Shakil Kazemi may be sadly gone but his emotional exit from EastEnders is still having an impact both on and off screen. As the ramifications from the knife crime tragedy continue to reverberate around Walford, we caught up with Shaheen Jafargholi, who played the tragic teen and who is know preparing for his first appearance in his new role in Casualty.
The knife crime storyline has the nods for two prizes at the Inside Soap Awards 2018 – Best Show Stopper and Best Exit for Shaheen – and here, the popular actor discusses his thrill with the response the story has had, his feelings of being out of the loop with his close Walford mates, his joy at Bonnie Langford returning to the stage and why hes glad to be playing a new and more older role in Casualty – even if he cant quite get his head around all of the medical jargon!
Congratulations on the nominations. How does it feel?
I guess for me, its exciting because when you do tackle a storyline with an intentional purpose to cover an issue like this, you dont really think about what kind of gratification its going to get from a media standpoint. For it to be nominated for an award is the cherry on the cake because we already did our job in terms of impacting people which is the only thing that I really cared for while making it.
With it being voted for by the viewers, how much would it mean for EastEnders to win for this?
It would mean a lot, 100%. To be given the opportunity to portray this storyline was huge but for it to be recognised from an awards standpoint would be huge. If people were on board with it and voted for EastEnders, it would be an honour – I would be really happy and excited by that. I am just really happy for it to be recognised.
Did you watch the funeral episode – what did you think?
Yes I watched it – I thought it was extraordinary. I thought everyone involved were incredible in the way they handled it all so sensitively. The nature of the episode and the way it was put together was really harrowing. Even if you hadnt been tuned into the show prior to that episode alone, you could just feel there was something really special about what these people had chosen to put themselves on TV to do. It really added to the intensity and the impact and showed how many people this issue touches. The episode alone must have helped more than we know – you couldnt watch it without feeling some kind of emotion or thinking about how many people it happens to and how important it is that this needs to stop. Going from the fictional scenes to a real life person telling their storyline just intensified the drama even more and then the same vice versa. It was really amazing.
You built some great friendships on set – do you miss working with your mates each day?
Yeah, the weirdest part for me is that they still all work together each day so when we hang out, they will be chatting about something and I will be sat there thinking: wow, I am so out of the loop! Who is this now? What storyline is this? (laughs) Thats the only part for me – I should still know everything but obviously I dont work there anymore so keep needing to be filled in. But as you say, were all still mates – one of the best things about joining the show was meeting those guys. Although, if anything, I see Tilly (Keeper, who plays Louise) more than I did when we worked together – I cant seem to get rid of her at the minute! Were really close though, shes always at my house.
So would you say EastEnders has changed your life?
Oh, 100%. When you go into a show like EastEnders, you are walking into something that is a massive and established place to work – just the name speaks for itself; everyone knows what it is. It has been part of the lives of the majority of people in the country. To get the opportunity to be a part of it was so crazy to me. Even seeing the set is so cool so it to last two and half years and to end with this amazing storyline I was so honoured to be trusted with, it was brilliant. I am so happy that it all happened.
Not to mention having Bonnie Langford as your mum!
Do you know what I mean? That should have been my first answer really – just one word: Bonnie! Again, like the show, Bonnies name speaks for itself. Having her as my mum and Davood as my brother was such a perfect situation. It was a really nice place to work every day.
Of course, shes leaving the show. Will you be watching to see her final scenes?
I will be. Bonnie has been so brilliant these last couple of months. Its been so interesting to see the character of Carmel flipped on her head and seen in a completely different way. Shes been absolutely phenomenal and I am so proud of her and happy for her. I am so excited to see her new venture in the next couple of weeks – itll be great seeing her back where she belongs on the stage.
Youre now at Casualty. How are you finding that?
Its going amazing. Ive done about a month of filming now and it has been such a whirlwind. Its so exciting and fun to play a role that is completely different to Shakil.
Is it a different way of working – and how are you dealing with learning all of the medical jargon?
In terms of the pace, it might be a little bit slower you know as they just have one episode a week but everything in TV always takes such a long time as so much detail goes into the process. The medical jargon though – its funny as it takes you a minute to get your head around it. There is a team of medical experts on set though who can guide you with how things are said but I am confident that after they are there and tell me what to do and say, I will still end up pronouncing it wrong nine times out of time. Or you can be saying this word with such confidence and have no idea what it means!
Maddy Hill has had a great response from Casualty fans. Are you hoping for similar?
Yeah! For anyone who is an actor, to play different roles is really exciting. One of the main reasons after seeing the script that I wanted to go in and read for this was that he is so different to Shakil. Hes fun to play. For starters, the character is not a teenager so even that in itself is a different mindset. I really hope people respond well, who knows? But at the end of the day I just want the character to have his place and thats the most important part for me?
Is it a long term role or do you have other plans?
Casualty is happening for a good while and then who knows? I dont really like to plan ahead – even when I was at EastEnders, I focused on the path I was on which I saw as building up to this incredible storyline at the end. You just have to go with it, do everything to the best of your ability and the future will reveal itself. At the moment, I am just really enjoying Casualty and so excited to be there.
You can vote for Shaheen and all things EastEnders by hitting this link to the Inside Soap Awards here.