Culture, Topman Talks

After Life’s Mandeep Dhillon Talks Ricky Gervais and Taboo Topics

After Life, now on Netflix, is the on-screen phenomenon that’s swept the nation off its couches with floods of tears.

Best known for his myriad comedic series – Extras, The Office, David Brent: Life on the Road – Ricky Gervais presents a new (for him) kind of drama packed with dark, cynical humour and the heart-wrenching exploration of topics we mostly choose to avoid.

Working alongside an all-star cast of Ashley Jensen, Kerry Godliman, David Bradley, Penelope Wilton, and Tim Plester, we caught up with Mandeep Dhillon (Sandy) for some insight into the characters, the show’s reception and how After Life came to be.

 

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Hi Mandeep! Thanks for talking with us. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into acting?

I’d always wanted to act but coming from a single parent family, money was tight. I wasn’t able to go to any paid drama classes outside of school so I made sure I was in every school play. Shortly after I started my A-levels, I dropped out and applied for a performing arts college in London.

In my second year of college, I managed to get my hands on the contact book from Spotlight and began emailing agents every night. Eventually, one got back to me and I was signed… I went on and booked my first role for the BBC in a film called Some Dogs Bite. That was my foot in the door.

 

From Whitechapel to Some Girls and now After Life, how do you find the switch up between such different characters?

I loved playing Saz in Some Girls – that show really opened doors for me. To this day, people on the street and on social media still ask me if the show will ever come back. I’ve been really lucky with all my roles; I think the writing always helps me switch up from character to character and from genre to genre. I enjoy both comedy and drama which helps a lot.

 

How did your involvement with After Life come about?

Ricky told me he had this idea and that he’d written a character for me… and then asked if I wanted to do it. Obviously, I was like, ‘yes!’. He did that with the majority of the cast – writing the characters for the people he wanted to play them. I think it was after we filmed Life On The Road that he decided to write me into something else.

 

What was it like working with such an incredible cast?

The cast is amazing! I feel so lucky to have shared the screen with this bunch of humans. Being on set was such a chilled environment and it was so much fun – it was filmed in summer and felt like a holiday. Working with Ricky is great – we all laughed so much. Due to the sensitive and emotional nature of the scenes, we got to see a side of him that not many people see. He is genuinely an amazing actor.

 

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After Life is unapologetic. How did you find working with emotionally-triggering themes?

I think Ricky nailed it…he really did his homework. I found it so refreshing and I think it’s so important for these topics to be spoken about and not be taboo subjects. We all know we’re going to die eventually… we’re all going to lose someone close to us. Usually, that would sound morbid but, actually, I think it’s kind of beautiful. For me, it’s a reminder to enjoy every second of being alive; enjoy the gift of life and be present. It’s also important to show the realness of grief and depression; this show has resonated with so many people and I think it’s because, as human beings, we can all relate to it in some way. After Life allows people to laugh and cry and I don’t know of any other current show that’s so unapologetic about these topics. There’s no sugar coating and I love that.

 

Have you seen the full show yet? And, if so, was the outcome as you thought it would be?

I’ve seen the full show and it made me laugh and cry – the reaction to After Life has been so much more than we ever expected. I knew it was a great show but I didn’t know it was going to resonate with as many as it has done. Being a part of something that’s doing so well and touching so many people is lovely. I’ve read so many tweets from people who have recently lost someone close to them and they’ve told us that After Life has really helped them. It seems like the timing of the show is perfect.

 

Tony had a consistent group of strong women around him throughout his journey. How important do you think this strength was to the story?

I think it was vital for Tony to have such strong females around him. Even Kath, played by the brilliant Diane Morgan (with whom he has a strained relationship) is important to him because she’s a huge distraction for Tony. Anne, in the cemetery, provides him with much-needed advice and guidance; he forms an unexpected friendship from Roxy who, despite her job, becomes an important friend to Tony and he builds a daughter-like friendship with my character who he turns quite protective of in the end. Then, of course, there’s the complicated yet sweet relationship with the Nurse – the last thing Tony expects following the death of his wife is to be attracted to another woman. All of these strong women play a huge part in keeping Tony alive. However, perhaps the strongest of all was Brandy, his dog. Her hunger literally keeps him alive.

 

The second series of After Life has been confirmed for 2020. What do you hope to see from Sandy?

I would love to see her career kicking off. I’m really looking forward to hearing the ideas for season two.

 

And what can we look forward to from you? Have you got any projects you’re working on?

I have my eyes set on a few projects at the moment. My dream role would be a lead in a Marvel film – an Indian female superhero sounds great, doesn’t it? I’m currently in the process of manifesting that into my life…

I’m also currently writing two shows. One of them is a comedy (which I’m writing with a friend) and the other is more ‘dramedy’, which is a solo project. Writing is all very new to me, but I’m really enjoying the process. I wish I could go into more details about both projects but it’s all under wraps at the moment. Stay tuned.

 

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