Tag Archives: Archie Panjabi

Turbulent times

Having made her name stateside in The Good Wife, British actor Archie Panjabi takes the lead in new thriller Departure. She speaks to DQ about her role in the series, being an executive producer and working in Hollywood.

For those afraid of flying, the first nine minutes of Departure are probably best avoided. After a succession of passengers strap in for a red-eye flight between New York and London, the tension rises rapidly as turbulence and an almighty explosion hit the aircraft somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, causing it to disappear from the radar.

Accident investigator Kendra Malley (Archie Panjabi) is subsequently ordered by her boss, Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer), to investigate the disappearance of Flight 716. What follows is a twisting, pacy thriller that sees Kendra try to solve the mystery of why the plane vanished – terrorism, electrical faults and pilot error are all under suspicion – and the fate of its 256 passengers.

It was a setup that instantly appealed to Panjabi, best known for her six-season stint on CBS legal drama The Good Wife. “It was fun, it was thrilling. It’s a good script,” she tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. “They sent me all six episodes, which is a rarity, and I couldn’t put them down. That’s a good sign! If I’m reading it, I want to know what happens and that’s the hook for the show. It’s about something deeply fascinating, particularly today, and I wanted to know what happened. Christopher was already attached to it, it’s a good story and it’s reflective of our time. I thought, ‘Let’s do it!’”

As well as attempting to uncover what happened to the plane, Kendra is also battling her grief over the death of her husband, which had seen her take a leave from work – only to be brought back to the coalface when Howard summons her to work on this new case.

Archie Panjabi as Kendra in Departure

“That’s also what drew me to it,” the actor explains. “On the one hand ,it is investigative because you want to find out the answers but, on the other hand, you have her story running in parallel. She’s gone through this awful accident. She hasn’t really dealt with her grief and this forces her to deal with it.

“That’s what gave me an added bonus to do the story. It wasn’t just about the plane; it was about how she, in trying to bring closure to the victims’ families, is faced with her own truths and has to deal with that, which is quite difficult for her because she’s quite good at helping other people but not dealing with her own past. You really get to see that in the later episodes where there’s some really quite heavy, emotional stuff.”

At the heart of the London-set story is the “great big wheel of suspects,” as Panjabi describes it, with numerous potential causes of the plane’s disappearance placed under the microscope by a supporting cast of characters played by Kris Holden-Tied, Tamara Duarte, Mark Rendall, Peter Mensah and Claire Forlani. Rebecca Liddiard plays Madelyn, one of the passengers who may be linked to the mystery.

“You just don’t know,” Panjabi says of the reason behind the aircraft’s fate. “But just when you think you’ve found evidence that points to one culprit, you find something else and that wheel just gets bigger and bigger. It gets quite scary in terms of what causes the flight to disappear.”

To play Kendra, Panjabi had to brush up on her aviation knowledge, including getting to grips with ACAS, the Airborne Collision Avoidance System. But the technicalities of Kendra’s day job are always balanced with the pressures the character faces at home, dealing with the loss of her husband and the ongoing conflict with her stepson.

Christopher Plummer (left) is among the British actor’s co-stars

The British actor’s role isn’t merely confined to the screen, however, as Panjabi is also an executive producer, working alongside director TJ Scott and production companies Shaftesbury in Canada and the UK’s Greenpoint Productions. She describes the partnership behind the scenes as a collaborative affair, where her ideas were taken on board and she was consulted about potential changes. “That made it a lot more fun and the way TV should be,” she says. “It didn’t feel like I had my EP hat on. It just felt like you could talk about ideas and the direction of the script.

“I was very open because there’s so much about making TV I don’t know. So for me, it was a very educational lesson. I feel like I come with the character study and instinctive stuff and that just adds to all the other wealth of talent you have.”

Panjabi built her career with roles in British series such as The Bill, Life on Mars and Silent Witness before heading to the US and joining the cast of The Good Wife in 2009. She went on to appear as investigator Kalinda Sharma in more than 130 episodes before she left the show in 2015. She has since starred in NBC drama Blindspot and returned to the UK for ITV thriller Next of Kin.

