From doing rounds to shooting roundsComment on this story
Thanks to her TV roles to date, Parminder Nagra has become au fait with medical jargon and surgical instruments.
But her acting playground has now changed. And, without dismissing her roles in ER and Alcatraz, she is enjoying the car chases and physically demanding action sparked by her character, CIA Field Agent Meera Malik.
When she was introduced into the storyline, Meera was an enigma. Of course, as the series has progressed, nuggets of information about her past have come to light.
Nagra explains: “I wish I could reveal more about Meera’s backstory with more clarity. We are already starting to find out things going on with her and what she’s been through. From the first episode, when she tortured somebody, that shows how she handles herself.
“She comes in as somebody who has a lot of knowledge and has clearly been through a lot. She’s been at the top of her game, in terms of her profession, and has done a lot to get to where she is.
“That is the interesting part for me. I’m enjoying playing a grown-up CIA agent. A serious and probably dangerous woman. There is so much you can do with her. It is that and the action and the running around. My body may not be loving it so much,” she laughs.
On how she plans to mould Meera, the 38-year-old explains: “Having done a series before, where you are creating a character for a length of time, we explore and fashion it in a particular way. I’m looking forward to just building on what I know about her.”
The Blacklist offers a slew of twists, but the actors aren’t privy to the direction the creative team plan on taking the narrative.
She reveals: “Well, we don’t know that much ahead of time. Maybe just three episodes ahead. I don’t know how much the producers have arced. We get the script right before we shoot and find out as we go along.”
Nagra enjoys exploring the layers of her character and, as such, the performance challenges that come with that.
“It was kind of a ‘big thing’ when it was revealed I was a mole. I was worried myself. That is the one and only time I went, ‘whoa!’. Then I got a call from the producers and they said: ‘You don’t have to worry’.”
On being kept in the dark about her character’s future, the actress says: “I decided I wanted to wait to find out. I just wanted to know that I (as in Meera) was okay. That is the thrill of the show really.
“I love doing the action sequences – it is my favourite part of the day. And running around with a weapon (laughs). About two weeks ago, I was running through a park (for a scene). I hit my leg on a branch. In my head, I was like, ‘Ouch, it hurts!’ But I kept going.”
The actress continues: “I like being able to go to the producers and ask questions and collaborate. (Find out) whether I should know something now that is relevant to the future. I don’t think I want to know too far ahead as you end up playing the truth of the situation.”
Meera’s daughter has popped up in conversation, piquing viewers’ curiosity about her existence.
Nagra offers: “I was wondering about that myself. I wondered if she (Meera) was telling the truth. She is supposed to have a family. The writers could go anywhere with it.”
As is the case for any actor, a firm understanding of their character is crucial to lend credibility to the role.
Nagra agrees: “When I got the role, it was three days before shooting. I didn’t have any time to prepare. Thank God, I keep myself relatively fit. One of my first scenes was holding a gun and shooting someone. I had to look right… like I knew what I was doing. Luckily, we have a technical advisor now. I have been out with him working on some sort of training and trying to get in some combat training.”
On set, Nagra says everyone delivers a 110 percent. She also notes: “We have such a great team. We have James Spader, who is magnificent. He has a certain authority. He knows what he is doing. He knows what works and what doesn’t. It is really interesting and engaging watching him at play – you learn from that.
“The one person I have worked with before is Jason Butler Harner. I did Alcatraz with him. He was fantastic. Hopefully, we will be seeing a little more of him.”
Although sharing the spotlight with acting giant Spader still makes her nervous, Nagra’s professionalism always triumphs on set.
So does Nagra prefer a scalpel or a gun?
“I can’t really compare. ER has a very special place in my heart. I’m really enjoying this show and running around. This character is kind of empowering. I think you always bring a little something of yourself into the character. In that regard, I would say I hope I have that chutzpah; and she has it too.”
In case you were wondering about the overarching mysterious relationship between the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, Red, and FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen, Nagra says she and the audience are in the same boat.
“I think we end up asking the same questions as the audience. We sort of have a peanut gallery moment, speculating.
“More often than not, just after we ask, the writers go and answer it,” she reveals.
And so the intrigue pervades… with season two already on the cards.
• The Blacklist airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Tuesdays at 8.30pm.