Q&A with Jassa about his recent guest appearance in Casualty.
Secret Diary of a Call Sheet, what’s in a title?
A call sheet is the term used for a document created by an assistant director and distributed to all cast and crew on a production. It outlines where and when everyone has to be and what scenes are to be filmed that day. They’re fascinating and frequently revealing documents. At a 007 exhibition at The Barbican Centre recently I saw an original call sheet from Dr. No; I discovered Sean Connery was lucky enough to get his costume and make up done at his hotel before travelling to set! I like to keep call sheets from jobs I’ve done as souvenirs – they remind me of little details I'd otherwise forget.
When did you audition?
Let me check…Friday 25th May 2012. It was only a few days before I was due to head out to Morocco to start on a new American TV thing (which I still can't talk about). So I was ridiculously excited about that but the audition was also at BBC Television Centre. I’d been there a few times before but it’s such an iconic building, I remember it featuring a lot on Blue Peter when I was a kid; it’s always a treat to get to visit in a professional capacity.
So you were excited about the audition?
Hell yes! And then I bumped into Alice (Felgate) who I’d just finished working with on Some Girls. There was something about that familiarity that gave me a great sense of relaxed confidence.
Obviously that worked in your favour…
Seems it did!
So how did you react when you found out you had got the part?
Overjoyed. I remember I was in my hotel room in Morocco when I got the call and I was jumping around all over the place. It the first time I’d be coming off a job and straight into another and it was Casualty! The British seal of approval for any aspiring actor!
So what was it like being directed by Graeme Harper?
Effortless. He's the only person to have directed the original and revived series of Doctor Who and that kind of experience shows. Far from him knowing exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it he moulded each scene by giving us the freedom to try things as we rehearsed. He'd then tweak the scenes slightly to fit in with the overarching story. I felt like I was being trusted with my character and guided rather than directed (does that make sense!?). I guess that's why he gets so involved in the casting process.
The character you play, Bart Nowak, is Polish. Was the language challenging?
It was far more challenging than I had originally thought. I studied Russian at university and I speak Punjabi so I’m comfortable with producing different sounds. But with Polish…where are the vowels!? Fortunately I had the chance to spend some time with a Polish guy. He made sure my pronunciation was up to scratch. Being linguistically aware was crucial though. Things like case agreement which we don’t (strictly) have in English were sometimes missing in the script. That kind of attention to detail is important to me. I also took particular pride in mispronouncing “conjunctivitis” when I auditioned. Graeme joked on set that that was the only reason I got the part.
What was it like visiting the studios for the first time?
Surreal! It was a weird combination of awe and distrust. It was amazing walking around what looked to be a regular working hospital. And then I’d see the doctors and nurses walking about and I’d be thinking “but you’re not actually medical professionals! This is wrong!” It was like being stuck inside a dream that keeps tricking you. There were signs that would lead to doors that opened onto brick walls.
In this episode you end up in Casualty (for the second time) after running into a burning building. How was that filmed?
The building was set on fire. I ran into it. That’s essentially it. The fire was all controlled using gas and non-lethal smoke was pumped in but for the moment when I actually entered the building through the flames I was wearing a fire resistant version of my costume and had a very cold protective gel rubbed onto my face and hands. I was actually quite thankful to get inside the building that day. It was freezing outside!
So it wasn’t that scary?
Well, I joke, but when Daniel (Casey) had to carry me out of the building the fire was very intense and the smoke was very thick. I remember waiting to hear “action” through the deafening roar of the fire and not being able to see anything through the smoke but the glow of flames…that was a moment at which I thought to myself “I never want to be in this position for real”. I could sense I was treading a fine line between excitement and genuine terror.
You mention Daniel Casey, what was he like to work with?
Absolutely incredible! I grew up watching Midsomer Murders and I couldn't believe I was actually going to get to work with him. I called my mum and dad actually when I got the script and shouted down the phone, “I get to punch Sergeant Troy!!!” We shared quite a few physical scenes and there was no pretending involved, he really went for it and I had to respond to that. He actually shoved me so hard on one take that I fell over backwards in the mud. I didn’t dare break character but instead came back stronger. Those kinds of experiences are hugely rewarding as an actor. The costume department were less amused.
Your burns look pretty severe, how long did they take to do?
At least an hour in make-up if not more, depending on how much was being seen that day. When I first visited the studios for my make up test and I saw the burns being applied it was a weird psychological experience. They looked so real that I couldn't quite figure out why they weren't hurting. That's not to say it was comfortable. After Daniel and I had taken photos of each other and sent them to our families the novelty soon wore off. The stuff they use to tighten your skin is particularly unpleasant after several hours.
Casualty is now filmed in Cardiff at the same studios as Doctor Who. Did you meet the Doctor?
I was always on the look out but sadly no. Russell T Davies' new show for CBBC, Wizards vs Aliens, was filming there as well though and I got to know Scott Haran and Percelle Ascot. They tried to sneak me onto their sets but our schedules always clashed. The show looks incredible and starts on Monday 29th October at 5.15pm.
Finally, what was the highlight of the whole experience?
Just being a part of such an established and respected series. It's heritage is insane! It's the longest-running emergency medical drama television series in the world and it's where people like Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Eccleston, Ray Winstone and David Walliams all started out. I can't help but be incredibly excited for the future.