The actor says it was a dream come true to land work in Hollywood, noting: “As great as the British industry is, and I love it, Hollywood is just the ultimate for every actor. When I went there, I had no expectations but I was so excited to go. What’s really nice is you also get a lot more recognition in England so you can come back and still work.”

Discussing The Good Wife, Panjabi says she was “blessed” to work on the show and loved playing Kalinada for six years. “I was allowed to have an input on my character and she was just so fun to play because she was so mysterious,” she adds.

Panjabi spent six years playing Kalinda Sharma in the Good Wife

The strength of the British system, she says, is that the director is the “captain” of the production, rather than the hierarchy of producers more commonly found in the US. Her next production, HBO limited series I Know This Much is True, is led by writer/director Derek Cianfrance.

“I love that because, visually and creatively, he’s got the power to work with the actors,” she says of the series, which stars Mark Ruffalo as identical twins in a story about betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness. “But when you have a whole hierarchy and you have to ask permission for every creative change, I think you lose some of the magic. Some of the more successful shows are going to the British model where you’re just working with the director. I love that way of working. It was a bit like that on Departure. TJ was the captain.”

Departure, which is created by Vincent Shiao with Malcolm MacRury as showrunner, was filmed across six weeks in Toronto, with further location shooting in London. “We had plane crashes, a submersible, a car crash – there are so many things that happened. I don’t know how we did that in 40 days. But TJ was always very calm and willing to adapt and compromise and chill. It was a really fun shoot,” Panjabi says.

With recent real-life disasters generating headlines about aviation security and safety around the world, Departure certainly taps into a topical subject. The actor describes the series as “unique” and notes that while a plane crash is “everybody’s worst fear,” the series does offer some hope to viewers in the end. “I just think a series like this has not been done,” she continues. “We’re witnessing the families and what they go through and how it also affects someone investigating it and how they deal with the politics of that, because you have the government on your shoulders, the press, the victims’ families – how do you cope with that?”

Departure will air on NBCUniversal International Networks across Europe and Africa, plus 13th Street in France, Spain and Poland, following deals with distributor Red Arrow Studios International. It is also due to air on Canada’s Global TV next year.

Now three episodes into its run on Universal TV in the UK, the show is proving to be intensely watchable, which proves Panjabi’s attitude to picking scripts is on the money: “I just read something and think instinctively, as a viewer, would I watch it? It’s all about the people, the character and the script.”

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Family matters

Emmy-winning actor Archie Panjabi stars alongside Jack Davenport in espionage thriller Next of Kin. She tells DQ about taking the lead in her first British drama and explains why she thinks the series will provoke a timely discussion among viewers.

Growing up in the humdrum north London suburb of Edgware, Archie Panjabi knew she wanted to be an actress but saw very few Asian role models on television. There was a family in EastEnders and there was Amita Dhiri in This Life, and that was it.

“There really weren’t very many roles for British Asian actresses,” says the star. “Even in the cinema there was nobody from my background apart from in Bollywood films.”

However, things are changing, slowly, and Panjabi is leading the way. Having first found fame in films such as Bend it Like Beckham and The Constant Gardener, she is best known for her Emmy-winning role as the enigmatic Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife.

But it is only now that the 45-year-old is taking to the screen in her first lead role in a British drama, Next of Kin, an exciting contemporary series set in the world of terrorism and espionage. It is made by Mammoth Screen for ITV and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

“From the moment I read the script, I wanted to read the next one but it was the character of Mona that really excited me,” Panjabi says. “I’ve worked my entire career to get an opportunity like this and I think for the whole shoot I was just smiling away. It was amazing to get an opportunity like this. When I was younger all I dreamed of was having a small part on television; I never thought my career could take me to America or a job like this.”

Next of Kin stars Archie Panjabi as Mona

She’s still smiling when DQ visits ITV’s London headquarters shortly after the show has wrapped. Written by Vera and Indian Summers creator Paul Rutman and his novelist wife Natasha Narayan, Next of Kin was conceived as they watched the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris.

Since then, sadly, there have been many other atrocities for the writers to draw inspiration from. But while sympathy always, obviously, lies with the victims of the attacks and their families, Next of Kin looks at the story from the other side.

