TBB TALKS … to AHMED ELHAJ STAR OF NEW APPLE TV SERIES ‘BAD MONKEY’

Ahmed Elhaj is a London-born actor who was awarded a full scholarship by The London Academy of Music and Drama (LAMDA). He graduated in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and was recognised by Warner Bros TV as one of that year’s top 10 drama graduates.

Not long after graduating Elhaj landed a role in BBC primetime drama Silent Witness, which led to him being cast as the first black lead in popular ITV series Granchester. Going on to secure his position as the series lead.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood has come knocking and Elhaj has been cast opposite fellow Brit Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen & Slim, Anne Boelyn) and Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, The Break Up) in Bad Monkey a show set in Florida and the Bahamas. Along with a few other exciting projects soon to be released we caught up with the rising star to find out more …

Please introduce yourself…

Hi, my name is Ahmed Elhaj. I’m 23 years old and I grew up in West London.

Please share a word or sentence that describes your life right now …

Unsurprisingly chaotic.

So huge, huge news that you’ll be starring in Bad Monkey for Apple TV alongside Jodie Turner-Smith, and Vince Vaughn, where were you when you heard the news that you got the role, and who was the first person you told?

I was getting food on Portobello with a friend so I actually missed the initial calls. So when I looked at my phone for the time I saw I had four missed calls from my agents and messages saying ‘can you call me back‘, which at 8pm was not strange because of the time difference. So I genuinely had no idea what the conversation was about but was ecstatic and as soon as I put the phone down; I told my friend next to me!

You’ve not long graduated from LAMDA, so some would say you’re really lucky that you bagged a job like this so early into your career … What do you think the casting director saw in you?

I think the casting director saw that I had a connection with the Caribbean essence of the character. Being Jamaican myself, and being around people from the different islands, I knew the particular nuance and differences that a Bahamian has compared to a Jamaican.

Can you tell us a bit about your character and the part he plays in the series?

My character is Neville who is a mild and tame fisherman who lives in Andros, Bahamas. He has a normal day-to-day of just coasting through life before it gets turned upside down when one of the most important things to him, his home, is sold and taken away from him. He then embarks on a journey to get back what’s his which in turn leads him to the other characters.

Going back to being a newbie on a set like this, what are you most nervous about, and what do you hope this does for you as an actor?

I’m mostly nervous about the accent, to be honest. It’s so close but far away from Jamaican that sometimes I’ll find myself slipping in and out of it and my main aim is not to confuse the two. I’ve never had to do a character with such a big accent change before so it’s an interesting challenge and seeing how I can keep it genuine throughout the series.

Ahmed Elhaj as Henry Jones, Granchester: Image Credit ITV

Though we’re calling you a newbie, you have had series’ experiences with your roles in Granchester and Silent Witness, what will you take from those experiences into working on Bad Monkey?

I think I’ll take the collaborative and impulsive mindset. On these sets, I was taught so much about being within the moment and dealing with what’s in front of you rather than what you’ve prepped at home and just doing that. In particular with Grantchester, I also learned about ownership. Being the first significant black character in a series like that, meant that I had to represent a particular culture and race that hadn’t had a lot of representation; and for some people watching the first time, they’re seeing that in a show that they love.

What are you most hoping for in 2022?

I’m hoping that I can work on a film, I’ve had quite a lot of TV work which has been great, but from what I’ve heard from other actors film can be a slightly different experience, so I’m excited to embark on that journey of finding myself on a film set.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
  • A book you have to have in your collection? Ikigai; the Japanese secret to a long and happy life.
  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? The Internet – Ego Death.
  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? PhoneShop.
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Macbeth. It was extremely impactful because it showed me how exciting live theatre is and opened my eyes to a world that I felt pulled towards.
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: Weather. Glad: Meeting with friends and seeing them drive towards their purpose. Mad: That I’ve still not learnt how to drive.
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