Parminder Nagra

Bend it Like Beckham

Interviewed by Tom Dawson

After work on stage and TV (fleeting appearances in Casualty and Holby City), British actress Parminder Nagra gets her big-screen break playing Jess in football comedy-drama "Bend it Like Beckham"...

How did you get involved with "Bend it Like Beckham"?

The director Gurinder Chadha had seen me in a couple of plays and told me she had this footballing project about a young girl who lives in Hounslow and whose parents don't want her to play. About a year later the script turned up, I read the first scene, and I thought I could absolutely imagine myself doing this, even though my character is ten years younger than I am. Gurinder still put me through the audition process though!

How would you describe your character, Jess?

She's strong and persevering and just doesn't give up. Football is a passion that she holds dear to her heart. She's really going for her dream and there are obstacles in the way, but deep down she knows what she wants, and she pursues that. I really identified with Jess, because my own dream was acting, which isn't the most conventional profession.

How did you prepare for the footballing sequences?

Gurinder got us in contact with Simon Clifford, who runs the Futebol De Salao, which teaches the Brazilian way of playing. You use both feet and you learn lots of flashy tricks. I'd be given this homework, which was like doing a 90-minute aerobics session in my back garden. I practised so much I wore a hole in the turf! We had about seven or eight weeks of intensive practice, but I hurt my foot in the first couple of weeks and I got nervous about hitting the ball. My co-star Keira Knightley ended up with two black eyes from heading the ball again and again. What's interesting is that people are surprised that I learnt to play football. They all say, "But you look so petite and demure."