Shazad Latif is a London based up and coming actor whose most notable work was as Liuetenant Ash Tyler in the new Star Trek Discovery series on Netflix. Sitting in Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, Shazad and I talked about Vulcan, Klingons, fashion, curries and racism.
Where are you from?
In short, my mum is English/Scottish and my dad is from Jhelum, Pakistan. I grew up in a tiny council flat in North London. My mum was a cleaner, my dad was a taxi driver. Very humble background you know, my mum pretty much raised us as a single mum, so it was a struggle growing up.
How connected do you feel to your Pakistani roots?
Oh, very very connected. My dad was one of eight siblings and he was the first from his family to come to London, and slowly you know other members would start coming over. So I grew up with a lot of my Pakistani cousins, you know going for curries round their house, going to mosque, all of that stuff. My parents divorced when I was ten, so there was a period of time when I felt a little disconnected from that side of the family, but then when my dad passed away, I went back to Pakistan and just felt like I belonged and its where I’m from.
“I think it’s super important to be connected to your roots and knowing where you’re from.”
When was the last time you went to Pakistan?
Last time I went was about 5 years ago but I’m planning to go again early next year.
Where is home for you in Pakistan?
It’s a little farming village just by Jhelum, which is about 2 hours from Islamabad. It’s sick you know, proper buffalo rearing and tribal, you get guys with AK47’s just hanging around, but it’s cool you know, it’s a community, the people there look after each other.
So, moving on. How did you first get in to acting? And what made you want to get in to that?
I don’t know it’s hard to pin point exactly, but you know, my parents were huge movie buffs. My dad actually, one of his first jobs here was to change the movie reels in the picture house, this was back in the 70s you know, the golden era of cinema. My mum used to keep a diary of all the films she would watch, and you know I still have it, it’s just great to read. More than that, I think as a kid growing up around a lot of domestic violence, I guess movies were sort of my escape and my saviour. I watched a lot of movies.
What was your first acting gig so to speak?
Ah man, so when I was 8 years old, we had to put on a play in primary school. Most theatre at school was influenced by a lot of Shakespeare, so my first play was Romeo and Juliet, and I played Romeo.
What was your first big break?
When I was 18 I joined Bristol Theatre School, I didn’t finish it, I actually met my agent there, and was offered the role of Spooks the TV show on BBC, it sort of just got the ball rolling from there.
How important do you think diversity is in media and film?
So important, you know growing up, I never really saw anyone on TV who looked like me, so my role models so to speak were limited. You know we’re lucky, we got actors like Riz Ahmed and Dev Patel who really started breaking down those barriers and continue to make way for actors, you know, like me, or from my background.
"I mean we got a long way to go still, but at least we are getting there, slowly but surely.”
What are your thoughts on racial stereotyping in film and tv? Have you ever come across that?
So many times. I mean a lot of my first roles you know, I played the IT guy, the tech guy, the Asian guy. Actually, the first five years of my CV I just played roles that were all Asian names you know, but now you know it’s easing up. I just played Lt Ash Tyler in the new Star Trek series on Netflix, which isn’t as an Asian name at all!! So it’s definitely getting better, especially in TV, I think in movies we still got a lot of work to do, and we’re way behind. I would never play a terrorist or something racially derogative like that you know, I think we’re better than that. There is a lot of change coming, but it has to come from both angles you know, from bottom up to top down, and I think people are finally listening. So I have hope you know.
So what’s next? What are you working on now?
I just did a film called Profile which got an award and is making its way around the film festivals so that’s pretty exciting to see. Then later on will be working on filming the second season of Star Trek Discovery, so that’s going to be exciting. I can’t tell you when its out! I don’t know!!!