Rising Star

Fariha got chatting to talented young actress Rachel Petladwala ahead of her forthcoming movie Unhallowed Ground

Posted: 30.05.15

For all those horror movie buffs, you’re in for a treat with the forthcoming British indie flick Unhallowed Ground, which set against the backdrop of a boarding school, where six students face supernatural forces and the re-emergence of an age old school legend on one fateful night. What’s more intriguing, is that it has been written by British Asian Paul Raschid and stars 21 year old British Asian actress Rachel Petladwala who you may recognise from kid’s television series M.I High on the BBC a few years ago. She is ready to break the mould of Asians only being cast in stereotypical roles, and is one of the first to appear in a mainstream movie of this genre. At just 21 years old, Rachel has already been acting for nine years, yet she is incredibly down to earth and fun – just like a regular youngling, who has just finished uni. She may have achieved a fair bit in her time already, but as Rachel reveals, this is only the beginning…

You won the award for Best Supporting Actor for your role at the British Independent Film Festival - how did that feel?
It was so weird! Only Paul and I went, we were prepared to accept awards on other cast member’s behalf. I genuinely had nothing prepared to say, I just didn’t think it was going to happen. I was so surprised! It was such an amazing feeling.

You play the role of Meena who is quite obedient with strict parents and she’s the sporty type – how alike are you both?
Her sporty and competitive side I can definitely relate to, especially when I was at school. Even before acting, I was never into drama – I was kind of like a jock, I did every sport. So when drama came about, it was really random. But my parents aren’t strict at all unlike Meena’s. I guess I’ve been really lucky as my parents aren’t pushy, they’re really liberal. As long as I’ve got my head screwed on, that’s all they care about and when it comes to that kind of mentality of being the best of the best – they were never like that. And without giving away too much of the movie, there are certain aspects of Meena that are totally unlike me, which will make more sense when the movie is out and watched!

The movie is impressively multicultural, which is so refreshing and much needed in this genre and mainstream cinema in general. What are your thoughts on that and how do you think more ethnic minorities can be encouraged to get into this industry, as well as get noticed and chosen, aside from the obvious stereotypical roles?
It’s difficult to say what we can do on our side, because it’s all down to the casting directors out there who make the call. But I’m definitely lucky enough to be part of an era where it is changing, yet you will still mostly see Asians playing stereotypically Asian roles, as if that’s all they can do. But things are definitely changing – the Producer Neville Raschid has brought about a project called BAME which focuses on black and Asian minorities within the media industry, but it is something that will just progress with time. There are more mainstream movies being made that require Asian roles, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which contribute massively to positive changes. But the question has to be asked – why can’t an Asian actor play the lead in a Hollywood movie, instead of only being given roles in obvious movies like Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire etc. Priyanka Chopra has definitely broken the mould by starring in a top American drama series – a sign that things are definitely changing. Paul and I had a really similar upbringing, whereby in our schools and at home we were always surrounded by all cultures, so I never experienced any kind of segregation. I think playing the role of Meena is also a positive progression, as she just happens to be an Asian, but she is not playing a stereotypical role. I think this will encourage the younger generation of ethnic minorities to get into this field, as they are quite scared to venture into this industry for fear of being side-lined with the same ol’ roles. It’s still quite taboo. People presume that just because you’re Asian, you just want to be in Bollywood – what does that even mean?! I mean, I would love to, but it’s almost like you’re put in a labelled box and can’t dare to go beyond that.


Have your family been supportive of your decision to go into acting? 
Because I started quite young, I think they just kind of assumed it was a phase. Since I started out in a kid’s show, my mum loved it – you can imagine, Asian mum, her kid’s on TV! But when it came to university, and I started becoming more serious about it and decided that I want to get a degree but definitely want to go into acting, they did have a moment of hesitation, since no one in my family has ever been interested in the artistic/creative route. They were concerned that I wasn’t sure, that it can be quite an unsteady path. Although they say all of that, my mum still wants to come to all my auditions with me, so they do secretly love it! They just say no matter what you do, as long as you work hard at it, that’s the main thing.

You’re also a very young team, with Paul Raschid the writer of the story being only 22 years old – how did that contribute to creating a movie very much aimed at a young audience? A young film made by young people. 