Punjabi’s Mona is a GP whose family emigrated to Britain from Pakistan when she was two. Her older brother, Kareem (Navin Chowdry), who is also a doctor, still has ties to Pakistan but she is married to an Englishman, played by Jack Davenport, and feels British, as do her two younger siblings Ani (Kiran Sonia Sawar) and Omar (Mawaan Rizwan).

The story unfolds in both Pakistan (filmed on the Indian border) and the UK. The story begins in the former as Kareem is kidnapped just before flying home to Britain. Meanwhile, in London, as they wait for news of Kareem, the family witnesses the smoke from yet another terror attack on the capital.

Debuting in the UK on January 8, Next of Kin was filmed last summer in London as the country reeled from a series of terrorist attacks. They were filming not far from London Bridge when eight people were murdered by Jihadists in July.

Alongside Panjabi is Pirates of the Caribbean star Jack Davenport

“There was a weird energy on set the next day,” recalls Panjabi. “It felt a bit surreal. On one hand, we are using art to talk about a subject that is happening right before us, a subject we don’t fully understand. But on the other, people have just died because of this subject. It was odd and sad and I think it made us all reflective. It was a strange, sad time.”

In the show, it rapidly emerges that there may be a link between the kidnapping and the terrorist attack; what is unclear is how much Kareem’s son Danny, Mona’s nephew, had to do with each. What follows is a Homeland-style thriller but one very much with a family at its heart.

“It’s a timely piece; it really shines a light on the area of the families of terror suspects and I think it will provoke a discussion,” says Panjabi of the six-part series. “One of the things the show doesn’t do is seek to explain it or understand it, because it’s such a complex thing to understand. The focus is very much on what happens to a family when a younger member is suspected of being radicalised. How does that affect each member of the family?

“I do spend a lot of time crying on the show,” she adds. “It was emotionally draining and also emotionally challenging. Her brother has been kidnapped and her teenage nephew is suspected of something by the police. She believes 100% – at the beginning, at least – that he is innocent. She is fighting tooth and nail for him but, at the same, time she’s struggling to keep this big family unit intact. So it is traumatic for her, and playing her is quite traumatic because you don’t just want to cry all the time – you have to build up a whole different repertoire of crying. I don’t think I’ve ever had that opportunity to do something like this before.

“Every time I felt stressed I could hear my mother saying, ‘Well, you wanted to be a lead!’”

For Panjabi, the icing on the cake of getting the role was working with Pirates of the Caribbean actor Davenport, who starred in This Life – the show that inspired her so much.

Panjabi is best known for playing Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife

“I didn’t tell him this, he has no clue,” she giggles. “But it was one of my favourite shows. It was such groundbreaking drama at a time when I was just starting out acting, and I remember thinking how wonderful it was that the characters were so messed up, so flawed and yet so immensely likeable. They were always the kind of characters I want to play, even now. So working with Jack was kind of like a dream come true.

“He has this quality where he’s very strong and confident but he’s also very charming and not afraid to be affectionate.”

Panjabi is currently living in New York, where she keeps her Emmy hidden in a box, but wouldn’t rule out a return to the UK should more work arise.

“We are making so much good-quality stuff now in the UK that every American actor wants to come here, so it’s a very exciting time because we’ve really caught up,” she says. “I feel lucky to be part of both worlds.

“There isn’t very much difference apart from the budget. In America, when you’re offered a coffee, you’re offered coconut milk, almond milk… whereas in England it’s just milk! You also get a chair with your name on it over there. But other than that, I think the etiquette is pretty much the same; you have a group of individuals who want to make something magical and memorable.”

In the meantime, Panjabi is pleased that at an age when actresses were traditionally put onto the scrapheap, she’s going from strength to strength.

“People from my background say it’s tough for us but I think it’s tough for any actor, especially when you get older. Someone once said when you turn 30 that’s it, so I think I am lucky. From growing up at a time when there weren’t that many roles for British Asian actresses, I’ve found that I have been working pretty solidly so I feel very grateful and so very lucky.”

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