This Way Up: Actor Aasif Mandvi praises show’s realistic approach on mental health

COMIC RELIEF: Aasif Mandvi (left) with co-star Chris Geere in a scene from This Way Up

by LAUREN CODLING

HUMOUR is one of the “most effective ways to deal with painful topics”, an actor has said, as a new comedy series which follows a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown premieres this week.

This Way Up follows Aine, played by the show’s writer Aisling Bea, as she readjusts to everyday life after suffering a “teeny, little, nervous breakdown”. Accompanied by her sister Shona (Catastrophe star Sharon Horgan), Aine follows the road to recovery and, as Bea admits, explores her “rocky incline up to sanity”.

Comedian Aasif Mandvi, who appeared as a regular correspondent on the US satirical TV news programme The Daily Show until 2017, plays Shona’s boyfriend Vish. He spoke to Eastern Eye about the themes relating to mental health on the show.

“I think humour is one of the most effective ways to deal with difficult or painful topics,” he said. “Audiences want to be told the truth (and) I think an audience can tell if you are just adding a character with mental health problems as a way to make your comedy seem deep, versus where the issue is actually part of the DNA of the show.”

Aisling Bea (pictured) is the writer behind This Way Up

He praised the portrayal of Aine, adding that he liked the fact that her mental health struggles were not just an aspect of the show, but a central theme which shaped her character.

Mandvi has had an acting career spanning three decades, having starred in films such as Ghost Town, Million Dollar Arm and The Internship. However, This Way Up marks the
first time that the actor has worked on British television.

“Though I grew up in the UK, I had never worked on British television before, so I thought, ‘At best, this is going to be hugely fun and at worst, an awesome paid holiday.’”

Thankfully, it turned out to be the former, he said.

Mandvi was approached by Irish comedian Bea, who he had never met before, to play the role of Vish. She showed him a 10-minute version of the pilot episode, which Mandvi loved
and he agreed to get involved. Working with Bea and Horgan was a “thoroughly positive experience”, the British-American actor said.

“They were great,” Mandvi said. “They have such a deep connection that it almost felt like I was working with real sisters. So, it made my work a lot easier.”

He described Vish as being a “genuinely good guy”, and although he was Shona’s boyfriend, he also is a sibling like figure to Aine, Mandvi said. In one episode, the sisters and their
‘mammy’, who is visiting from Ireland, go to Vish’s family home to celebrate his father’s birthday. This, in particular, was a highlight for Mandvi.

The entire episode was an exploration of family, he said, and what that meant. He especially liked that Bea explored this theme, instead of the cultural differences between the Irish and Indian characters.

“(It was) more about the emotional dynamics,” he said.

In the show, his character is occasionally teased for his American accent – (“Uncle Vish moves to New York for two minutes, comes back and sounds like a sh*t radio DJ”) – after he moves back to the UK having lived in the US for a period of time.

Similar to the character he portrays, Mandvi himself is no stranger to moving from country to country. Although he was born in Mumbai, his family settled in England when he was a child before he moved to the US when he was in his teens.

So what kind of connection did he feel to these places?

“I see myself as an Indian baby, wrapped in an English schoolboy wrapped in an American
adult,” he said. “I have multiple personalities, culturally speaking. It can get confusing, but all three places and cultures live inside me.”

This Way Up begins on Thursday (8) at 10pm on Channel 4.