The Bafta-winning actor on Four Lions, Enola Holmes and why he spent lockdown retracing his family history – and trampolining
I don’t know if it’s the heat – it’s 35C on the late summer day we meet for lunch at an outside table at the Canton Arms on south London’s busy Lambeth Road – but there’s an enjoyable sort of maziness to conversation with Adeel Akhtar. He prefaces nearly every response to a direct question by saying, “I don’t know if this is a connected thought at all”, or “I’m going to answer that by talking about something else entirely”. The lightly evasive manner fits with Akhtar’s beguiling screen presence, you can never quite pin him down; his resting face is a mournful tragic mask, which means he is capable of generous comedy as well as convincing pathos and despair. He’s stolen tons of scenes on film and TV, but if you picture him in a couple of defining roles, they might include Faisal, the most vulnerable of the slapstick jihadis in Chris Morris’s Four Lions (famously strapping improvised explosives to “Brother Crow”), or as the homicidal dad in Murdered by my Father, one of the great recent BBC performances, for which he won a Bafta in 2017 – the first and only non-white best TV actor winner.
He’s arrived on a bike and is mouthing apologies for being five minutes late while he locks it to a railing – he’s flying to New Zealand for Covid-free filming the next day with his wife and two young sons and things are a bit frantic at home. (The godsend of lockdown for him, he says, sitting down and getting a breath and a beer, was his wife’s inspired decision to buy a very large trampoline early on. “To start with, every time I looked at it, I got really agitated because the garden is now just a really massive trampoline. But she was right. The boys are four and two. It’s got us through.”)