If you were wise enough to quench your cinema thirst last month with Ben Sharrock's long awaited release of BAFTA nominated Limbo, you may well recognise Leicester born Vikash Bhai for his beautifully poignant and utterly lovable portrayal of Farhad - a refugee from Afghanistan living on a remote (and at times comically hostile) Scottish Island awaiting his right to remain.
There’s a kind of humble poise, unknowing wit and magnetism to his character that I was totally unprepared for. It’s a performance that felt so refreshingly new and I also, rather curiously, had some serious Farhad wardrobe envy; namely his cast-off sneakers, retro knitwear and 90's jeans. (That's really just a side note).
Limbo is a very special film that will take up space in my mind for years to come. So will Farhad. If you haven’t already seen the film by the way you can catch it on Mubi.
In the meantime, let’s meet Vikash - the rising star who, for the record, like me, likes a good natter.
Photo by Michael Shelford
Tell us about your journey to becoming an actor? Was that always the masterplan?
'It started from about the age of 4, I think. Year 1, Mrs Nevitt's class. I was 'understudying' the role of Father in a story called 'The Enormous Turnip'. It's the night of the show, (10am early years assembly), the lights go up, we're one minute into the first act (only act) and the actor playing Father gets stage fright. Mrs Nevitt looks down the row of children sat on the floor, legs crossed, faces aghast, whispering he's forgotten his line, and she gestures for me to get up. This was it - my moment in the spotlight, my time to shine! So I say the one line I have, wait for the others to say their one line and take that oh so very proud bow! It was glorious! So, yeah. I'd say it was almost certainly the masterplan! Even if I didn't quite know it was until many years later.'
Photos courtesy of Limbo
What is the most cherished / and most challenging part of what you do?
'I suppose the great thing I find about what I do, is that there's always a new discovery to be made. Whether that be about one's self, about the craft, about the business or about people places and things - venturing into the unknown and as yet undiscovered - maybe that's it...
The most challenging part without question is managing those inner demons; the self doubt, the anxiety - working hard to correct course when being led astray by those inner demons. The classic impostor syndrome. Truth is, I think many creatives can feel like impostors so there's some solace in knowing that the anxiety can sometimes just be part of a creative process. Doesn't have to be of course. It's the unknown. It's exciting but can also be scary.'
For people who haven't seen LIMBO, what is the film about?
'Limbo is a wry and poignant observation of the refugee experience set on a fictional remote Scottish island where a group of new arrivals await the results of their asylum claims. It centres on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician who is burdened by his grandfather's oud (the king of Arabic musical instruments) which he has carried all the way from his homeland.'
What was your process to finding the 'centre' of your character in the film?
'In short, the text. So much of Farhad is on the page. Initially, I used that to make choices about him and the world he has inhabited and is now inhabiting... and Ivana Chubbuck's,
'The Power of the Actor' is always an invaluable tool for me.'
Your character Farhad is a Freddie Mercury superfan... What are you a superfan of?
'Critical Role - a bunch of voice actors online playing Dungeons and Dragons. Once I've sat around the table and played D&D with them, I'm done!'
Photo courtesy of Limbo
What is the biggest challenge you've had to face?
'In both life and work, managing my mental health. Taking time to reflect and unravel what's at the heart of the discomfort or unease. For a long time I've maintained that I can do this on my own, partly because I have been able to, but also because I haven't had the courage to seek out help.
More recently though I've realised that there's much to be gained from asking for help from a professional - to help navigate the inner workings of the mind with the guidance of someone who has a better understanding of how or why we react to things in our lives in the different ways that we do. It's another unknown space that I'm only now beginning to venture into.'
What's your secret talent and worst habit?
'Well I'm not sure if you can call this a talent as such but I'm in Sri Lanka right now and last night there was a pretty wild storm. It woke up most of the hotel residents. I slept right through it without a clue. When I'm out for the count... I'm out!
Worst habit is, for sure, midnight snacking. I could have had five courses not two hours before, but come midnight I find myself opening the fridge looking for a snack.'
What makes you laugh?
'My wife. We goof around a lot. Most of the daft stuff we do no one else would find funny.'
What makes you angry?
Photo by Michael Shelford
What scares you?
'Rats. Ah man rats just creep me out.'
You're stranded on a remote Scottish Island (with DVD player in tow. Naturally.)
You can take with you just one movie, one book and an endless supply of.... ?
'The Big Lebowski', 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and an endless supply of coffee.'
What do you regard as your biggest achievement?
'Being able to continue to work as an actor. For as long as I am allowed to do it, it will remain my biggest achievement. Or maybe it's remembering to take the bins out. I think that would have to be up there. A close second.'
Photo by Michael Shelford
What would be your 3 nuggets of advice to young emerging actors?
'I don't have much by way of experience to know what would be good advice. I'm still figuring it out myself. But here goes...
Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen - listen to it at least once every couple of years - probably some of the best advice there for an actor.
Get involved with other things that fulfil you creatively. It'll soften the blows from when it doesn't go your way and on that point, don't worry so much if it doesn't go your way. Just do the work, prepare and persevere. You don't know whose watching or who has seen your stuff. Eventually doors will begin to open.
Listen. Really listen. Not just in a scene, but in the day to day activities and interactions.'
What are you most grateful for today?
'All the people in my life... and my cat.'
What lies ahead this year?
'Work wise I've just wrapped on Season 4 of The Good Karma Hospital and although I can't say much about the project itself, I do have something else coming up soon which I'm very excited to be working on. Cool script, great cast and an amazing director.
Aside from that, once I get home and out of the 10 day quarantine, I'll be getting back to bouldering (and maybe playing some Dungeons and Dragons!)'
Watch the trailer for Limbo HERE
(Interview by Charlotte Gascoyne)