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Monday 01 Sep 2014

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Upstairs Downstairs – Art Malik plays Mr Amanjit

Could you tell us a bit more about the character you play?

He is someone who has been in the employ of Maud, Lady Holland for some time – in India for the greater amount of it – and this is his first time in Britain. I think he's old fashioned with all the right Victorian values – loyal, very trustworthy – which becomes obvious as the episodes progress. I think his allegiance is 100% to her and he is there for the greater good. His morality is right in the centre.

Mr Amanjit seems to have some trouble fitting in. At first, he eats his meals separately from the rest of the household.

I think Maud, Lady Holland regards that a right and proper place for him to be. He's working as her secretary so he should stay in close proximity to her. When he finds himself being invited downstairs by the staff, a door has been opened for him and I don't think he wants to close it at all! He relishes being a member of the family. He's in the confidence of those upstairs – which is great – but being regarded by the downstairs staff as 'one of us' pleases him no end.

Maud brings a monkey with her to 165 Eaton Place. Don't they say never to work with children or animals?

It was fine. There was a moment when I was holding the monkey and just as the take finished she decided to bite my finger! It caused a bit of a panic. But when you're working with the sort of calibre of people that we were, you know that the monkey you're working with has had every inoculation needed and is of the highest of standards.

What was it that attracted you to the part?

Heidi's scripts have captured the essence of what Upstairs Downstairs is. It is a character-led piece with superb characters. The great thing about a character-led piece is that characters can be flawed. And it's when they're flawed that we are really excited about them, and interested in them. I'm very happy with the direction the series has taken. I think we've picked up the mantle and I hope people are as pleased with it as I was when I read it.

The sets are stunning. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like working on them?

I didn't even think we were on a set! Of course I knew we were, but the minute you entered into the world – whether it was the upstairs or downstairs – it just felt as if I was in that house. They are beautifully built sets – not just built beautifully but the colours and the life in them. The fact that you can lean against a wall and it doesn't move is wonderful – the attention to detail is extraordinary.

You have an interesting story about how you got the part. Can you tell us a bit more?

It was a chance meeting with Eileen last year, when I said to her that I had been watching the reruns of the classic series and suggested that they should revisit it – or even just update it. She said, 'I'm going to stop you there. I can't tell you anything'. And she made me promise not to say anything but told me that she was about to find out from the BBC what was going to happen.

I went away thinking 'how lovely – they're going to bring it back'. I didn't even consider that there may be something in it for me. I was in New York filming Sex In The City 2 and my agent called me saying that Eileen Atkins had been on the phone asking if I wanted to be involved. It is a great honour. I've known Eileen over the years and suddenly you're there working with her. She's a fascinating woman and an amazing actress. In fact, everyone on it was wonderful – we were so lucky.

Mr Amanjit is a Sikh, so of course has a beard – which isn't your own. What process did you have to go through to get that put on?

Our make-up designer, Christine, had some beards in stock and worked with those and added bits, and cut bits. We got a Sikh gentleman to teach us about how they fold their beards, or rolled their beards, so that it can take the shape we had. That process took about five hours. After a while we got it down to being able to put the beard on in just over an hour. One of the other girls also learnt how to wrap a turban properly as well. I always felt that it would be good to be able to authentically put one on every day – rather than use one that had been pre-made. By doing so, that intricate process helps you get into character. As the transformation happens you begin to feel like that character.

How was filming in Wales? Did you enjoy it?

I can't wait to come back. It's such a lovely place. Coming out of the door to your trailer and seeing the hills was amazing. I was living down in the Bay. I would wake up and look out on the great vista. You'd be a sad sort of chap if that view didn't lift your spirits. And you have the sheer joy of the Welsh.

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