“Honestly, I just love every job that I’ve done!”
If you’re one of the millions of viewers hooked on gritty BBC crime drama Line Of Duty, actress Taj Atwal will be no stranger to you. She took on the role of PC Tatleen Sahota throughout series five, assisting AC-12 in their mission to uncover the identities of the elusive ‘H’, the codename given to a ring of corrupt police officers.
However, having wowed viewers with her performance, Taj decided that it was time to move on to pastures new, taking a lead role in the new series of The Syndicate, penned by award-winning writer Kay Mellor.
The Syndicate has long been a much-loved British drama, with each series following the stories of a group of work colleagues who are ecstatic to find that they’ve won the lottery – though this usually brings to light a new world of problems within the characters’ lives.
Returning for a fourth outing after six years off-screen, the latest series of The Syndicate follows the team at a dog kennel, all left facing some particularly tough times after their boss announces that he’s selling the business. When they win £27,000,000 as a group on the national lottery, it seems that all their problems could be put to bed – until they discover that the ticket is missing and, even worse, that the prize has already been claimed.
Desperate to get the ticket back, the group head out to Monaco on an action-packed transatlantic chase – with plenty of drama along the way!
Here, Taj Atwal tells us a little about the series and her character, Roxy, as well the projects she has in the pipeline, her career highlights and whether or not the old adage of ‘never work with children or animals’ is true!
DDW: Hi, Taj! The obvious first question we need to ask, of course, is how have you found lockdown?
Taj: I’ve been alright! Up and down, like everyone else, but mainly up. I’ve been keeping busy and just finding things to do to take my mind off it really.
DDW: So, fans will recognise you from Line Of Duty, which recently returned – but without you. Were you asked to come back for this series?
Taj: I was! They asked quite early on, but at the same time, I was asked to look at the scripts for The Syndicate and they both kind of happened within a week of each other. It was difficult because The Syndicate was a lead role, but I had such a fantastic part in Line Of Duty as well and it’s such a big show. It was just one of those choices, but I had to go with playing something different.
I love challenging myself, pushing myself, creating and being different characters – Roxy’s very different to (my character in) Line Of Duty. I keep saying it but Kay Mellor is hard to say ‘No’ to – she’s like your mum! She’s just such a nice person, so eventually, I went with The Syndicate.
DDW: And you’ve worked with Kay Mellor before, haven’t you?
Taj: Yeah, exactly. I’d done a lead role for her before – for In The Club – and I had such a great time on that. I know how warm and loving her scripts are. There’s a character in there that everyone can relate to, you can just relate to the stories. It means a lot to me to be included in her work.
DDW: But there’s still a potential door open for a return to Line Of Duty in the future?
Taj: I don’t know! To be honest, I’ve not even had time to sit and watch it yet. I’ll probably sit and binge-watch it all at some point.
Never say never! Jed (Mercurio, Line Of Duty’s showrunner) is an incredible writer. I know how much people are wanting me to go back, so I feel so bad!
DDW: You could still be the elusive ‘H’!
Taj: Yeah! I don’t know, there are so many theories out there and we don’t know either. You just get the script and you don’t know who-is-who until the end of it.
DDW: So, you’re theorising along with everyone at home?
Taj: Exactly! We’re always finding things out along with everyone else.
DDW: We’ve already briefly mentioned the comeback of The Syndicate, which has been off-screen for nearly six years. How did your involvement with that come about?
Taj: David Shaw, the casting director, was so lovely. He sent over the script and just asked me to read them and see what I thought of Roxy – I fell in love with her straight away. I find her incredibly empowering. The storyline and dynamic of the whole piece are very different to the other series (of The Syndicate) – a slightly younger cast and we got to go abroad. It was a page-turner, too – there was so much warmth to it. It would have been so hard to say no.
DDW: Could you tell us a little more about Roxy?
Taj: She’s one of the kennel workers and a part of the syndicate. They’re a really tight group of friends and I think Roxy has probably been there with them a long time, along with a couple of the other characters. She’s formed such a close relationship with this group of people. They head out on a wild goose chase to try and track down this missing lottery ticket, but aside from that, Roxy’s got this real dilemma.
She thought that she could never have children, but she’s in this loving relationship – well, what she thought was a loving relationship – with someone that she’s planning on spending her life with. When we meet her, she’s still living at home with her parents and wants to make this move to live with her boyfriend, Sam (played by Joe Sugg) – then life throws her this curveball and she discovers that she’s pregnant. Ordinarily, it might not be such a big deal, but she’s lived her life thinking that this was something that she could never have. Then Sam decides that that’s not what he wants, so she’s got all these choices to make. Ultimately, she chooses herself.
