Parts Like That ”Just Don’t Really Exist For Asian Actors” – Deadline


EXCLUSIVE: Prasanna Puwanarajah said he jumped at the opportunity to appear in The Crown portraying infamous television journalist Martin Bashir, pummeled by a BBC inquiry that condemned the “deceitful” methods he used to obtain the controversial 1995 Panorama TV interview with Princess Diana, because ”roles like that just don’t really exist for Asian actors.”

The actor’s comments come as the UK print media continue to whip itself into a frenzied state over the Emmy-winning Netflix and Left Bank Pictures series, which takes a looking-through-the-keyhole approach to events that involved the late Queen Elizabeth II, her family and her prime ministers. Season 5, which begins streaming November 9, particularly zeroes in on the messy dissolution of Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and Diana’s 14-year marriage. Imelda Staunton (Downton Abbey, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) stars as Queen Elizabeth.

Puwanarajah (Doctor Foster: A Woman Scorned, Patrick Melrose, Ten Percent) pops up in two episodes of The Crown that explore not only how he secured the interview with Diana, but also the part played by senior BBC executives: Steve Hewlett (Michael Jibson), who as editor of Panorama was Bashir’s immediate boss; John Birt (Nicholas Gleaves), then director-general of the corporation; and Marmaduke Hussey (Richard Cordery), the patrician chairman of the board of governors of the BBC. Hussey happened to be married to Lady Susan Hussey (Haydn Gwynne), who served for decades as senior lady-in-waiting to the Queen. She’s also godmother to Prince William, now the Prince of Wales, who is portrayed by Senan West, son of Dominic West, who’s compelling as Charles as is Elizabeth Debicki who plays Diana.

Princess Diana’s interview with Bashir was an immense hit for the BBC. In it, she famously said, ”There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” pointedly referring to her husband’s affair with his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), now Queen Consort, wife of King Charles III.

Puwanarajah said there is extensive public documentation detailing Bashir’s scheme of deceit and forgery to obtain the Diana scoop. Season 5’s episode 8, titled “Gunpowder,” explores in detail how Bashir misled the BBC, Diana and her brother Earl Spencer (played by Philip Cumbus).

“We now know a lot of the facts surrounding Martin Bashir and how he obtained the interview,” Puwanarajah told us. “All of those things are a matter of public record now. There was an inquiry by the BBC and other investigations. It’s information that’s shared and sharable and is out there.”

”It’s a juicy role and parts like that just don’t really exist for Asian actors,” added the actor, who was born and raised in England and is of Sri Lankan Tamil descent.

”Like, that level of complexity, the moral dynamics of a man like Bashir, no one writes that material for us — it’s so rare,” Puwanarajah said.

He said it was an ”extraordinary opportunity and challenge” to inhabit Bashir. ”I’ve only seen those two episodes, the two that he’s [Bashir] in, and they’re powerful. It’s arriving at a particular time for the nation, isn’t it,” he said, noting the death of Queen Elizabeth II and Charles’ ascension to the throne.

The “Gunpowder” episode also shows explosive clashes that many media insiders were aware of between Marmaduke Hussey and Birt regarding the wisdom of broadcasting the Diana program.”This will destroy us,” Hussey is seen warning Birt in the show.

An independent inquiry was commissioned by the BBC after Earl Spencer led a public campaign that questioned Bashir’s tactics. Its findings — overseen by Lord Dyson, a retired senior judge — were published in May 2021, and disclosed that Bashir had faked documents and was able to gain access to Earl Spencer and his sister, and that the BBC covered up what it had learned about the methods Bashir used. The 127-page report said this ”fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are [the BBC’s] hallmark.”

Shortly after the report’s publication, Prince William issued a scathing statement insisting that the Bashir interview ”was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.”

William stated ”that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again.”

His brother Prince Harry’s 2021 statement was just as blunt: ”Our mother lost her life because of this,” he wrote, because of the ripple effect of ”a culture of exploitation and unethical practices.”

The BBC returned the BAFTA TV award it won for the interview.

Although The Crown episodes in question are set in 1995, they are, nonetheless, dramatized in such a way that they’re able to convey a sense of what was to come, and the immense harm it caused. ”We’ve dramatized the documentation that publicly exists,” said Puwanarajah.

Buckingham Palace has no powers to prevent Netflix from streaming The Crown, but it has let the streamer know of its displeasure via comments made by Judi Dench and John Major, who was Prime Minister during the period that involved Charles and Diana’s divorce. Some believe that ”friends” of the palace intervened through back channels to ”influence” Dench and Major to speak out. There’s said to be increasing anxiety within court circles over what’s to be shown in Season 5; Netflix said that The Crown’s storylines are handled sensitively.

Puwanarajah, meanwhile, is currently filming the six-part police thriller Payback for Britbox. ”It’s about organized crime and financial corruption,” he said. The actor plays a financial investigator ”who’s a bit of a nerd with a very bad suit and bad shoes,” he joked.

Puwanarajah was in Northern Ireland on Thursday for the world premiere screening and Belfast Film Festival opening of his feature directorial debut Ballywalter, a small gem of a film starring comedian Patrick Kielty (My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me) and Seána Kerslake (Bad Sisters).




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