Bend It Like Beckham star Parminder Nagra is no stranger to playing a doctor, having fronted hit American drama ER.
Perhaps that’s why she landed one of the lead roles in ITV’s new drama about British medics returning from maternity leave… when not even going for the part! Nagra lives in Los Angeles and was helping fellow Brit and now co-star Lara Pulver with her audition for Maternal.
“Lara Pulver and I are basically best mates and neighbours in LA,” explained Nagra, 47. “During the pandemic we’ve been doing a lot of our audition self-tapes together. So when she taped her audition to play Catherine in Maternal, I read the opposite parts – both Helen and Maryam.
“And during her call back, I was off camera reading in the other roles and the director, James Griffiths, said, ‘Can I give Parminder a note?’
“It made me laugh but also think, ‘How dare you? I’m not even up for this project!’ The following day, I received an email asking me to audition as Maryam.”
The six-part series is about three female doctors returning to post-pandemic frontline medicine after maternity leave.
Nagra believed her experience on ER prepared her for her role, but some cultural differences between US and UK medicine caught her out.
“I’m a professional doctor now, clearly!” she joked. “No, but I did feel like that medicine was a little bit still in there, even down to technically how to camouflage things for the camera. Like when you’re intubating a patient, you hold your hand in a certain way to mask the fact you’re not really doing it.
“The funniest part was that some of the terminology I got used to saying on ER, I was told, ‘That’s not how you say it.’ It’s pronounced differently in Britain.”
The pressures of working and being a mum were all too apparent for Nagra, who has a 13-year-old son.
“We were all doing it in real time on that show, making sure our kids were taken care of and making sure we were still able to do our work, and then feeling guilty if we weren’t there,” said Nagra. “But one thing that’s come out of doing this job is a moment when Maryam’s mum, played by Shaheen Kahn – who played my mum in Bend It Like Beckham – says, ‘Have you ever considered that one feeds the other?’
“That Maryam’s not just a mum, not just a doctor and that they both inform each other. And I think that’s exactly what it is for me.
Maternal, ITV, tonight, 9pm
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