'The Curse' star Allan Mustafa — 'The show is all about friendship'
'The Curse' follows a gang of hapless criminals after they accidentally pull off the heist of the century.
The People Just Do Nothing crew are turning to crime in The Curse, in a new comedy-drama described as a story of "trust, greed, ambition, class, and in-equality".
Kurupt FM's Allan Mustafa, Steve Stamp, and Hugo Chegwin will be joining forces with King Gary star Tom Davis in Channel 4's new six-part series, which is set in 1980s London.
The tale follows a gang of criminals who carry out a robbery and get more than they bargained for when they get their hands on the loot, in a tale with similarities to the infamous real-life Brink's-Mat Robbery of 1983. Allan Mustafa - who famously played MC Grinder in People Just Do Nothing - tells us more...
What can you tell us about 'The Curse'?
"It’s about four normal idiots from the East End who are hard pushed for money. It’s the 80s, it’s Thatcher’s Britain, people around them are buying stuff they don’t need but they’re struggling. So when they get a tip-off about a robbery, they get involved. But it’s not what they thought and now they’ve got to deal with the consequences.
"Deep down it's a story about friendship. Everything we do has friendship at the heart of it. Men are essentially always boys. You might grow up and step up to the plate, but you always end up reverting to your childhood self. There’s a lot of that in these characters. They kind of need each other."
How did you guys begin working together?
"Tom Davis has been obsessed with us for years. Almost like a stalker! No, Tom’s amazing. He’s not only working class like us but comes from an untrained background so we naturally gravitated towards each other. We started chatting at an event five years ago, kept in contact and when The Curse came along, it was the right idea to collaborate on.
"He and the director James De Frond do King Gary together and they came to us with this idea. Funnily enough, me and Hugo Chegwin were already talking about doing a different East End geezer robbery story, so it struck a chord straight away. It’s a fish-out-of-water tale about blokes getting way out of their depth. To me, that’s intrinsically funny. "
Would you like to see more working class characters on TV?
"It’s weird. In my world - whether it’s People Just Do Nothing or the music industry - there’s a lot of working-class people. So sometimes I forget that’s not the norm on TV until I stop and look again. Working-class voices are still quite sparse, so it’s good that we’re getting the chance - and that we’re actually from that world. Lots of shows get made but it’s some actor from Oxford putting on an accent."
Is it about underdogs getting revenge on the fat cats? There’s lots of money around but our heroes aren’t getting any of it…
"Exactly, everyone can relate to that. We all feel like we’re in a rat race and other people are doing better than you. In pockets of working class Britain at that time, that weighed heavy on people. It's a story that's crazily relevant today. The world has progressed so much in the last 40 years but socio-politically, nothing much has changed. People are still trying to grab what they haven’t got."
Tell us a bit about your character, Albert Fantoni?
"He’s the ultimate example of someone who suddenly finds himself in too deep. He’s a really sweet guy who just wants everything to be fair and safe. He’s a family man who adores his wife. What she says goes and that gives Albert the push he needs. She calls him 'soppy bollocks' and he’s fine with that because he hasn’t got an ego. He’s the polar opposite of MC Grindah, in fact, because Grindah’s all ego - pretending he’s hard when really he’s dying and crying inside. Whereas Albert’s got a certain quiet confidence. He’s happy to be coasting along until he gets roped into this caper.
"He gets labelled a coward, but strangely enough, he ends up having bursts of leadership qualities. Leadership comes naturally to him, even though he desperately doesn’t want to lead. He’s the only one with his own business, the only one who’s a father, so in some ways he’s the senior member of the group - although not when it comes to violence or crime. He doesn’t want any part of that but unfortunately, he’s suddenly getting a taste of it."
Who did you base him on?
"With every character you play, you draw on parts of yourself. It’s easy to imagine how you’d react in a world of psychopathic gangsters. We all feel fear sometimes. Albert’s also a pernickety control freak and there’s elements of that in me as well."
Do you remember any of the 1980s?
"I was born in ’85 so I'm a bit too young. My 80s reference points are films like Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid. Fashion-wise, my older sister dressed pretty much like ‘Tash [Albert’s wife in The Curse]. It was fascinating to immerse ourselves in a different time. Making People Just Do Nothing, the garage scene was really important to us. Here we had another period to obsess over. It’s Tom’s and James’ era, so they kept us in check, even with slang. A rudeboy geezer in the Noughties talks very differently to how he would in the early 80s. Americanisms and Jamaican influences weren’t as strong back then."
Did you enjoy the 1980s fashion?
"It felt like fancy dress. I actually felt like an actor. Hey, maybe I am an actor rather than winging it! Clothing was another fascinating area. I assumed the 80s would be all big hair and power-suits. But working-class people didn’t suddenly start dressing differently the minute it hit the 80s. They’re still dressing like the late 70s in many ways. Albert’s got no money, so he’s still in his clothes from a few years ago. It was nice though in one respect, as I've been wearing tracksuits for the last decade.
"One thing I didn't like was having to walk around with that stupid ‘tache for six weeks. I hated it. On-set, with the 80s clothes, it felt right and helped me get into character. But the minute I put a tracksuit and a cap back on, I looked like I owned a bike shop in Shoreditch."
There’s lots of smoking in the show. How was that?
"Well, it’s similar on People Just Do Nothing. Everything I work on seems to involve heavy smoking. But that helped evoke the period too. Although those fake cigarettes tasted like a bonfire. Horrible."
What was the atmosphere like on set?
"I like to treat every set like it’s a family environment and that was the case here too. I just love terrorising everyone and creating a happy vibe. People had a really good time and said it was one of their favourite jobs ever, which was a huge compliment to us all. We did spend quite a bit of time messing about and sometimes we'd have a serious actor come in for a bit and you could see them wondering what was going on.
"It was hard to keep a straight face when Tom was in full flow with that voice. But I struggled even more with Steve’s character Sidney. He’s so different from Steves in People Just Do Nothing. I was super-impressed with him. It was great to see him flourish as Sidney. He’d do slightly different bits of improv each take and it sent me over the edge."
How did you find the writing process?
"We wrote it and then filming was delayed because of COVID, which gave us another six months to rewrite and work on it more, which is time you wouldn't usually have. Me and Steve, we've been working on People Just Do Nothing solidly for like the last 10 years, writing the same characters, so having more time to get to know these characters was really invaluable for us.
"Our influences were comedies like Eastbound & Down and Peep Show. But we also referenced things like Fargo and The Sopranos. Not to say we’re in that league but if The Curse is 1% as good, that’d be sweet."
The Curse begins on Channel 4 on Sunday, Feb. 6 at 10pm. The entire six-part series will be available on All 4 afterwards.
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Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.