New ITV drama, Maternal, stars Parminder Nagra as a medic who is returning to work after maternity leave.
The actor, who shot to fame in Bend It Like Beckham and went onto star in US hospital drama, ER, plays pediatric registrar, Maryam Afridi in the six-part drama which follows Maryam's return to her demanding job after being on maternity leave for almost two years.
With two children under two, Maryam is joined by her friends and colleagues, surgeon Catherine (played by The Split's Lara Pulver) and acute medicine doctor, Helen (played by Mum star Lisa McGrillis) who are also returning to work after maternity leave, post-pandemic, and must juggle their careers with motherhood.
Here Parminder, who has a young son herself and lives in LA, tells us more about how she landed her role on Maternal, which is written by playwright and theatre director, Jacqui Honess-Martin...
Tell us about your character Maryam in Maternal
Parminder Nagra says, "Maryam has two children under two and has been on maternity leave for nearly 24 months so she's feeling a real mixture of anxiety and excitement about returning to her very high-pressure job. She's worried about how she's going to cope, but also about how she's going to feel about leaving her children. There's a moment when she says to her husband Raz (played by Abhin Galeya), 'What if I hate being away from them?' quickly followed by, 'What if I really love being away from them!'"
How did the role come about and what attracted you to the part?
"I landed the role purely by chance. I am great mates with Lara and her husband Raza who I’ve known for over 20 years. We all live in LA and when Lara was doing her audition tape on zoom for Maternal she asked if I’d mind reading the other part with her to help it flow. The director ended up offering me the role of Maryam and Raza got the role of Jack Oliviera, (a surgeon and former boyfriend of Catherine). So the three of us all traveled to the UK, the whole kit and caboodle. To work alongside my mates who I love and respect has been fantastic and we’ve had a lot of fun together. Maternal is not your typical medical drama, it’s full of black humor."
Can you tell us about the friendship and dynamics between Maryam, Helen and Catherine?
"They probably went to university together and we imagine they'd known each other for ages and then branched off into their specialties. The three of them are very different personalities, complete extremes. Maryam is carrying a lot of anxiety with her and is very stressed out, Catherine is a straight-shooter who can be very blunt and Helen is probably somewhere in the middle. They are all three brilliant at their jobs. In the series you follow everyone's story individually for a while and then there are moments when they come together and then you see what great friends they are."
What research did you do? Did your memories of playing Dr Neela Rasgotra on ER come flooding back?
"I'm a professional doctor now, clearly! 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 [inserting a breathing tube down the throat of] 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 terminologies that I got used to saying on ER, I was told, ‘That's not how you say it here.’ It’s pronounced differently in Britain. I almost had to 'unlearn' what I'd learned in the States.
As a mum yourself did you relate to Maryam's predicament of attempting to balance home life with an all-consuming job?
"A hundred percent! And we were all doing it in real-time on that show, making sure our kids were taken care of and making sure that we were still able to do our work, and then feeling guilty if we weren't there. But one thing that’s come out of doing this job is this: there's a moment where 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. I like being at work, and that makes me a better mother because I'm basically just in a better mood."
Maternal starts on Monday, January 16 on ITV1 at 9 pm and will be available as a box set on ITVX.
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Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.
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