories are getting told, people are becoming bolder with their choices and more vocal, so yes it’s definitely a really inspiring and important time to be part of the brickwork that can tell these stories.

Q. What do you hope audiences will take away from The Special Relationship?
Amrita Acharia: I hope they take away the idea of a bigger picture. A sense of opinion and responsibility. A sense of hope. A reminder that these situations are real. They affect real people.

Q. What do you like most about working in London theatre?
Amrita Acharia: I’ve been lucky enough to work with one of the loveliest most down to earth cast and crew with Synergy Theatre, and for me the rehearsal process and playing around and watching others work is one of the best parts of the process. We are a real team on this and very invested in the show. This is the first time I have performed so centrally and it is amazing to go into work with the buzz of London and know that in a space like the Soho Theatre, the audience is going to be incredibly varied.

I feel excited about it being a different performance every night, as so much of it interacts with the audience and their response communicates a lot to up. Also, Soho does amazing places for food and drinks – so being there for a show is a big perk!

Q. What can you tell us about Because The Night?
Amrita Acharia: Because the Night is a four-part series written by Neil Cross, that I like to describe as a modern day ghost story. We shot it last winter and the writing is just brilliant! Its based on Neil Cross’s book, Burial, which if you haven’t read and you love a thriller, I’d highly recommend you sink your teeth into!

Q. How was working alongside Russell Tovey?
Amrita Acharia: An absolute blast! I mean, Russell brings his dog Rocky to set very day, so that’s already a win! Watching skilled and instinctive actors do their thing is amazing in itself, but when you get to actually work alongside them and be given the space to, well, just ACT… it is an actors’ dream. It is wonderful to work with someone who has been in the business for so long but is incredibly down to earth, kind and supportive. It was really easy to just ‘be’ in the scene with Russell. He’s got a decent sense of humour and doesn’t take himself too seriously… everyone could take a leaf out of his book.

Q. And what’s it like working from a script by Neil Cross? Were you a fan of Luther?
Amrita Acharia: Yes, I am! I am such a sucker for that genre as well, so it ticks all my boxes! Working on one of Neil Cross’s scripts is like Christmas basically… gift after gift after gift. You can’t beat good writing and characters that are written with so many layers and subtleties. I enjoy the dark sense of humour peppered throughout it.

I remember having a call with Neil early on after the read through and geeking out over punctuation. I love punctuation in scripts and the way Neil uses them in the scenes gives so much information about what’s happening. I had a great time with the episodes, the writing is just beautifully natural, and you never end up overthinking anything as it just ‘works’.

Q. You’ve been a part of some incredibly popular TV shows too. How does it feel to be a part of something as successful as The Good Karma Hospital and what can we expect from the third season?
Amrita Acharia: It’s lovely to be part of something that has really been enjoyed by so many people, not only in the UK but across the world! It is as feel-good show, and I think it really gives a lovely bit of escapism on a Sunday night, but also deals with subject matters that are relatable. Season 3 will give the viewers more time with each of the characters they have come to know, and there’s an unexpected blast from the past for Gabriel, which throws a bit of a spanner in the works for Ruby and Gabriel.

There are some poignant storylines that carry throughout Season 3, and I was lucky enough to work with Kenneth Cranham for a lot of this season! It was an interesting way to explore the themes of love and the past catching up with you.

The Good Karma Hospital

Q. What do you like about playing Ruby?
Amrita Acharia: Ruby is just LOVELY, but without being a pushover, which I like as a balancing act. What you see is what you get, and she has as big heart. She’s feel-good, like the show itself!

Q. Likewise, how does it feel to have been a part of something like Game of Thrones, which became a phenomenon? I gather fans continue to show a lot of love and support for you (given your final scene was cut) and recognise you for that? What did you think of the show’s ending?
Amrita Acharia: Game of Thrones was one of my first jobs, so it opened a lot of doors for me, but also taught me a lot about just being on set, working with different actors and directors. It is amazing to look back and see the enormity of the show itself now and how big the fan base is! As all actors know, a show is nothing without its fans, so I am always grateful for the love and support they always show!

Q. You were also a voice part of the Golden Globe winning animated film Missing Link. How was that experience? Is voicing an animated film as fun and challenging as people say? Did you get to meet any of your fellow cast members? And what did the Golden Globe and Annie success mean to you?
Amrita Acharia: I met the cast members during the screening in New York last year, so that was fantastic! I think it is such a special animation and I love the fact it’s set around where my roots are (I’m half Nepalese) , so that particularly struck a chord with me. The gentle humour and the message of friendship and acceptance is so beautifully done, so it really deserved its awards!!

Q. When did you know that acting was the thing for you?
Amrita Acharia: The moment I sussed out I liked pretending to be other people and telling their stories [laughs].

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given so far? And what have been your favourite experiences so far?
Amrita Acharia: The best piece of advice I’ve been given so far: Keep your head down and stay in your lane.

The Special Relationship runs at London’s Soho Theatre from February 26 to March 21, 2020. You can find out more here or call the box office on 020 7478 01200 or visit the website.

Because The Night will air on ITV later this year, while The Good Karma Hospital: Season 3 will also air soon.