Ackley Bridge Series Five | Interview with Yasmin Al-Khudhairi, Ryan Dean, Megan Morgan who play Fizza, Johnny and Marina

As Ackley Bridge old hands did you give Megan a guided tour on her first day of filming?

Yasmin: I was meant to be that person to take Megan round but it took me two weeks. By then Megan was like, ‘No Yasmin, that’s the wrong way.’ I am actually the worst for directions. I was good at chatting about how the last series was but physically going around the building I’m really bad at that.

Megan: You got me coffee as well, which was far better.

Yasmin: I did get her coffee because me and Meg are really, really bad in the morning at waking up.

Ryan: I remember walking around the school and constantly getting lost – it’s so big! But I can’t remember anyone showing me around specifically other than places like my dressing room and makeup room.

Yasmin: Because of Covid.

What’s it been like having a new Marina with Megan taking over from Carla Woodcock this series?

Ryan: I had heard that there was a new girl playing Marina, but I didn’t meet Megan until roughly two weeks in, when we shot a scene together and, obviously, she was great. She took on the role and made it her own while remaining true to the character the audience met last series. It was exciting to watch her mould the character into something new and put her own stamp on it!

Yasmin: I was thinking at the beginning of filming I would hate to be Meg right now! When you take over a character you must be really nervous, but Meg did it in a way that you could tell she didn’t overanalyse the Marina before. She just was Marina and added her own style to it. This year we really do see a different side of Marina. We really get into her character and why she is who she is and her understanding herself.

Megan, did you even look at Carla’s performance or did you put that to one side and just start with what’s on the page?

Megan: At first that’s exactly what I did. Then when I got to the recall stages I had a little look at a couple of episodes just purely to understand the story and respect what has been done before. So then I could have all the information and hopefully put together my own version of Marina.

What conversations did you have with director Ashley Walters about your characters before you started filming?

Ryan: I think I was excited to find out how he envisioned the series as a whole, how he wanted the series to move and feel. I wanted to talk to him about what was inspiring him when preparing for each episode – to try and understand his vision ahead of filming starting. I thought that would help me get an idea of how he envisioned this series to look. I also wanted to know if he had seen the show and of course he had – he knew everything. He wanted to find out what I wanted from my character, and how I thought Johnny’s journey might look across the series. He was great to chat with – very intelligent and hugely inspiring. Obviously his previous work is incredible, it speaks for itself – but he was an amazing director to have worked with on this series and hopefully again in the future!

Yasmin: Talking about Fizza and her dad’s mental health storyline Ashley said, ‘People are going through this, so we need to show it in the most naturalistic way.’ Ackley Bridge always manages to do that and with humour as well, even in the darkest moments. We would always have a chat before going into big scenes, which I really appreciated. I don’t think you realise how fast-paced it is filming. You have to get everything done and you have to do it with Covid guidelines, but Ashley always found a way. Sometimes if I was doing something one way he wouldn’t then say, ‘Try it this way.’ He would plant a question in my head. I would go, ‘Ah interesting’ and then try it that way instead and it would end up being better. I think we all really liked his directing style. We were all saying that after shooting with him.

Megan: It was a different process for me, I first met Ashley in the casting process. I genuinely don’t think I would have got the role if it wasn’t for Ashley seeing past what Marina was meant to look like. As a director I love that he knows what he wants and is assertive when making decisions. Ashley would talk a lot about Marina’s energy especially when she’s in school maintaining her social status. I think most importantly for Marina he would say ‘everything Marina does comes from fear’ and remind me about other girls Marina’s age who are going through this, who are lonely and confused and the responsibility I have as an actor is to show this authentically. He made more time for emotional scenes which is needed when filming is so fast paced. Above all I really appreciated the honesty he shared with me on set with his own struggles to help me get to a certain place. He’s brilliant and it was a privilege to work with him. He trusted us all and gave us the freedom to play. There’s a reason he’s so respected in the industry.

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Yasmin: Me and Meg are quite similar with our acting styles. You could see Meg was very nervous at the beginning but getting so much more confident as it went along. I was exactly the same last time. You want to keep doing it again or watching it back to make sure you get it right. Even Ashley was like, ‘You guys need to stop being so insecure. It looks really good.’ I was like, ‘I don’t believe you!’ (laughs) As it goes on you just get used to it. I definitely felt much more comfortable coming into it this year than last year. And I was excited because I knew what to expect.

There’s a new English teacher, Ms Asma Farooqi. How do Fizza, Johnny and Marina get on with her?

Yasmin: You can tell from when she walks in that Fiz is mesmerised by her. I think Johnny and Kayla can see that as well. I don’t think she even realised that Asma was a teacher at first because she comes in with her sunglasses and really fashionable style and her ‘I don’t really care’ attitude. Then when Fiz is like, ‘Oh God, this is my English teacher’ she realises this is everything Fiz has been looking for in a teacher. It’s maybe the first time she really respects an adult that has an input into her education. You can see that Asma is a rebel. I think Fizza loves that and basically wants to be that person when she’s older.

