The upcoming episode of gritty drama Ripper Street “Threads of Silk and Gold” is a story about blackmail and corruption which leads to tragic events for a young telegraph boy played by Jassa Ahluwalia (Some Girls, The Bible).
Investigations into the brutal slaying of a Telegraph Boy lift the lid on a vice racket run from the offices of the GPO.The telegraph ledger leads Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) to the heart of the one of the city’s most august financial institutions, Barings Bank.
It is a trail that will reveal blackmail, looming economic disaster, financial corruption – the great passions shaped in men by both love and gold.
We had an exclusive interview with Jassa Ahluwalia about the upcoming episode.
Can you tell us about the character you play in Ripper Street?
I play Vincent Featherwell, a young telegraph boy. He’s street smart and exceptionally confident, making his way in life. But there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’s constantly on the look out for opportunity, unafraid to spurn society, and dreams about his future. A future with his fellow worker and lover David.
This week’s episode is dealing with blackmail and bank corruption, can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming storyline?
I’d hate to ruin the mystery but I can say that the corruption under scrutiny is not just that of the bank. Social and emotional corruption are never far away when it comes to money.
The first series of Ripper Street was a tremendous success, were you a fan of the show prior joining the cast for this episode?
I’m a huge fan! Though I didn’t actually watch the first series until I’d got the part. Which was probably quite fortunate – I don’t think I’d have been anywhere near as chilled about the whole thing if I knew what I was getting involved with. I actually watched the finale the day before I arrived on set for my costume fittings. I sat down for lunch and was about to take my first mouthful when Reid walked past me. I genuinely saw him as Reid, not Matthew, I was so invested in that world and the story. It was like I’d fallen into my TV!
Ripper Street is a gritty period drama. Do you enjoy playing these types of roles and does the costume help with the performance?
Definitely! I think Ripper Street has such great appeal to both cast and audience because it’s so different from what we experience in day to day life. Every scene inspires intrigue, from the food to the medical instruments to the costumes. Nothing is familiar. But what I believe makes the drama so powerful is where familiarities emerge, where we identify timeless truths. Human stories will always resonate.
As for the costume, wearing a boiled wool uniform during the only Irish summer on record had its challenges, but it certainly helped. Victorian fashion really enforced posture. My jacket was actually a genuine article. It felt like I was truly stepping back in time.
The series is shot on location in Dublin. Viewers get transported back to Victorian Whitechapel, as the atmosphere works so well on screen. What was your experience working on these sets and locations?
Fortunately I had a day to explore the sets prior to filming so I had plenty of time to pinch myself and calm down. They make the job so much easier. Making an audience believe what they’re seeing is effortless when you yourself believe it standing there.
What I found slightly disorienting though was that one of the streets doubles as two. You’ll be walking down it one way and if you turn back on yourself it becomes a different street! Clever set design and paintwork I’m told. Though I suspect dark magic.
How was it like to play alongside the main cast? Did you have a lot of fun on set?
An honour and a privilege. Shooting my first scene with Matthew and Jerome and having them both look me dead in the eye was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. There was a moment where I knew I was either going to succumb to my sense of nervous awe, or I was going to embrace it and feed it into my performance. Thankfully I relaxed enough to channel the emotion. That was a pretty damn awesome day at the office.
Working with Andrew Tiernan was also amazing. Learning from him and hearing his stories was a joy. Plus we had a great time beating each other up. Though most of the fun we had together was off set and in Dublin’s many wonderful pubs.
Was it daunting to join a well established series and cast as a guest performer, did they make you feel part of the family?
Yes and yes. Thankfully Kieron Hawkes (director) came and found me in the lunch queue on day one and made me feel right at home. With a show like Ripper Street I think all the regular cast and crew are well accustomed to having people arrive for and leave over a few weeks. I’ve lost track of the body count…
Do you’ve any projects coming up we should be looking forward to?
The Whale! An incredible one off film for BBC One which tells the true story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex – the inspiration for Moby Dick. There’s still no news of an air date, but I’ll keep you posted.
Ripper Street “Threads of Silk and Gold” airs on Monday 25 November at 9.00 pm on BBC One
Watch a preview clip below (*spoilers*):