The Bay’s Nadeem Islam is ready for a Deaf James Bond

·7-min read
Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

The Bay season 3 spoilers won't be found here.

ITV's hit police drama The Bay returns for a third season this week, with new family liaison officer (FLO) DS Jenn Townsend (Marsha Thomason) assigned to support the family of a young boxer whose body is found in the bay on her first day at work.

Rina Mahoney and Michael Karim memorably play murder victim Saif Rahman's grieving mother and older brother, but the standout performance of the series comes from Nadeem Islam, who plays Saif's younger brother Jamal. A Deaf teenager who struggles with not being fully involved in family life, Jamal bonds with DS Hobson (Erin Shanagher) when he discovers she knows BSL (British Sign Language) and can communicate with him.

"A particular highlight was filming with Erin, who learnt BSL specifically for her role," says Nadeem, an accomplished Deaf actor who has appeared on stage and in the BBC TV series See Hear. "She's such a riot to work with! Every time we did our BSL signed scene, we usually just encouraged each other and felt like we were both changing the world!"

Digital Spy caught up with Nadeem to discuss Deaf representation and the challenges of joining The Bay as a Deaf actor.

Photo credit: ITV
Photo credit: ITV

Jamal comes across as something of a moody teenager in the early episodes of The Bay. What was the appeal of his character for you?

He's a complex character who I relate to in some respects, but not on all levels. To give you some context, he knows far too much, goes through a lot and yet still maintains hope. He respects his significant others very highly which was an interesting dynamic to explore with the cast.

I can't say much more because I don’t want to give away any spoilers! All I can say is there's so much to undercover from Jamal as a character that I'm excited for the audience to see.

Was it difficult as a Deaf actor, filming the series during the pandemic with the crew wearing masks on set?

I must say, at first, I got 'Deaf anxiety' and expected the worst. But with my wonderful BSL interpreter Emma and the crew, who had learned to sign a little from the BSL training that was provided, everything suddenly became so smooth. In production the whole team used clear masks as well, so that I could easily lip-read. It takes great hearts to make everything accessible and the cast and crew at The Bay had that.

What was your biggest challenge on The Bay?

Having to explore the role while working with BSL as well, it's like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time. It was definitely a big challenge and a mammoth amount of juggling of skills.

I was conscious of making sure scenes were Deaf aware as well, so I was avoiding just speaking all the way through. I had to be incredibly aware of everything around me as well as making sure that the Deaf character is being represented correctly. Again, it is testament to the team who were incredibly supportive and I worked it out at the end to portray the character.

Were there any scenes that were particularly hard to film?

Probably the hardest scene to film was with my character's brother who is portrayed by Mike Karim. I won't give away any spoilers, but it was a long day. We were having to pour out this enormous level of emotion for such an incredibly meaningful moment for the characters.

I have to say, my scene partner Mike was too good and made me cry like a baby. We both just kept on hugging and checking in with each other. The team got it all at the end, but it was a trying day.

Who on set did you most enjoy working with?

It really is impossible to choose – the whole team was great. Thinking back, some highlights were Marsha and I dancing all the time, Erin and I acting like a T-Rex, Zahra (Ahmadi, who plays Jamal’s aunt) learning the BSL to the Backstreet Boys and Mike making Instagram videos.

It is tricky to choose, I just love them all! It was like a crazy big family.

How important is it for you to be able to portray a Deaf character in a mainstream TV series like The Bay?

Big time. It's about seeing our Deaf icons on screen, being represented with our culture and our language right there. Many young Deaf people will see it and know that it's possible.

Our culture and language is so rich, I'm just surprised that it's being shown so rarely. We're here as always and we will always be here. Both myself and my character are Asian and Deaf; this is dedicated to our Asian and Deaf community.

Also, it's important to show a realistic portrayal of Deaf people every day. We do have emotions, we do go through stuff like the story of The Bay, and many others. We are just like everyone else.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your portrayal of Jamal?

That Deaf people in families should be involved and integrated within family matters. Rina Mahoney beautifully plays a mother that knows BSL and we made sure that we were able to communicate smoothly in our scenes.

I hope every mother with a Deaf child can learn something from this – scrap that, I hope every family member with a Deaf person in the family can learn something. Also, they'll hopefully want to learn the beautiful language of BSL, and if you need a Deaf buddy to learn from? We're here.

Do you feel TV and movies are improving the way D/deaf people are shown on screen, in series like Marvel's Hawkeye?

Definitely, one step at a time there are improvements. From the Deaf superheroes in Marvel portraying powerful storylines focusing on Deafness to Rose Ayling-Ellis winning Strictly Come Dancing this year – representation is becoming more prevalent than ever.

It is great to bring my character to life in this storyline in The Bay and I know many more examples are emerging on screen. There are more roles that have arisen compared to when I started as an actor, but I know that we still need many more.

We need Deaf John McClane, a Deaf Captain Marvel or even a Deaf James Bond (please sign me up for the latter!)

Of course, filmmakers don't always get representation right. Is there a Deaf cliché you wish film and TV makers would stop putting on screen?

Stop hiring Hearing actors to play Deaf. That's a big no-no!

Also, don't make a storyline for the Deaf people as you imagine it, do it authentically by hiring a Deaf consultant and Deaf actors. We might not hear the serial killer coming, but we can at least feel or see, we're not dumb. We've got the eyes of a hawk.

Also, we do like music, don't assume that just because we can't hear that we don't. There are many ways that we can feel the music. We rock hard!

What are you working on next?

Next, I will be working with a huge theatre company who I idolise so much. I wish I could tell you more, but you can easily keep track of what I will be doing by my social media. So be sure to give me a follow on either Instagram (@nadeemrules) or Twitter (@NadeemRules1) to find out more soon!

The Bay season 3 airs weekly on ITV every Wednesday. Every episode is now available to watch on the ITV Hub.

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