BORN and raised in Swindon, Wiltshire, Sartaj Garewal went from being an investment banker to actor. Quite a career change you would think, but not for Sartaj.
Since making the move he’s already acted alongside some of the biggest names in the movie industry – Sean Connery (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and John Abraham (Desi Boyz) to name a few.
And although Sartaj admits being a ‘shy kid’ growing up, his love of film at a later stage helped carve out a career which has seen him grace film, TV, stage and radio.
Sartaj is currently starring in the hit US teen drama ‘House of Anubis’, which has just reached British screens on Nickelodeon.
We caught up with the actor for a quick chat…
Sartaj, how do you go from working in an investment bank to acting?
Having watched way too many films in my student years, the idea of acting had been steadily festering in the back of my mind. When I moved to London, a finance degree meant working for an investment bank was a fairly routine career choice although I never had any ambition to work in finance. But London's scale and diversity also allowed me to experiment in many ways and that included doing various acting workshops which I loved. Eventually an actor friend of mine mentioned me to the director of a theatre show he was in and I was offered a leading role. I knew from rehearsals on that this was absolutely what I wanted to do. So gradually I did more theatre, got a good agent and that lead to more and more work.
It's quite a career change - do you miss it?
Miss finance and the city...? Never...! I was only in the city a short while thankfully. I never got on with the whole 'profit and money are everything' mentality. As an actor I've had such amazing experiences and met all sorts of extraordinary people and that to me is living a full life.
Did you always harbor dreams to become an actor?
Not at all. In fact I hated being in school plays - I was quite a shy kid. So acting and public performance were not things I craved from an early age. It all came about later on for me, initially falling for film - I still remember seeing films like Taxi Driver, Jean De Florette and The Godfather for the first time. The stories and performances were so well crafted, so subtle in expression that I was hooked.
You seem to have done it all - TV, film, radio, stage - that's quite an accomplishment
Thanks. I love having a variety of work. Doing a play followed by filming a TV project and then followed with maybe a radio play is perfect. Good stories can work in any medium and I like having to change my approach to each just a little bit. I guess I'm like an easily bored kid who needs different things to entertain him.
If you had to give up all but one which would you choose?
Mmm...tough question. The classic answer a lot of actors will give is that you can't beat the live buzz and adrenaline of theatre and I completely agree with that - there's something pure, honest and dangerous about live performance whilst the endless stop start of filming can become weary. That said I love being on set and working with cameras too. But as I live for the variety of it all, I really couldn't stop working in any particular medium. I haven't answered your question have I?
You've acted with a number of high-profile stars - Sean Connery, Andrew Garfield, Bollywood star John Abraham - that's quite a list
Yeah guess so but then many actors like me work with big names regularly. It's part of the job and you get used to it. And whilst I can certainly think of the odd exception, most big names are utterly professional to work with. Watching Connery film scenes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a great learning experience. He does very, very little in front of the camera but then you see it on a big screen and it's subtle and nuanced, like he has an intimacy with the camera crafted over years of working.
Tell us about House Of Anubis
House Of Anubis is a very lively, action packed teen drama. Think Harry Potter goes to Egypt. It focuses on a bunch of school kids at an English boarding school, the mysteries they encounter and adventures they go on. It's fantastical with all sorts of unravelling secrets and occasionally a bit spooky too.
It's Nickelodeon's number one rated show in the UK, Australia and America - what makes it so popular?
It's well written, with some great actors. And just like the end of a Harry Potter book there's always an edge of seat cliff-hanger and you just have to know what's going to happen next. I think that's a key to its success. Also, I think Anubis is a pretty unique show for teenagers.
How did you get the role of 'Jasper Choudhury'?
I was in the film 'The Infidel' with Omid Djalili and Archie Panjabi, which the Anubis producers had seen and that's how we started talking initially.
Tell us a bit about your character
Jasper is warm, approachable and an uber intellectual, some would say nerdy I'm sure. He's always stuck into a book about some ancient Egyptian dynasty. He's the go to guy if you want to know anything about Egyptology. Jasper curates a visiting exhibition to the school. He is also godfather to Fabian, one of the main teen characters and cares deeply about protecting Fabian from any harm.
What's it like being surrounded on set with a bunch of teens?
Actually the actors playing teenage school kids are all over 18 - they just look younger. And they're as professional as the older actors. Obviously being aged 20 or 21 means they have an abundance of energy which is generally great but not always so endearing at 6am..! I have some great scenes with Eugene Simons who plays Jerome - he's also in Game Of Thrones and I think he'll be one to watch for the future.
You've also done a couple of Bollywood films - Desi Boyz and the recently released Tezz - how did you get involved with Bollywood?
I've had several meetings about playing roles in Bollywood films over the last couple of years but nothing seemed to be the right fit until Desi Boyz came along. With Bollywood, the stars pretty much dictate what happens on set whereas in the West we're used to directors and producers running things and that takes some getting used to. That said John Abraham was very cool to work with, very relaxed and we had a great laugh. I play his rather unforgiving corporate boss.
Will we see you in future Bollywood films?
Quite possibly, if the right roles emerge. I think slowly, slowly Indian cinema is evolving and discovering new ways of storytelling. Hopefully one day they could produce work as edgy and exciting as the films from Korea and Hong Kong. There's a new generation of Indian film makers who I'd love to work with; people like Anurag Kashyap and Abhinay Deo are really changing things.
We'll hear you on our radios this June narrating the best selling book 'Jubilee' which will air during the Jubilee celebrations - how did that come about?
I love doing radio drama. With 6 years as a regular on Silver Street and having recorded several novels as audio books meant I was well placed for 'Jubilee'. Doing audio books and radio drama is such a pure means of storytelling - instantly you hear if something isn't right and you get to have fun with lots of different character voices and accents. Jubilee is a wonderfully moving and incisive novel, so I was only too happy to work on it.
Will you be getting involved in the celebrations this summer?
I’m definitely looking forward to the Euro's and Olympics. Not really sure what to expect with the Jubilee - I'm not much of a royalist, but hey whatever brings people together in a positive way is good.
What else have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
Well I'm doing a lot of martial arts and boxing training at the moment in preparation for a feature film project shooting in the summer and I'm also looking at a 2 part US TV movie shooting in Luxembourg very soon. I've also got a high performance business consultancy 'Dynamic Presenting' which trains business leaders in public speaking and presentation impact that I need to keep running. So busy, busy but that's how I like it.
Catch Sartaj on House of Anubis on the Nickelodeon channel