DDW: So, she’s a character with a lot of depth…
Taj: Loads of depth and loads of really moving scenes. With all of the characters in The Syndicate, there’s this constant subtext and underlying story. There’s the main objective of tracking down their lottery ticket and getting it back, but there’s a deeper meaning to why each of them wants the money – it’s not as black-and-white as ‘I want to be rich’. There’s a lot more to it than that. Like anyone, they just want to make a go of their lives and have the same opportunities and chances as everyone else.
DDW: It certainly sounds great! You shot quite a lot of it in lockdown, didn’t you?
Taj: Well, we’d just come out of the first lockdown, but still during the pandemic. We were in our own social bubble and then Leeds (where the series was being filmed) went into their own local lockdown, so we didn’t see anyone for four-and-a-half months! So, we bonded, we gelled and we got to know each other very well…
We’re lucky that we all got on! Even though we were filming together five or six days a week, we still spent the weekends together. I don’t know how we didn’t kill each other!
DDW: How was it going out to Monaco to film some of the series?
Taj: It was amazing, then France went into lockdown two days after we got there! It was like lockdown after lockdown for us, it was kind of insane. France took a very different approach to us, though, so it was more of a curfew situation. On our days off, we were able to spend the day out by the beach – we just had to wear a mask. You could eat in restaurants, too, if you couldn’t eat at home – which of course, we couldn’t, we were living in hotels – and you just had to be back by curfew.
Monaco is insane, though. It’s gorgeous, it’s like another world. I’m a big car fanatic and yet there are cars there that I had never even heard of. We went out to a restaurant once and Lewis Hamilton was in there, it’s that kind of lifestyle. The lottery winner lifestyle, except we were using our per diem pay instead of the lottery money!
DDW: They say that actors should ‘never work with children or animals’, yet dogs play a big part in the series, don’t they?
Taj: They take centre stage and they upstaged us every time that they were in a scene! It was so good, but some of them were puppies and just not trained yet. We’d be handling four or five dogs each, too.
There was once a huge group scene where there was loads of really heightened stuff going on and there must have been about seven dogs, some of them puppies, gunning for everything – I’m getting pulled one way, another actor’s getting pulled another way! All they wanted to do was just eat, sleep and go outside to play. Definitely not easy, but a lot of fun!
DDW: It seems from the trailers that the whole series is a lot of fun.
Taj: Yeah, especially in the second half of the first episode where things really start to pick up with the ticket. From my personal experience, that’s something that I’m really craving right now. I’ve been consciously choosing to watch those more energetic, high-vibe shows, which i definitely think The Syndicate is.
DDW: It’s the sort of tonic that we all need at the moment.
Taj: Yeah! I used to be obsessed with true crime documentaries but, this last year, I’ve not been able to watch anything like that – I come away feeling even more sad! I’m just like ‘No, I need something that’s going to lift my soul’.
DDW: So, if you had to sum The Syndicate up in three words…
Taj: Warm, moving and fun!
DDW: ‘Warm, moving and fun’ – quite different to Line Of Duty, then!
Taj: Very different, very different! But they’re both fast-paced.
DDW: Well, it goes to show that you’ve already starred in such a wide range of different projects over the years! What would you say has been your career highlight so far?
Taj: Honestly, I just love every job that I’ve done. I know it’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but every job has such different elements to it – whether it’s a comedy or something grittier, like Line Of Duty.
I really loved Van der Valk, actually, because I got to go to Amsterdam with that. It was something completely new to be there for months and I just loved the vibe of the place. I got to play two twins and they were completely contrasting characters – one was a psycho and one was, you know, normal! That really pushed me as an actress, so I probably would say Van der Valk.
DDW: Are there any characters that you’d love to play or projects that you’d love to do in the future?
Taj: If Kill Bill was a new script, Kill Bill! I’d also love to do a period piece, like Bridgerton – period, but action-packed.
DDW: Where can we expect to see you next?
Taj: I’ve got a couple of films, one that I’ve just wrapped on called What’s Love Got To Do With It?. Amazing cast – Lily James, Emma Thompson, Shazad Latif. That one’s a rom-com about a clash of two cultures.
Then I’ve got a little part in a film coming out later in the year – The Asset, directed by Martin Campbell. That’s with Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. Blink and you’ll miss me, but I just had so much fun doing it! It was incredible watching Michael Keaton and Maggie Q work. I’ve got a few short films coming up too.
DDW: Well, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out – and The Syndicate is currently airing on BBC One!
Taj: Yeah! I’m excited. Fingers crossed that people enjoy it.
Photographer: Joseph Sinclair // Make-up: Justine Jenkins // Hair: Shukeel Murtaza