Making his stage debut in Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Dishoom!, Bilal Khan, who was born with cerebral palsy, plays the lead role of Simon, a young man struggling to find his place in the world. He tells Giverny Masso why more roles like this need to be written…
What is Dishoom! about?
Dishoom! is based in the 1970s when the National Front was about. Simon’s mum is ashamed of him and his dad spends his life in the pub. Simon’s cousin Baljit comes to stay and introduces him to Bollywood film Sholay, which inspires them to discover their inner superheroes and set out to make a change.
What is your character like?
Simon is a warm character with a bit of a temper. When things don’t go his way, he lashes out. He is the complete opposite of me, so I really had to find Simon through working through his emotions. I think more roles like this should be written, especially for British Asian actors – and more so for British Asian actors with disabilities. Not that many actors get this kind of opportunity. The biggest challenge has been finding the right role for me – this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
What is it like making your stage debut?
It was just amazing. Before this role came up, I was considering leaving acting and going into business. But I jumped at the opportunity. I did GCSE drama and I also did a course at Theatre Royal Stratford East in partnership with RADA. Once, I was at college and my phone kept ringing. It was a casting director. A few weeks later, I met them at Theatre Royal Stratford East. I was called in for another audition, then I went for a read-through in April and 24 hours later I got the role. It’s been great. Whenever I get positive feedback from the audience, it makes me just want to get back up on stage again.
Who are your acting inspirations?
My inspirations include Christopher Eccleston and Jason Donovan. My uncle Jonas Khan is also an actor, currently appearing in the TV series Our Girl. He gives me acting tips.
What is your advice for aspiring actors?
Never let anything hold you back and always try your best. Go to as many drama classes as you can.
What’s next for you?
Straight after this I’m going to take a bit of a break and see what happens. My dream role in the future would be playing the Doctor in Doctor Who. I’d love to do TV, especially sci-fi.
Training: Acting course at Theatre Royal Stratford East with RADA and Young and Talented (2018)
First professional role: Simon in Dishoom! (2018)