Interview: Amy-Leigh Hickman on the return of Ackley Bridge.
Ackley Bridge returns for another run of eight laugh-out-loud, irreverent and highly emotional episodes set in and around a school designed to unite the divided white and Asian communities of a small Yorkshire mill town.
The school is now part of a large multi-academy trust. Mandy has a new nightmare boss Ken who has dumped a load of unmanageable kids from the trust’s other schools on to her. Along with a suspect 'A-team' of senior staff, joining the school are new hot-headed Deputy Head Martin and disenchanted Director of Behaviour Sue Carp.
As Ackley’s Year 13 pupils enter their final year they all face questions about their future. Will Nas get to Oxford? Will Kaneez and Rashid take things to the next level? What will happen with Sadiq? Only one thing's for sure: at Ackley Bridge, nothing is certain.
Amy-Leigh Hickman tells us more…
For anyone who’s not seen Ackley Bridge, explain a little about the show.
Ackley Bridge is a drama set in Yorkshire about the lives of the characters that attend and work in Ackley Bridge College. Which is the first school in Ackley Bridge town that is predominately mixed with whites and Asians. This is a first for this particular town. It takes on issues such as relationships, sexuality and religion in a truthful and respectful yet gripping and comedic way.
You play Nas. What’s her story?
Nas is an 18 year old girl who is on her way to bagging herself a place at Oxford University. This is a million miles away from the town she grew up in and knows. At such a young age she has dealt with some huge things in such a short space of time like dealing with first loves, friendships and how her sexuality may affect her and her family’s religion. She is full of ambition and knows herself through and through. She is also super sensitive and depends on her mum Kaneez and best friend Missy for happiness most of the time.
Nas has a very special relationship with her next-door neighbour Missy. How would you describe it?
Nas and Missy’s friendship is beyond best friends. Having been born the same day in the same hospital and always lived right next door to each other. The two of them are practically sisters. The sisterhood is beautiful, and they bring out the best qualities in one another.
They’re very different personalities, and they are, in theory, from different communities. What is it that bonds them?
Many things bond the communities. Love is the main one. Love in relationships and friendships. You see this throughout the series in pretty much every character, it’s so important to be shown on TV because it highlights that having genuine love connection and support is stronger than anything.
With Nas potentially going to Oxford to study medicine, they’re facing very different life paths. Do you think Nas worries about leaving Missy behind?
I think that's the thing Nas is scared the most about. Nas has a tendency to over think and worry about everything but Missy always knows what to say to her and bring out the best in her. And Nas knows this. I think Nas worries that without her she might not be able to see the positive in things and the potential she has as a person.
The pair go to Oxford together for Missy’s interview. How did you enjoy filming there?
This was great to film in Oxford as it was the very first days filming season three. So, it was super exiting as we hadn’t seen the cast and crew in ages but it also didn't feel like we were filming Ackley as we were so far away. It was a beautiful place to film in and really kicked off the shoot on a high.
It’s fair to say something massively dramatic happens involving Missy and Nas. Fans are in for quite the storyline, aren’t they?
I think the people who watch the show are going to be really really shocked. And I know that's such a cliché thing to say but I know for a fact nobody is going to see what happens coming. It’s the most gripping series we have ever had, and I know it’s going to grab the audience’s hearts instantly.
There are some hugely emotional scenes in this story. How did you find filming them?
I’m so lucky on this show because the support from everyone is outstanding. Cast and crew go above and beyond to ensure that I have the support and understanding if I’m ever doing a scene that is particularly difficult. Our amazing first block director Penny Woolcock and I would constantly be going through the story on set and making sure we were both in the correct headspace to tell the story. So, anything emotional I had to do I always felt super encouraged.
There are plenty of strong female role models in the show. Is that important to you?
It’s SO important. And another reason why the show is so different from anything that has been on TV before. Whats great also is that we are all friends in real life so we all help and encourage one another so those strong female characters are bonding both on and off screen which really brings the magic to the show.
What kind of feedback have you had from fans regarding Nas’ sexuality?
It’s been amazing and truly overwhelming. When I see on social media the love for Nas's sexuality being shown on TV it makes me so grateful that the job I love to do is reaching out to people in their homes and helping them in their personal lives. ITS SO AMAZING. Whats even more incredible is when I've spoken to people on the street who have seen the show and its made them tell their parents about their true sexuality. This has happened to me a quite a lot. There are no words no describe how incredible it is to know that this show is doing something for the greater good for people.
The country seems to be pretty divided at the moment. Do you think, in some ways, Ackley Bridge is more relevant that ever?
Definitely its perfect timing. It normalises the things that everyone worries about growing up. Like sexuality, fitting in, division - it celebrates the fact everyone is going through all these things and you are not alone.
What’s the best thing about working on Ackley Bridge? And the worst?
The best thing about working on the show is being able to tell these incredible stories that are helping people’s lives and getting to do this amongst the most amazing cast and crew. The worst thing is the fact we film in the winter so it’s always freezing!
Ackley Bridge returns to Channel 4 on 18th June.