Atta Yaqub is a Scotsman very much in touch with his Asian roots, essential qualities to play the confused but likeable Casim in Ken Loach's cross-cultural Romeo And Juliet story Ae Fond Kiss. Away from the screen, the 25-year-old part-time model works as a youth counsellor, has a degree in IT management, and never seriously thought about an acting career until he was cast in this, his first film.
As this marked your screen debut, was it important to you to draw a distinct line between yourself and Casim?
I didn't think about it actually. I think there were certain inferences that Ken was able to draw out from my own character. But I didn't think about giving much of myself away because at the end of the day I was acting, I wasn't playing myself. I could appreciate what Casim was going through, and thought about how I would react in certain situations that I'd been through which were similar. That made it a bit easier, but I didn't see too many similarities.
Ken Loach famously gives little away to his actors during the shoot, to ensure a very natural response from them within the story. Did you have any peculiar experiences because of that?
There was a funny thing. After we'd been filming a while Ken asked if I had a valid passport. When I asked why, he said that we'd be going to Spain the following Thursday. It was just as well that I had one. And I couldn't drive before doing the film, so they pushed for me to get my test: thankfully I passed first time. I couldn't swim when I was in the sea in Malaga either, but I didn't learn to swim, I just splashed about and made it look as natural as possible.
That begs a question about your love scenes with co-star Eva Birthistle...
I think the friendship that we established helped. Ken's very professional in that respect, he made us feel comfortable and we had discussions about how he would like to do things. He was very accommodating in that way, he didn't impose anything on us. Which is why we were - hopefully - able to portray the kind of intimacy and love that the characters have.
What do your friends and family make of the film?
They're very proud of me. I think they feel that the film portrays a natural realism of Glasgow life for Asian Pakistanis. Especially from a young man's point of view, or in [screen sister] Tahara's case, and in the way she's depicted. Obviously some of the intimate scenes shocked them a little, but at the end of the day I was acting, playing somebody else. Hopefully they understood that.
Can you identify with the cultural pressures that bear upon an Asian man dating a white girl?
I dated a white girl for a while and it was all very secretive, very hidden because I understood the whole concept of respect and not letting my mother down, and not causing friction within the family. I was always aware of that, and I think that is something that comes out of the film as well.