Today sees the release of Channel 4’s gritty four-part drama Run on DVD. Painting a picture of modern-day urban life, Run cleverly weaves together the stories of four seemingly unconnected people facing life-changing decisions.
To coincide with the DVD release I spoke to actress Katie Leung about her role in episode 2 as illegal immigrant Ying. Ying is trying to survive whilst paying off her debts to the gang that smuggled her into Britain.
What drew to the series?
I really loved the script. I’ve always been fascinated by the way that immigrants live their lives and was really impressed with the amount of research that had been done.
Ying doesn’t have many lines in English how did you find speaking Chinese?
It’s actually Fujianese. It’s a different dialect and it’s what the majority of immigrants who come to Britain speak. I speak Cantonese, but that’s an entirely different language so I had to learn a new language really.
That must have been incredibly challenging.
It wasn’t because Ying has very little dialogue anyway. It was a case of just finding someone who spoke both Fujianese and English. Once we found the teacher she translated all the dialogue and I recorded it and listened to it over and over.
Why do you think the barbershop becomes a safe haven for Ying?
She is acting on desperation and literally has nowhere else to go. She can see that Jamal is genuinely a nice person. For her it’s a last resort.
Ying is raped during the episode. What was that day on the set like?
I was nervous about it as I’d never done anything like that before. The set was closed which means there were very few people on set. The atmosphere of being in a small car in an empty car park was quite terrifying. I was feeding off of Benny (Benedict Wong), he’s absolutely lovely but he can be terrifying as well.
Does filming a scene like that stay with you?
Sometimes you can’t help it because it’s such an intense and bleak scene, but I think it’s really important to try and get out of it as soon as they shout cut.
What do you think the message of the series is?
There are so many issues involved in this. I think we live in such a fast-paced world that we don’t always see what’s going on around us. The series is ultimately about how our decisions affect other people. Ying has no real identity. She’s a part of society but she’s almost a ghost and ignored by people as she’s roaming the streets. No one really takes any notice of her. There were times during the shoot that I would be filming on the streets of Brixton without the public knowing because the director would want the camera at quite a distance. So I would be walking through the market trying to sell pirate DVDs without people knowing it was actually being filmed. I had really lovely people coming up to me and asking me to leave in case I got arrested. It was really nice to see that sense of community still.
You’re obviously known for your role in the Harry Potter franchise, was it different for you working on TV?
The main difference is that the budget is so much lower, so everything happens much faster and there’s less waiting around.
Although each episode focuses on a different character you did have some scenes with Olivia Colman and Lennie James. What was it like working with them?
They were fantastic to work with and so humble. They both have this kind of vulnerable yet powerful quality about them so it was amazing to work with them.
Do watch much television yourself?
I’m really bad because there are so many great series out there at the moment that I’m unable to watch or carry on with. I was watching Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I tried starting The Sopranos and I’ve been asked to watch The West Wing. I’m a massive fan of Modern Family, it’s just hilarious.
Are you still recognized a lot from your Harry Potter days?
I’m really lucky that I’m only recognised on rare occasions. I’d say I’m probably getting it more now than I did before but its probably because the films are constantly on a loop. I haven’t changed much since I was sixteen. I don’t mind it at all.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Run, and Ying in particular?
I’d like people to recognise these people who exist in our society as they have as big of an impact as anyone else and show compassion towards immigrants.
Run is available on DVD now.