EastEnders star was 'speechless' to be asked to return as Masood
(Picture: BBC)

The return of Masood Ahmed has already brought some classic EastEnders comedy scenes to our screens and fans are delighted to see him back and equally happy to have welcomed aunt Mariam and uncle Arshad to the fold.

Nitin Ganatra is as chuffed as anyone to be back and admitted he was ‘speechless’ when show boss John Yorke asked him back at the very end of a normal lunch meeting. And although it hadn’t been in his personal plan to return, Nitin couldn’t resist and is eager to get stuck right back in.

Here’s what he had to say:

How did your return come about?

I’d been busy with other projects as you do as a jobbing actor and had been doing lots of fun things. Then I heard John Yorke was back at EastEnders. John had created the character of Masood along with his story team when I’d first started. I met John for a coffee, just to see how it was all going and to wish him well. Just as we were wrapping up and I was about to go, he asked me how I would feel about coming back. He completely bowled me over as that’s not what I was expecting at all. That’s really how it happened…I met him for a coffee and catch up and right in the last two minutes he asked me back. I was speechless!

So when you left, you weren’t intending to ever come back?

I thought it was the end of a chapter for me as an actor, but not necessarily for Masood as he could always come back re-cast as a taller, slimmer much more handsome guy as that sort of thing happens often in the TV World (laughs)! But as far as I was concerned, it was the end of a chapter for me personally and career wise.

Did the decision to return take much thought?

Masood wants to move in in EastEnders
(Picture: BBC)

I did spend a few weeks thinking about it as I was already lined up to do other things and busy writing, so my head just wasn’t in that place. It was weird as I’m usually pretty aware of what’s going on around me and I can predict the shots, so when John asked me back and I hadn’t expected it, it kind of left me speechless and that’s not happened before.

What factors clinched the deal for you to return?

I suppose one of my major concerns was that I didn’t want to feel as if I was going backwards in my career. I didn’t want to come back and do the same thing again. I wanted the character to evolve and to also play comedy.

I was doing films and other TV jobs, going up for auditions and friends in America were asking me over so I was making those kinds of plans. I’ve got to say that the public reaction was overwhelming when I was leaving; my Twitter feed went mad with a lot of love for Masood. So that combined with the emergence of the new family and working with John were the main factors that helped me decide to come back to EastEnders. I felt that extending the family was the way to go.

Do you think Masood has changed since he has been away?


Masood has travelled the world. I wanted him to be somebody who lives his dreams, broadens his horizons and makes his millions. Masood has done most of that, yet unfortunately comes back broke. He doesn’t want to lose face so he sets up a big lie that he’s doing really well when in fact he’s skint. He can’t go home because he’s given his aunt and uncle his house and he’s getting rent money from them. He goes on a series of adventures trying to get a job.

I haven’t made Masood feel sorry for himself, so I play the comedy of it rather than the sentimentality the situation. We play it light but it has a little bit of pathos in there. It’s still emotional.

Tell us about Masood’s extended family…

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His uncle and aunt have come to live on the Square and they’re very funny. They are seasoned professionals and they’ve landed on this show and have been sprinting like crazy ever since. The dynamic is good and what’s on screen has been very funny. We’ve been layering as we go, finding little details amongst us, like Mariam calling me Muno, as my parents do at home – it like calling someone junior, or baby of the family. They’ve been creative in their own ways which has been fun.

What do you like best about Masood?

Masood starts work at the Queen Vic in EastEnders
(Picture: BBC)

What I love about Masood is that he’s not an archetype. Masood could have just been a hen pecked husband and that would have been really boring for me to play. Masood is the sort of guy that on the surface is funny and a loving family man, but at the same time there’s a real naughty streak in him. One of the things that I asked for on my return was to please keep him witty and intelligent with his dialogue. Keep the little tweaks of banter that makes soap very interesting and relatable. I always played it funny and then allowed the drama to come in and kick your character in the teeth. John has kept his word and it’s lovely to bump into John in the corridor and hear him say; “Ooh we’ve got some good stuff coming up for you”.

What is it about Masood that makes him so popular with the audience and how do you approach playing him?

One of the best things about Masood is his relatability. Not every man can relate to Max Branning and if they do it’s a very worrying world that we live in! But the majority of men can relate to Masood regardless of his religion and his colour which is what’s beautiful about this. It’s especially relatable because it’s not heightened high drama. I try to find the layers by playing both against the text and with the text and to be as creative as possible.

So now Masood is back, where is he emotionally?

Masood faces troubles in EastEnders
(Picture: BBC)

He’s come back trying to save face whilst hiding a secret of completely blown his adventure to seek his fortune. There’s a certain amount of comedy of him hiding that fact. He’s not self-pitying and Masood is definitely more interesting when people are rooting for him trying to style it out. When it’s written like this it’s really good, as he has some fight in him and people will get behind him even if he fails.

What can you tell us about what’s coming up for Masood?

It’s certainly going to be very flirty with Kathy Beale. Gillian and I have worked together years ago on a six-part Sally Wainwright series called Jane Hall. We were both bus drivers, getting it on in the bus depot! So I knew her and she’s such a lovely person with such a good energy about her. I suppose there may be potential for some romance which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Over the years, Masood has shown that he is actually a player with the ladies!

What’s been the audience’s reaction to you returning to EastEnders?

I work a lot with young kids and went to an event at a school recently and when I stood up to talk, I said I’d just come straight from work at Albert Square because Masood’s back and everyone got on their feet and were screaming…there were 200 teenagers chanting Masood!

Did it feel like you’ve never been away?

Masood and his family in EastEnders
(Picture: BBC)

It’s very mixed as some things haven’t changed, like the daily system and the way EastEnders runs like clockwork. It’s like a truck, it keeps going forward and you have to literally jump on otherwise you’d be left behind. On the other hand there’s a lot of new faces I haven’t seen before. I’ve been working a lot with the Taylors’ who are really good fun to work with and have a very good sense of comedy. It’s the first time I’ve worked with Gillian on EastEnders and of course we’ve got lots of new cast members to meet. Tamzin Outhwaite’s back and we met just before I joined the show the first time when we were both on the Catherine Tate Christmas Special, so after ten years we’re both back and we’ve come full circle.

What do you hope for Masood in the future?

My hope is to move forward on something different with a new Masood who has evolved. It’s been overwhelming to have such a positive reaction about coming back to the show from the audience and the industry and is a very exciting time.

Original Article

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