“It was great, not quite as satisfying as the second one, but I don’t want to spoil it for you,” says Arsher Ali. Luckily I’ve already seen The Dark Knight Rises and even though we should be talking about the return of his E4 show Beaver Falls, we’re soon chewing over the finer details of Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman finale.
“I’m a bit of a comic-book geek, so I had to stop myself from telling my girlfriend what was going to happen and pointing out all the references,” he explains. “At the end of the day, the bar was set very high with the last one, but I just thought the end was a bit too clean.”
Whether you agree with Ali or not, there’s no denying his superhero knowledge or his knack for exploring different roles as an actor. In a relatively short career, he’s done theatre, left-field Chris Morris comedy Four Lions and Silent Witness, among other things. As such he’s certainly not typecast, but before we get into that, I can’t resist asking him what character from the Batman universe he would most like to play..
“I think I’d rather be one of the villains,” he replies. “Maybe The Riddler, he hasn’t been done recently.” I get the feeling that by recently, he actually means properly. Which in the light of Nolan’s reboot, is essentially the same thing.
We immediately cut to Arsher’s own origins story, a tale of acting talent discovered almost by accident and a fair bit of Shakespeare.
“Shakespeare was a bit of a dirty word at the drama school I went to,” he tells me. “It was all about gritty modern stuff, the kind of thing where you beat the floor, end up crying and someone’s taking crack behind you. It was out of curiosity more than anything that I went for Shakespeare.”
“Richard III is definitely my favourite play and probably my favourite character. I don’t buy into all this Hamlet bullsh*t,” he laughs. “All these eager beavers coming our of drama school and saying ‘I must do Hamlet’.. it’s a bit boring and it’s been done to death”.
As he explains this, I sense that Ali is an actor who wouldn’t be happy simply finding himself a little niche and he’s covered a lot of ground in a very short time.
“Yeah I’m trying to do a lot of stuff,” he says. “You’ve got to experiment while you’re young because it’s very easy to slip into a role. Especially as an Asian actor, it’s easy to be just become the go-to ‘young thug’ or ‘terrorist’. I don’t like getting on my soap-box, but it is important for Asian actors to prove they can do different stuff.”
“Four Lions was great like that because it was such a fresh angle,” he continues. “Chris Morris taught me that sometimes the best thing is to go in without a plan. Spontaneity can be so crucial. It was an amazing experience and a great bunch of actors, but Chris could do all our characters better than us, which was really daunting. You’re in front of the crew and he’s doing your bit in a way that makes everyone piss themselves,” he laughs. “You’re just like ‘great’.”
So how important is it to stretch the rules when making comedy?
“It’s not funny unless it does do that surely?” he says. “A slight chortle? A gentle chuckle? No, you don’t want that, you want stunned faces. People who can’t comprehend what they’ve just seen. It was great to watch people’s reaction to Four Lions as well. We were at a few early screenings and you could see the internal struggle of people wondering whether they should be laughing at something or not.”
We start talking about the problems faced by Asian actors (Ali says that although things are much better than they used to be, there are some sticks in the mud in the older parts of the industry) and I suggest that he should put himself forward as the next Doctor Who. “Chris Morris actually teases me about that,” he laughs. “He’s convinced that I’ll be Doctor Who one day.”
While we think about that and the tantalising prospect of Chris Morris replacing Steven Moffat as the Beeb’s Doctor Who writer, we’re drawn back to Arhser’s latest comedy. Now entering its second series, Beaver Falls follows the fortunes of three English lads who head to at an American summer camp looking for love..
“It’s great fun to film,” he explains. “Me and John Dagleish especially, we’ve geeked out together playing computer games and stuff. It’s great coming back to something where everyone knows each other and everyone’s good mates. There’s nothing worse than when you turn up as an actor on a show and all the crew know each other and the crew know each other and everyone’s got their own in-jokes.”
“It makes it easier to run around naked!” he laughs, referring to his character’s penchant for sleep-walking. Suffice to say, his female fans can rest easy in the knowledge that they’ll be seeing plenty more of Arsher in the new series.