Interview with Amy Leigh Hickman - Nas Paracha in 'Ackley Bridge'
Ackley Bridge is a drama series which follows the merger of two schools in a segregated British and Asian community, due to budget cuts. As expected, plenty of twists and turns take place, and nothing ever runs completely smoothly... although which school ever does? Watch episodes of Ackley Bridge here.
Amy Leigh Hickman, who plays Nas Paracha, talks us through her role in the series, including the challenges and difficulties faced by her character and the many highlights, too...
You play Nas, can you tell us a bit about her…
I’d say Nas is one of the quieter and tamer students at Ackley Bridge. She is also quite intelligent. She is quite different to me, I think I am a little bit more outgoing and flamboyant than she is. She may be quiet and tame but is definitely ballsy deep down!
Nas has been friends with Missy for most of her life, they’ve grown up side by side, how does attending Ackley Bridge affect their friendship…
Their friendship is more like family so when they go to Ackley Bridge they are confronted with the problems that are going on in the real world and that are going on at Ackley Bridge. At the school there is a lot of diversity and I don’t think they really realised there were so many cultural differences until getting there.
Because much of the show is about cultural difficulties in Ackley Bridge, is that something that you were aware of growing up…
Because we live in today’s society where we think that everything is ok and everyone is accepted it’s difficult when you see these difficulties actually do exist. Racism is still a thing and it still goes on in schools. I realised I was very naive because I thought everyone was accepting, but that’s the good thing about the show as it portrays it in a way where you need to see what’s going on.
In a way Missy and Nas’ relationship is at the centre of the show, did you feel a sense of responsibility taking that on with-in such a huge production?
I did feel a sense of responsibility taking on this role, but I never worried about it because Poppy and I had meet before are and genuinely friends in real life. So whenever I got the scripts through that centred on them I felt comfortable because of my friendship with Poppy and I knew that we were going to be able to bring that to the scenes.
How did you and Poppy meet?
We met about three years ago at a Blue Peter event. We were both on children’s shows and I was there with my Dumping Ground cast and she was there on her own and by the end of it we brought her into our team and then got the train home together so it was so nice on the first day when we met and realised, we were like “Oh my God it’s you!”.
Sunetra Sarker plays your Mum, what was it like working with her?
I absolutely love that woman from the bottom of my heart! She is one of the most fascinating people that I have ever met and worked with. Whenever I had scenes with her I would never worry because we have such a strong connection away from set so I just knew that it was going to show in scenes. In real life I will still run to her with my problems or I will call her and ask for her advice. She is like my real life Mum. She is lovely and such a fab actress, I feel lucky to be able to work with someone like her.
There is an amazing adult cast on the show, did you learn a lot from them?
I learnt so much from working with the other actors. What made it so nice was that we all really did get on so well in real life. When we were filming, we were all living in apartments next to each other so you could just go and knock on each other’s door. It was really nice to have that accessibility because Jo and Liz and Sunetra are so experienced and on set you can see and feel the buzz from them and that’s inspiring for me.
Was it tight-knit on set?
It was, as we were all living next to each other, we would cook each other dinner. I cooked once, but set the fire alarms off making fajitas, so after that we either ate at someone else’s for would go out for dinner. I can’t cook to save my life, thankfully I live with friends and they can cook.
Many of the other student characters on the show were street cast, what was it like filming with them and what was the experience working with them up in Halifax?
It was so interesting because I am from a white family and they are not religious so I didn’t know much about the culture, so Naz who played my sister, taught me so much because she didn’t need to do any research, she was the part, she had lived in it and always had done. I found myself asking them more questions than they did to the actors because they have lived in these storylines.
Have you stayed in touch with them?
Yes I still speak to them. Especially Cody and Naz who play Hayley and Raz I still speak to them a lot.
We hear there was a Snapchat unit on set who were filming content at the same time as you were filming the show, which is a bit of a TV first, was that a fun experience? What was it like filming on an iPhone?
It was a strange experience because I felt like I was Snapchatting. They would say “Turn over, action!” - with a phone in front of my face! It genuinely felt like I was just having Snapchat on my phone. I think it’s going to be fun to see back.
What were you like at school?
I was really, really quiet in school but now I am the exact opposite. I was probably a bit like Nas in school in terms of how quiet she was and then outside she has her other friends. That’s what life was like before she went to Ackley Bridge because Missy didn’t go to the same school as her. I wasn’t that into school, I used to like the creative subjects like Art and English. Most of my friends and hobbies and things I did outside of school. But I did study drama at secondary school.