by LAUREN CODLING
THE star of a new British comedy about a male synchronised swimming team has revealed the difficulties of training for the film.
Adeel Akhtar, 37, features in feel-good comedy Swimming with Men alongside comedian Rob Brydon and Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter.
The film follows an all-male group of synchronised swimmers who initially keep their personal lives secret. However, the men soon develop friendships that exist outside of the swimming pool.
Akhtar admitted that he under-estimated the problems in learning synchronised swimming. He and his fellow cast members had to spend two weeks in an intensive “swimming camp”, in order to learn the moves.
He said the sport, which is stereotypically performed by women although men have become increasingly involved in recent years, is “knackering”.
“It’s probably the most tiring thing I’ve ever done and that’s saying a lot because I get tired running up the steps,” he told Eastern Eye.
Akhtar initially struggled to break into the entertainment industry but the father-of-one has since established himself with parts in acclaimed Channel 4 series Utopia and the 2017 indie hit The Big Sick.
He won the Best Actor award at the 2017 TV BAFTAs, the first non-white actor to do so, for his role in the acclaimed BBC drama, Murdered By My Father. However, it was his portrayal of dopey terrorist Faisal in the 2010 satirical comedy Four Lions which was arguably his breakthrough role.
Asked if he believes typecasting remains a problem in the industry, Akhtar said it can be difficult for Asian actors to be shown in their full potential.
“There is a tendency to make your mind up about a person when you see them and there is nothing more visual than the color of someone’s skin. You immediately have these stereotypes in your head and people fall victim to that,” he said.
However, he believes the industry has come a long way since his early days, although there is still room for progress.
“It was hard for me to get involved in the industry, but then it is for everyone when you first start out,” he said. “The question is which of that was about being an actor and which was about being Asian. That is a really difficult question to answer.”
Today, Akhtar has an array of exciting new projects to look forward to. He most recently wrapped filming on a new BBC adaption of Les Misérables and is set to start filming Murder Mystery, a film starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston.
Although primarily a comedy, Swimming with Men explores the themes of loneliness and finding escapism through the sport. The film mainly revolves around the main character Eric – played by Brydon – an accountant who is faced with a full blown mid-life crisis and finds solace in the team, but Akhtar said he used his own experiences to relate to the characters.
Akhtar revealed his struggles when he moved to London as an aspiring actor.
“I’d just come out of drama school, I was trying to be an actor, but I wasn’t getting jobs and I was not feeling great. But things started to pick up when I worked with a children’s theatre company. Working with people towards a common goal pulled me out of that place I was in,” he said.
Akhtar’s hope is that the “heartfelt” story of Swimming with Men will resonate with audiences.
“It is about a group of middle-aged men, each one of them going through their own separate angst, but it is relatable to anyone going through any type of angst,” he said. “Even though it is about these men, it is also about the human condition and why it is
important to be around a community of people.”
And his interactions with his fellow male cast members were similar to the relationships audiences will see on screen, the actor said.
“We were just having a lot of fun, enjoying ourselves and not taking it too seriously,” Akhtar said.
Recalling a scene where the men had to perform in an outdoor swimming pool in freezing weather, Akhtar said it was a “questionable” moment for all the cast members involved.
“I remember looking at us all thinking, ‘why are we doing this? This is wrong on so many levels,’” he laughed. “But we had moments like that when we had a group understanding of having fun with it.”
Swimming with Men will be released nationwide on Friday (6).