Stage & Screen

Jonny Khan: A Chat with the Star of 'A Very Special Guest Star'

In an interview with &ASIAN, British actor Jonny Khan tells all about his experiences as an actor in the world of theatre post-covid, and dishes on starring in Tom Wright’s new play ‘Very Special Guest Star.’
Alan Turkington as Michael, Jonny Khan as Quasim and Edd Muruako as Phil, in ‘Very Special Guest Star’. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Jonny Khan: A Chat with the Star of 'A Very Special Guest Star'

You’re starring in Very Special Guest Star under the direction of Rikki Beadle-Blair: how has it been to work with him and on this production in general, especially with the logistical challenges of the pandemic?

Working with Rikki has been incredible. As a director he is amazingly giving and gives so much opportunity for all actors to experiment and enjoy each character. I’ve learnt so much from him. It has especially been inspiring to watch Rikki and Tom work together and the level of detail that goes into their work, it’s amazing! In terms of the pandemic, it has been tough, the first week of rehearsals I actually had COVID which meant a whole week of rehearsals on Zoom! Rikki still made it so easy to work around this and meant we were able to do some important deep diving into each character despite the challenges.

Did you have a connection with the theatre prior to this production? How has it been to rehearse there, knowing that soon it’ll be filled with a full live audience?

I hadn’t ever been to Omnibus theatre before this show but had definitely heard about it. When I got cast in the role, I was so excited to perform this piece in this specific theatre. I think it perfectly suits the local Clapham audiences. We’ve also been able to use the theatre to its full potential, using the actual windows in the theatre to make audiences fully feel like they’re with us in a living room. It’s going to be amazing to have audiences gasping and laughing throughout the run.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that it’s offered a reset for so many people in realizing they want more from the systems we work and live within. Have you felt any changes within yourself as an actor or within the theatre world post-COVID?

Being an actor or creative through the lockdown was extremely tough, with work getting cancelled and no end in sight, it was easy to feel down. One thing I’ve noticed post-COVID was a bit more generosity within the industry. Everyone in the industry had a tough time so moving forward I’ve noticed more kindness and transparency between all sections, whether you’re in front of the audition table or behind it.

Within the play, the characters of Michael and Phil (played by Alan Turkington and Edd Muruako) seek a puncture to their super-stable lives which ends up taking the form of 20-year old Quasim, whom you play. What are the main differences between Millennials and Gen Z that the play chooses to highlight, especially in relation to dating and sexual connections?

The play highlights some music and pop culture differences between the two generations, some of which I’m sure audiences of older generations will be shocked to hear. Through rehearsals we discussed dating differences and think it’s fair to say that younger generations are more used to dating sites and social media to make new sexual connections. That being said, I know of loads of friends who are of an older generation who use these dating sites too, so maybe there isn’t that much of a difference after all. The latter half of the play begins to delve into the political differences between the generations, but not in a lateral way. There are some really bold twists and turns, but to say anymore would be spoiling it…

How collaborative was it to work with Alan and Edd to portray the generational gap, and did any of your real-life interactions with each other influence your performances?

I’ve learnt so much from Alan and Edd, they are both incredible actors and it has been amazing to rehearse and perform with them. The rehearsal period has been very collaborative, and we have had extensive conversations about each character with all cast and crew. There were small actual generational differences between ourselves and our varying cultures that began to arise throughout rehearsals, so we were definitely able to use them to our advantage in our performances.

The boundaries between generations are often not as defined as people make it: what are the qualities you most relate to from either generation? Do you relate to one more than the other?

I’m 23 (1998) so really relate to the Gen Z aspects to Quasim, but since I’m on the border of the two I can still largely relate to millennial references. Growing up in the early 2000s I was big fan of heroes like Britney, Justin T and Nelly Furtado. Of course, older stars like Prince and Bowie have been huge inspiration for me too.

It’s fantastic to see a narrative looking at Millennial-Gen Z relationships, especially given that the Internet often tries to pit these two generations against each other! How much do you buy into the tension between Millennials and Gen Z?

I don’t really buy into the tension to be honest. In my opinion there isn’t a huge difference between Gen Z’s and Millennials, especially for someone like me who was born just on the border of the two. Both generations use the same social medias and relate to similar pop culture. I think it’s just a bit of a surprise when Millennials find out they’re clubbing with people born in 2003!

Millennials and Gen Z together could be such a huge force for change: what is the biggest hurdle that stands in the way of people of either generation coming together?

I guess its differences in what is seen as activism. Younger generations turn to twitter whereas older generations turn to the streets to protest. Both are so essential to bringing exposure and influence, as we have especially seen recently. The overall aim for both generations are to get people who can instigate long lasting positive social and political change into positions of influence. Therefore, there must be more focus on getting younger generations to vote so that both older and younger people are represented, and change can start to happen.

You and your co-stars also look at interracial dating. Is this part of the original script and if not, was this difference incorporated into your production run?

The show, especially the darker second half, sheds light on the subtleties of racism within relationships and society overall, which was already written into and specificised in the script. Throughout rehearsals, Edd and I had a lot of conversations about our Black and Brownness and how these relate to our characters which allowed Tom and Rikki to dig even deeper. I hope the show makes audiences think about how they view and speak about people of the global majority and hopefully will encourage much needed conversations that may be uncomfortable, but entirely necessary.  

What future projects do you have coming up next?

I write as well as act so have a couple exciting projects next year that I will developing which explores British South Asian culture and clubbing in Britain.

A Very Special Guest Star runs until the 12th December at the Omnibus Theatre. Jonny Khan can be found on Instagram and Twitter. Read our review of the show here.

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