It makes it a lot more relatable to the audience it’s aimed at for sure. For some reason, out of the six of us, Paul and I kind of lived the life that he wrote. We both went to a brother and sister school just like in the movie by sheer coincidence, so we know the characters in the movie so well. As soon as I read the script, I knew exactly who Paul was talking about! Because we had observed and lived this life, it definitely made it a lot easier to understand the story and characters. He did it so well with the humour as well – especially all the banter involved, it’s so funny! He didn’t want the teen plus audience thinking the banter etc is lame or unrealistic. So it definitely helps that we are all young ourselves, especially the writer Paul.

How did you feel about starring in a horror and that too quite a gruesome one?
I’ve always loved horror since I watched Scream when I was about 8 years old, because I just don’t get scared of them! I just find them really interesting. You don’t really get good horror scripts that often, and that too with a role of an Asian – it is such an anomaly. When I read the script, I remember thinking, if this doesn’t scare me, there’s no point doing this if there are no twists etc involved. But the whole time, I had no idea what was going on - it’s full of unexpected surprises!

The movie is full of jumpy scenes and pranks are played – during the filming, did you guys play any pranks on each other? 
When we started filming, we thought – we’re so going to do loads of pranks throughout, but once we got started, we just got so busy with our schedules that we just didn’t get the time to have that sort of fun.

The location is quite spooky, did any weird occurrences take place at all? 
I know! The school where it was filmed is so old, and we were filming one of the night shoots in the school chapel which happens to be the most creepy place! In between shots, I ended up sitting on my own there one night and just freaked myself out, it was so eerie knowing that it’s 4am and no one else is there! It’s also really big and you just get really freaked out when you hear random creaks and noises in the middle of the night.

Do you believe in supernatural stuff?
Completely! I’ve never encountered anything personally and I really don’t want to. There are some things you hear about and it’s so believable, I just can’t help but believe in it and feel intrigued – but not intrigued enough to want to experience it myself!

Did you always want to get into acting? 
This is so bad, but no! I feel so bad when I say that because there are probably so many actors who want it so badly, but for me it just fell into my lap and that was when I realized how lucky I was and how much I loved doing this.

Your first acting role was in M.I High - is it true that you heard about the casting in assembly and pointed out a spelling mistake of an acid to the director and the rest is history?! How on earth did you know what that was at that age?!
Yes that is a true story! I was only 12 years old and I was staying with my cousin who was about 17 years old, who was studying and so I asked him what this word Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) meant and remembered it phonetically. So when I spotted that they had spelt the acid wrong in the script at the audition, I was so cheeky that I told the director – I was like: ‘by the way Deoxyribonucleic acid is spelt like this!’ There was really no need for me to tell him! They were just like oh my god, a 12 year old is correcting our spelling! I’m still friends with the director and he always laughs about it. Who did I think I was?!

Was it tough working as an actor from quite a young age alongside studying?
It wasn’t so hard when I started from the age of about 12-17, before I did my A-levels. But when it came to studying for my A-levels and I had to miss about a month of school, that really took its toll and really plummeted my grades. That was when I had a reality check that I really need to double up on my studying. It can be tough, especially whilst I was at university as well, but it was totally worth it. You do need to sacrifice abit of your social life, but it’s worth it in the end.

What are you studying at uni? How do you deal with the pressure?
I just finished my final year studying Business Management and Public Policy. I’ve always been quite academic and I wanted the uni experience. I’m so glad I did it.

What are your future goals? 
Whilst I was at university, I ended up having to take a backseat with my acting and only did Unhallowed Ground because it was filmed during the summer last year which was perfect timing. Now I’m finally done with university, I’m going to fully commit to it. Obviously I dream of making it big, I definitely want to focus a lot more on film. As we already discussed, it can be quite restrictive being British Asian in this industry, so I hope I get the opportunity to get good parts that actually help me develop as an actress and that I can have fun with.

Would you try theatre?
I definitely want to delve into theatre at some point. Even at school, I participated in some amateur plays and it is not easy being on stage in front of all those people and some of whom you know as well. Television and cinema are so much easier, but theatre definitely develops you more as an actor.

Catch Rachel in Unhallowed Ground, releasing on 12th June 2015 in selected cinemas

Fariha Sabir

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