Family hour

True Lies and Holby City actor Art Malik has been performing for over 30 years but never before at the Fringe. Peter Geoghegan asks: why now?

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Published 19 Jul 2011
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Beige linen suit, white cotton shirt, rimless glasses and a pair of Crocs: it's not exactly a popular look - especially on a dour, overcast June afternoon in Edinburgh. But then again, Art Malik has always been an enigma, and not just sartorially speaking.

Malik burst onto television screens almost 30 years ago as the doomed young Indian Hari Kumar in ITV’s production of The Jewel in the Crown. Since then he’s popped up in everything from Hollywood blockbusters True Lies and Sex and the City 2 to Peak Practice and Holby City, in a career that could somewhat generously be described as eclectic.

"I’ve done TV, film, theatre, voiceovers. Each one is a different experience and I enjoy them all," Malik purrs in his soft Home Counties accent when I ask if he regrets not concentrating his considerable acting talents on one medium.

Indeed, Malik - who is in town to promote his latest project, a gritty prison drama called Ghosted, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival - is about to record yet another first on his vertiginous CV. At 58 and still ruggedly good-looking, the quondam "next Omar Sharif" is preparing to make his Fringe debut, where he’ll appear alongside his daughter Keira in Hywel John’s new play Rose.

"I have always been up in Edinburgh to see mates of mine doing comedy and loved it, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to do something myself. Until now," Malik smiles, his intense, brown eyes twinkling as he leans across the sofa in the lobby of the Caledonian Hotel to emphasise the point.

In Rose, Malik, who was born in Pakistan but raised in England, plays an anonymous Middle Eastern immigrant who struggles to bring up his titular English-born daughter. Rose’s attempts to find out who she is and where she is from meet only with resistance from a father reluctant to reveal himself and fixated on bringing up his beloved daughter the "English" way.

The parallels with Malik’s own experiences are clear: "I came to England when I was three. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I was on a boat for three weeks. Next thing I knew I was in London," he says.

An ardent Anglophile, Malik talks with barely concealed passion about the "normality" and "goodness" of life in the UK, but admits that for a young British Asian breaking into acting was a struggle. It took five years to land the role in The Jewel in the Crown that was to make his name – and even then, opportunities remained scarce.

"When I was doing The Jewel in the Crown, there was a vacancy in the cornershop on Coronation Street but the producers didn’t want to go down that road. Now we have Asian families in our soaps, on our televisions. We’ve got things like [BBC drama] Luther now too. That wouldn’t have happened in my time."

Television – and society – has changed a lot since Malik was a novice actor. He is quietly proud that Keira has followed in her father’s footsteps, saying, "whatever glass ceilings there were have been cracked."

Like her character in Rose, Malik’s daughter "sees the world differently" from her father. "She has a mother from Plymouth [Gina Rowe]. She was born and raised in England. She also grew up in the industry," he remarks.

Art and Keira Malik have appeared alongside one another once before but the pater familias is hopeful that Edinburgh will be a case of second time lucky. "Keira played my daughter in an episode of Messiah with Ken Stott. It was supposed to be a speaking part but then, as it goes in television, her words were cut on set. She was pretty upset about that!"

Keira will certainly have plenty of lines in Rose. As for making adjustments to the text on the hoof, Malik believes Hywel John’s script is far too good to be tampered with: "It’s like if you pick up Shakespeare or Stoppard - here, you’ve got someone who is very good at writing. If you start paraphrasing or changing the lines you’re not doing the play justice."

A consummate professional, Malik has spent three decades honouring scripts around the world. Once the Fringe finishes, filming starts for the next series of the BBC's Upstairs, Downstairs. "That’s the way my life is," he smiles enigmatically. You get the feeling Art Malik, Crocs and all, wouldn’t have it any other way.