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Amina Zia Interview

Amina trained at ALRA South and graduated from our MA Postgraduate Acting Course in December 2011.

Since graduating, Amina’s TV credits include: Stath (E4/Channel 4) Porridge (BBC), Doctors (BBC), The Delivery Man (ITV pilot), Citizen Khan (BBC). Theatre credits include: Once Upon A Marriage (Theatre 503) She is Not Herself (Kali Theatre) Come In! Sit Down! (Tricycle Theatre) Twelve (Birmingham MAC/Watermans/Rich Mix tour), Animal Magnetism (Bush Theatre), Panting (Bush Theatre). Film credits include: Criminal (Lionsgate). Radio credits include: English My Way a comedy series in Urdu (BBC Learning English), Jobs for the Girls (BBC World Service).

Amina has also worked on three seasons of the Angelic Tales new writing festival (Theatre Royal Stratford East) and two Kali Theatre new writing festivals (Tristan Bates). She is also a potter, published short story writer and a stand-up comic. Her writing credits include the comedy play Panting (Bush Theatre) and Honeytrap in Hijab which she wrote and performed for Monologue Slam and for which she was awarded a special mention (Theatre Royal Stratford East).

We caught up with Amina as she is about to appear as the regular character of Officer Driscoll in the newly revived series of Porridge.

amina zia

ALRA: Thanks for sparing the time to talk to us. It must be fun recreating such an iconic TV show like Porridge. Can you tell us about the audition process and what it was like working on the show?

Amina Zia: In comedy, it’s very short notice and I was called for an audition the day before. I had two short scenes to prepare. After meeting the producer and director we just went straight into the scenes and I read them off-book with the casting director just once and left. It took less than 10 minutes. There was never any real indication how it went because it’s actually the writers who see the tape after and decide which actor will suit the role they’re writing.

Working on Porridge was an absolute dream because I got to play with an incredible cast of comedy actors in the way I have always wanted. It was also very much a collaborative process between the cast and production team churning out one episode per 4 days week travelling between London and Salford where the show is recorded before a live studio audience.

My favourite moments were always in the rehearsal room when we worked through scenes together and played with ideas and lines that sometimes got written into the script. 

ALRA: Are there aspects of your training that you draw from when working on TV projects?

AZ: For me, it’s always the physical and movement aspects of my training especially for the comedy.

ALRA: You’ve diversified as a performer and writer. Do you think it’s important for actors to have a broad range of skills to forge a career in the UK?

AZ: Absolutely. You must have a niche, a specialist skillset which sells you as an actor. So I wrote a comedy monologue for Monologue Slam in which I was able to show my comedy skillset. I uploaded a clip of that performance on my spotlight page so casting directors could see what I could do.

Then I was asked to write a short comedy play Panting for the Bush Theatre new writing festival and Margaret Cabourn-Smith agreed to be in it with me. I invited TV casting directors and they came to see it. After that, I started gigging as a stand-up comic on the open mic circuit. Ultimately creating and developing your own work begets more work…

ALRA: Were there any particularly challenging moments during your career that you’ve learned from?

AZ: Think most of my challenging moments have been in castings. At first, I often made schoolgirl errors and my nerves would get the better of me and I wasn’t sure of so many things and there was nobody to ask so I ironed out these issues by attending casting workshops run by industry casting directors at the Actor’s Guild.

The workshops provided space to practice, make mistakes and gauge how different casting directors work.

ALRA: What are your fondest memories of training at ALRA?

AZ: I loved it all really – in the movement, I loved the animal studies practical as a lone penguin arguing with Sharla and Lorianne the meercats in the pen next to me. Period dancing and the combat classes and John Wild’s vocal warm-up technique classes. Roy Williams coming to see us in his play.

My fondest memory has to be in the Christmas cabaret as Pinky Butt my alcoholic character act in a burqa with all her backing singers in burkas singing George Michael’s Last Christmas to a cheering ALRA crowd.

ALRA: What advice would you give to our latest Post Graduate cohort as they graduate in a few weeks?

AZ: Don’t expect it to be easy once you leave. Be prepared for continual rejection. Being an actor can sometimes feel like the loneliest job in the world so have a good support network of like-minded actor friends you can celebrate each other’s successes with, help and guide each other on to projects, encourage each other when things are tough and even make work with.

Never wait for things to happen even if you leave ALRA with a good agent. Always look for the next project yourself. Be in it for the long game and keep your focus. Find your niche. Enter Monologue Slam – it’s a wonderful opportunity to be seen and make connections. Join the Actor’s Guild.

Create your own work. Learn new skills. Attend courses and workshops and develop your craft. Keep your finger on the pulse – go to the theatre, industry events. Know who are the writers and directors out there. Make connections outside your ALRA circle and stay connected to what’s happening in the industry. Good Luck!

ALRA: Thank you so much, Amina Zia, for sharing your story, we wish you all the best for your shows and future career and look forward to seeing what’s next!

If you're alumni and would like to share your story/current projects, please get in touch with us at alumni@alra.co.uk.