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Burnley-born actor Muzz Khan on Hollywood, waiting for that 'made it' moment and not forgetting his roots

Muzz Khan
Muzz Khan
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When Muzz Khan read a piece in the Guardian last month narrating the supposed decline of the working class actor, he had one thought: “Sod you! We ain’t declining. We’re rising!”

Muzz was born in Burnley, raised in Nelson. Being working class is in his blood. It is a background he draws inspiration from.

Muzz Khan

Muzz Khan

And it is this blood along with plenty of sweat and no doubt a few tears that has seen him forge a career in an industry where shortcuts, especially for the lesser privileged, rarely exist.

“In term of opportunities I do feel that being working class has sometimes been a mixed blessing. Sometimes, I feel it’s worked in my favour. And sometimes, not.

“There’s a lot of ‘posh-actor-bashing’ that I don’t agree with. If you were lucky enough to attend Eton, private school, Cambridge etc - then great. Of course, people will want to hire them because they have some of the sharpest minds in the country.

“We do have to work that little bit harder because we’re working class and certainly if you’re from an ethnic minority background.

Muzz Khan

Muzz Khan

“Being ‘BAME’ (I hate that term), has not allowed me as much variety of roles as my Caucasian counterparts. That is absolutely the case for most ethnic actors. But that’s the industry. It’s always been that way. But it is changing. And we are becoming more inclusive.

“Organisations like Act For Change are spearheading that and sparking that discussion in the right places.”

The 36-year-old actor is still awaiting his “made it” moment but is busy adding to a flourishing CV.

He starred in Galavant alongside Robert Lindsay, Hugh Bonneville, Kylie Minogue and Sheridan Smith before shooting the film Me Before You starring Emilia Clarke, Charles Dance and Joanna Lumley in late 2015.

He went on to shoot Hidden America for NBC Universal and the film Redwood before appearing on stage in history-making production of Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.

Two pilots for Channel 4 have since been recorded and he was also in the recent Christmas special of Trollied on Sky 1.

In the midst of all this, and numerous other roles, he landed himself a Hollywood manager.

“I got with them after a Skype video call lasting 50 minutes. We both said yes and did a virtual handshake. When I ended the call, I thought I’d actually made a mistake! Surely, it couldn’t have been that easy? What if they’d got it wrong?

“They ended up working really well for me and got me seen for countless auditions during the notoriously-difficult pilot season in Los Angeles. I met all the bigwigs at Warner Bros, HBO, 20th Century Fox etc.

“That was utterly surreal. But I’ve still not had an ‘I’ve made it moment’. That’ll probably happen when I get nominated for a BAFTA or Oscar! Ha!

“My first audition over there was for ‘Barry’ – a feature film about Barack Obama for Netflix. I got shortlisted. Which was a great start according to my US managers. I then had back-to-back auditions for Warner Brothers. That was intense. The WB site is huge. Literally the size of Nelson. I’m not even joking!

“But the over-riding feeling going round my head was that of utter excitement and whether I’d, crucially, even be allowed entry into the country!

“A mate of mine who’s a fairly well-established actor called Riz Ahmed had a few tales to tell about his own experiences with them. I, personally, got pulled aside three times. Once at Gatwick and twice at LAX airport, where Homeland Security took me to one side, into an office and interrogated me like you wouldn’t believe.

“I was told these were random searches. Read into that what you will.”

He wouldn’t think twice about moving Stateside though.

“Despite all of that hullabaloo, I would definitely move over there in a heartbeat. There’s a synergy about the place that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I left a piece of my heart there. Los Angelenos have a pro-actively positive, can-do attitude that is sorely missing here. They have great energy, weather, food and a collaborative nature that is infectious.

“And, of course, the scale of work is that much bigger and they pay the big bucks! Ha!”

Hollywood may have called. And Muzz may now live in Kent with his wife and three children, but fame will not change a former Edge End High School pupil who still returns home to Nelson regularly to see his family.

“There are two things that I promised myself when I left Nelson to train at drama school and again, more recently, given the global success of some of my peers. Firstly, that when drama school tutors wanted me to stop speaking in my native Lancashire accent and adopt the RP (Queen’s English) tone in everyday life – I said no to that. Being a Lancastrian is who I am. It’s in my blood. And I won’t hide it. I know many actors who have.

“Secondly, that fame wouldn’t change me. I’m still the same crazy-eccentric guy I was when I finished college in Rawtenstall. And I’ll still be the same if I ever reach the dizzying heights of stardom. Again, I’ve seen some of my peers, let it get to their heads. And it’s a shame. It’s not a good look.”

When he’s not busy auditioning/filming Muzz can be found working his second job – DJ-ing. It’s a career that has also taken him all over the world and one he is just as passionate about.

“Funnily enough, having successful acting and DJ careers is less of a juggling act and more of a marriage. Genuinely.

“Most film shoots are wrapped by 8pm and most stage shows are done by 10-30pm, so there’s always opportunity to DJ straight after.

“I often combine the two. More so now than ever, as I’ve set up a high-end mobile DJ business - a lot of bookings come in from people having seen me in something and I’m finding that I do a lot of weddings and private events as a result! Funny how it all melds together.”

Muzz had these words for any youngsters dreaming of making it in the acting industry.

“Growing up round here, I never had any role models. Especially as a Pakistani lad from a Muslim background. I felt different. And out of place. I’d walk through town with my headphones on loud and dance through the streets.

“People made fun of that. I never thought I’d end up being a fairly well-established DJ. So, I guess everything happens for a reason. That took a lot of work, graft and effort.

“People also gawped at me when I said I fancied becoming an actor. What a stupid thing to do. But then, the old acting thing took off...

“I’ve always felt like an outsider and like the underdog.

“But I’ve never let people stamp on my dreams. I’ve taken the people and the comments out of the equation and carried on.

“Only you know yourself. Truly. Embrace your passions and dreams. Don’t be scared by them. The only confines you live in are the ones in your mind. Geography and where you are located should not be a barrier to your success, your future or your potential.

“It means nothing. You can come from nowhere and be somebody. (Whatever your version of a somebody is). It’s scary. And it’s not easy. But - heck - we’re northern and we are made of stern stuff. We have heart, grit and soul. Our voices matter. Our stories matter.

“Go and make your future. This is your life. These are your stories. You’re the author. And your chapters are waiting to be written.”