Liam Rudden: BBC champion working class talent with The Grey Area

Shaun Bhatti
Shaun Bhatti
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ACTORS. They are a breed unto themselves. Or so they like to think. It’s an insecurity thing I’m sure. I have yet to meet an actor who wasn’t.

Many years ago, a very wise mentor who had been on stage and screen longer than I had been on the planet told me: “If you don’t have a visceral need to act, do something else. You would only put up with the highs and lows of life as an actor because you were driven by some unknown force to do it.”

For a time I enjoyed acting. People told me I was good at it, but I didn’t need it. So I stopped, a long, long time ago. I was tempted back a couple of years ago to guest in a short film. Terrifying, yet the director seemed happy with my efforts.

To be honest, I never did understand why audiences liked what I did. I just did it - I’ve always believed actors are born not made.

So I was intrigued when I was told the new BBC Scotland drama The Grey Area, written by Garrys Fraser and Torrance, was largely cast from workshops with people in recovery from addiction and other troubles.

My ethos, that if you are the best person for the job and possess the discipline to learn the script and work hard then you have a right play the role regardless of training, seemed to be in play.

It’s not a view too many in the industry hold with but then why would they? The business has always been about self-preservation and looking after ‘your own’ regardless of their ability.

Trust me, I’ve seen many a dire performance by a trained card-carrying professional who, for whatever reason, usually political, finds their face fits.

It’s one reason why you see the same small pool of actors appearing on stage and TV despite there being a massive sea of talent out there, many of whom are trained yet never get a look in.

So BBC Scotland is to be applauded for not towing the line by commissioning The Grey Area, a visceral piece of drama which showcased a fraction of the raw talent just waiting to be discovered.

The turn given by the drama’s star, reformed Leith bad boy Shaun Bhatti (pictured), was on par with, if not better, than anything the regular faces that pop up in the likes of River City deliver. Stephen Crawford too was convincing.

Likewise Garry Fraser’s turn as drug dealer Buddha was chilling.

It was good to see the ‘local heroes’ supported by up-and-coming ‘professional’ talent, Dominique Haig and Jo Riddell in particular.

I’ve always believed acting is about drawing on your own experiences to find the truth in a character, the cast of The Grey Area succeeded in a way seldom seen on Scottish TV these days.

Let’s hope they all get the breaks they deserve in a business that is brutally middle-class and that, if they do, they don’t do what many working-class actors do and buy into the lie that being an actor makes them better than where they came from... Roots are everything.