Conrad Khan: From Hampstead schoolboy to BAFTA rising star
- Credit: Courtesy BFI
Two years ago, Conrad Khan was attending a north London comp - occasionally disappearing to make a film or TV drama.
Today he's filming the final series of Peaky Blinders and nominated for BAFTA's EE Rising Star award - a gong previously won by Toms Holland and Hardy, James McAvoy and John Boyega.
Khan's quietly moving performance as vulnerable teenager Tyler in County Lines has set him against the likes of Kingsley Ben-Adir and Morfydd Clarke for the public choice award.
"Winning would be great but just the nomination is amazing," the thoughtful 20-year-old told this week's Ham&High Podcast. "The other nominees are talented lovely people and I'm really honoured to be named among them."
Khan lives between Belsize Park and Kentish Town, not far from Fleet Primary where he played his first roles.
"There was a teacher who really encouraged me to become an actor and gave me the bigger parts in the Christmas plays," he says. "Then I went to Acland Burghley which specialises in the arts."
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At 15 he attended the Arcola's youth theatre and through "word of mouth" found an agent and started working professionally - playing a young Liam Hemsworth in The Huntsman: Winter's War.
"It threw me in at the deep end with all these A-listers, huge sets and hundreds of people. As a young kid they treat you amazingly and you think: 'How is this a job?'
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"But after that I realised the audition process is a lot harder, you get a lot more rejection and when you do get a job it's not as big and as sparkly as that."
Despite having no background in performing, his parents helped out reading in lines for "self tape" auditions recorded in his living room "which is how most jobs start."
And his friends kept him grounded: "It was strange being at school and acting. Sometimes I would go missing for two weeks and come back with a tan and a different haircut, but my close friends are really supportive."
Then County Lines came along, a low budget indie about the exploitation of children by drug gangs. Writer/director Henry Blake's experience teaching in an East London Pupil Referral Unit shines through in his spare, poetic, convincing portrait of a 14-year-old, neglected by his exhausted single mother, and groomed to sell drugs in a bleak seaside town.
"I did basic research reading about County Lines, like most people I didn't know the extent of the horror. The kids are as young as 11, the younger the better because they are less likely to be picked up by Police or train inspectors. Henry and I sat for hours and talked about the character and the truths on which it's based. He had innumerable anecdotes that he told me the whole way through - even while filming - and he would make the direction clear and simple 'now do a lot less, or a bit more."
Khan pays tribute to the set, costume, and make-up designers who "are often not talked about". When Tyler is brutally attacked by a rival gang and dumped on wasteland, it required three hours in make-up.
"I might have made a bit of a song and dance about being in the chair for so long," he smiles. "But it worked out in the end. I took photos and sent them to my friends without giving the context, and they thought it was real. That scene was hard for my folks to watch but they know the industry through me and have the ability to separate from a son to an actor."
Khan, who is studying film at Queen Mary's in East London "still juggling acting and education," says the job taught him "a lot about acting how to go to certain places, how to use my emotional palette - how hard it is to produce an independent film and how rewarding it can be."
As a diehard Peaky Blinders fan he was excited to finally start filming the delayed sixth series, although he can't say much about his role or whether it will involve more time in the make-up chair.
"It was amazing being on set with people like Cillian (Murphy) I have been fans of and also admire professionally. It's surreal seeing them in person and even weirder in costume - Peaky Blinders is a whole world and with Covid, as soon as you are ready you are on set. But I've got my cup of tea and my book and I am good to sit on a film set for a few hours."
After it wraps in May this modest rising star is unsure what's next: "The philosophy I've developed is to take it one step at a time, pick potential projects that I really like, and not think too far ahead."
Public voting for the EE Rising Star Award is at https://ee.co.uk/why-ee/ee-baftas and the winner will be announced on April 11.
- County Lines is available on https://player.bfi.org.uk/
- Visit https://podfollow.com/hamhigh/ to subscribe to the Ham&High Podcast.