An Interview with Meera Syal
The second series of ‘Broadchurch’ sees Meera Syal join the cast. Here, she reflects on her spell as a judge on the hit programme…
Meera Syal has books, scripts, TV shows and plays under her belt. But the all-round creative still finds time to play the part of Judge Sonia Sharma in the second, court-centric, series of Broadchurch.
Syal admits she was sold before she even saw writer Chris Chibnall’s script. “I’ve been a huge fan of Chris’ for ages,” she says. “When I did Doctor Who the two episodes I were in were his. So knowing he was working on Broadchurch was definitely a plus point.”
After a rave first series, Syal had to keep her role under wraps, along with the rest of the cast: “It had such an amazing buzz around it. It is such a well-made piece of work with amazing actors and all of that.”
The first series’ success lay in whodunit intrigue. Just who killed schoolboy Danny Latimer? Rather than simply repeat the formula the second time round, writer Chibnall, now famous for drip feeding the cast his Broadchurch scripts, steers the drama toward the courtroom. This further unravels the mysteries hanging over from ‘the killer’s’ first confession.
“I just love a legal drama”
“I think that’s sort of the allure of the programme really. It lets people find their way through it and get involved in mystery,” says Syal.
Perhaps best known for her comedy, particularly The Kumars at No.42, Syal relished stepping into her judge robes: “I just love a legal drama! Generally I think there’s a reason people watch them and I think it’s that all of life is there. I think it’s quite clever the way that Broadchurch has gone from police procedure and the effect on the communities to in series two seeing how the justice system works.
“It’s that thing where you might not take too much interest unless it affects your life and when it does affect your life you kind of have to know how it works. Also, you realise all the things that can go wrong, how so much of the legal system is about the argument and the letter of the law rather than about what might be right and what might be wrong. It’s a really interesting area to explore.”
“Role models are important”
The legal process fascinates Syal. But with a passion for writing and acting, she chose to study English and Drama at Manchester University instead: “I was quite lucky. In my last year at university I did a one woman show which got picked to do the National Student Drama Festival and go to Edinburgh. From Edinburgh I was offered a job at the Royal Court and that was my first job straight from university. So I have a lot to thank the National Student Drama festival for.”
“If it hadn’t been for that opportunity at Edinburgh I may not have gotten into acting actually. Because I didn’t see women like me acting and in the media. That’s why role models are quite important as you need to know that there are people out there like you. People doing the thing you want to do. It encourages you and makes you think you can do it too.”
Syal has come far since her Edinburgh days, winning praise for her work across the board. In fact, there’s just one thing she’s gutted about. With Broadchurch’s courtroom scenes mostly filmed in Surrey, she missed out on exploring those iconic cliffs. “I got one scene in Exeter and that’s all I got. But I did want to stand on that beautiful beach, the rest of the cast tell me they had a wonderful time filming there.”
‘Broadchurch’ Series Two is out now, series 1 & 2 Box Sets also available (acorndvd.com)