Ryan: Johnny doesn’t get involved with Asma much, to him I think she is just another teacher. It’s not like Johnny and Martin’s bond, but he does develop a good friendship with another member of staff later this series.

Megan: Towards the middle of the series Marina develops a bit of a relationship with Ms Farooqi purely because she is forced into doing things that she doesn’t want to do. It ends up great for her but at the start Marina probably sees her as a bit of a problem to avoid.

Johnny and Kayla still look pretty loved up. What are the fresh challenges for them this series, Ryan?

Ryan: Johnny is now living on his own so you would think they would be spending a lot more time together, but they’re not. I think that boils down to Johnny wanting to have everything right with Kayla and not rush anything or do anything stupid, but that makes Kayla feel that he’s pushing her away. Kayla feels she is ready to have sex with Johnny, but he feels embarrassed about his living situation and finances, he wants it to be special. I think we explore some of the challenges that most teenagers deal with. It’s just… young love problems, I would say.

Did you do any specific research for your dramatic storylines this series, which focus on mental health, consent and online safety?

Yasmin: With Fizza and Asif’s storyline it was very specific because I think mental health doesn’t always get spoken about or reflected in the right way when you are watching it on TV. I was researching how the UK deals with mental health through the care and mental health acts. I was also going in a bit deeper on a personal level understanding how children in the UK have to be carers to their parents who are struggling with mental illness and how that really affects their whole development into adult life.

Megan: For Marina there was a lot of research. She has so many masks and is so different in front of so many different people in so many different rooms. I researched on quite a lot of websites where people are allowed to anonymously talk about their own personal problems. It’s a place where people are able to speak freely and be open and honest about things that have happened and how they genuinely feel and have that safe space without feeling judged.

Ryan: For me with Johnny it was always just looking back at the Romany Gypsy community, the Travelling community, and trying to understand their roots and how they would feel if they were placed into a certain way of life. You always strive to be truthful and honest to anyone you are portraying. That helps you to do the best you possibly can, to represent a part of a wider story for the community and the series.

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How did you unwind from your emotional storylines?

Yasmin: My emotional scenes tended to be around Raj (Ghatak) and Laila (Zaidi). We could bounce off each other because we know what each other are like. I needed a bit of humour, something random that was nothing to do with the scene, otherwise you can just get stuck in it. Obviously there has to come a point where you realise it’s not real life for yourself and that you are playing a character. Otherwise you take it home with you.

Ryan: To be honest if I have a scene that’s emotional or something that feels draining – I find it really hard to come out of it. My way is to get home, get back to my normality, speak to my girlfriend and see the dogs. I’ve got two Staffordshire bull terriers. Filming is hard. You go through an array of different emotions in any given day, so I think being able to share that with the cast is also a big factor. When you come out of a scene and go upstairs, and I see Yas in her dressing room with her fish slippers on. That makes me go, ‘Oh yeah, we’re all here to make a great series, I’m not really feeling these emotions as me. It’s my character.’

Megan: Food is always great. For me a lot of the emotional scenes are with Rob as Martin. Rob is great because he is just the funniest guy ever. Between every take he brings them out. I don’t know how he does it – another joke and another joke. That’s great because I’m the complete opposite. We balance each other out in those really emotional scenes.

If you were Acting Head for one day, what school rule would you change?

Megan: I think Marina’s would be that you can wear whatever you want and have your phone on you at all times.

Ryan: Johnny’s would be to wear whatever you want and that animals are allowed in school, particularly horses. I think on a break he would like to just go out and chill with Bandit.

Yasmin: Fizza would just change loads of the curriculum to suit whatever she felt like saying that day. She would go the opposite way and have a massive high of telling people, ‘You can’t say that. That’s sexist.’ She’d be sending people out. Maybe the power would go to her head.

Can you pick one other character in Ackley you would love to play?

Ryan: I would probably say Fizza. I would love to have played what Yas plays with her (screen) dad. She’s also finding her identity and who she is. She’s been with Johnny in the past but then she gets with someone new. In this series she has got the most multi-challenging things that she has to deal with. For me as an actor that excites me.

Yasmin: I was definitely jealous watching Laila play Asma. She’s so cool. She would go through the streets looking amazing and I also thought her storyline was amazing and very difficult to do with the things that it deals with. In terms of humour, it would have to be Sue Carp. Also, my mum in it, Miriam, played by Goldy Notay. I love how she is on the other side of dealing with Fizza’s dad and accepting who he is. She’s also looking after Fizza who can be really difficult sometimes and dealing with Islam. She’s a really, really interesting character.

Megan: I would love to be Fizza she’s a feminist. She challenges society and people’s perceptions. For sure this kind of role has always been a dream of mine.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.