Kamal Khan first fell in love with the arts through roles in prominent plays like Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Ever since, he’s dived into the world of acting and has made appearances on notable shows like EastEnders, Outsourced, The Bold and the Beautiful, and most recently, The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. We had a chat with the acclaimed actor about his interests and his roles.
1. Tell us your backstory. How did you get into the arts?
I always loved singing. Even as a 5 year old I would hear my dad play Bollywood songs and movies and I would be the one forwarding to the songs in Bollywood movies rather than skipping past the songs as I’d love to sing them. That led me to perform to join the choir in school in London. In high school I got cast as a lead role in West Side Story as Tony. It was my first taste of being cast in a role that’s typically played by White men. I also fell in love with musicals. I got to use an American accent, act and sing some of the best composed songs. Perfect 🙂.
I then auditioned and succeeded in joining the National Youth Theater in England. It was an amazing experience and continued my journey in the arts. After one of my performances with them, a modeling agent approached me about joining them for print shoots and commercials. I did commercials and print work for many brands like Virgin Atlantic, Ford, Sony, etc. which helped pay my way through university. The rest is history, as they say.
2. Do you enjoy acting in plays or on TV? How do the experiences differ?
I miss performing in a theater. I performed at the House of Blues on Sunset Strip with my band. That was akin to being back in the theater and performing live. I love that feeling of creating something new on the fly and performing a character while on stage – I did that as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet in the West End. I was able to create something new that was organic each time on stage. That said, there’s something about film that’s also so creative in a production and I want to pursue that more even if I prefer the live stage. My ideal would be a show like a La La land or The Greatest Showman where I get to sing and act.
3. What’s been your most memorable role till date?
Probably my most recent in The Haunting of Bly Manor. I get to open the series and do a fun speech as well as bookend the show and work with a great director and cast.
4. You guest starred in Netflix’s hit show, The Haunting of Bly Manor. Tell us a little about your role and the show.
Slight spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it: I open with a speech in the first couple of minutes and set the stage for what’s to come. Later in the last season, the audience learns I play “Older Owen.” It’s the speech in the beginning that’s so well written, so credit to the writers. The original speech was much longer and the writing is so good. Delivering that speech in front of guests was a great moment; it felt like being on stage. I love the quote, “To truly love someone is to accept that the work of loving them is worth the pain of losing them.” Especially in recent times, that resonates a lot.
Also, I got to have a sense of humor as well and sarcasm which reminded me of the sarcastic humor I so miss back in England. The show itself is amazing – I’m not a horror fan or anything, but I loved the supernatural horror element. The director, Mike Flanagan, has an incredible vision. It’s an anthology. The Haunting of Bly Manor can be best described as a Gothic horror romance – but the way it’s done as well as the cast in it just make the show a must-watch. There’s a reason it was #1 on Netflix for over 10 days straight!
Kamal Khan’s speech in The Haunting of Bly Manor.
5. How do you prep for roles?
I think about the character- what they were like before, what their backstory might be if there isn’t one, and what they would be like in various situations. I also like to feed off the cast- other actors have so much to give and that helps you build your role. It’s so important for me to be true to the character, but also bring a bit of myself into the role. We are all individuals and we all bring our unique selves to the role to make it authentic. I also discuss it with the director. It’s great when a director will let you make choices that you feel strong about or be open to it.
6. What do you look for in roles? Do you stick to what works or aim for versatility in your work?
I definitely look for versatility. Something that I can relate to is always exciting. If I feel it’s going to stretch me, diversify my skill set, and challenge me, I want that. For example, playing a corrupt lawyer is just as exciting to me as playing a romantic hero, as long as there’s an arc to the character. I also look for what the director and production team have done before. I do voice-overs for games and audiobooks too. I’m a host on Rukus Avenue Radio, the largest South Asian radio station globally. So I like to diversify my voice acting chops in front of the microphone!
7. You produced your own Bollywood album, Jazbaa. Any plans for future albums?
Yes, yes and yes. Singing was what got me into the arts in the first place. I have recorded Bollywood/western mashups. They are on my YouTube channel as well as on Spotify. I am working on a new EP right now and am excited about that. You can follow me on Instagram (@iamkamalkhan) to learn more.
8. What do you like to do in your free time?
I love staying physically fit- something we can still do during the pandemic. So I play tennis, hike, and ride my bike. I love spending time with family and friends as I like to stay social. However, I can also be a hermit and just stay in and focus when creating something I’m really passionate about too, such as writing or learning a new song.
9. How has the pandemic affected your goals and opportunities this year?
It’s definitely put a halt to many projects I thought would start and even canceled some/ However, I believe that when one door closes, another opens. For example, I now host people on my podcast show, Bollywood to Hollywood, on Rukus Avenue Radio, I welcome people to reach out if they are in the arts and have a compelling story to tell. As creators we become creative. I personally also started learning how to record audiobooks which I had not done before. I’m working one right now called Sculpting the Elephant, releasing end of this year. I’m also voicing a video game that I can’t say much about right now but it releases next year and will be a ton of fun 🙂.
10. What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
3 things: Never lose hope despite the rejections; be patient, it will happen. Be tenacious and keep learning your craft. Finally. treat it like a business – we are creative, but it’s a business that requires professionalism and investment, and you are the CEO.