"I came to it late on--17" says Jimi Mistry of acting, and makes his interviewer feel roughly the age of a mummy. The young Brit, who did "most of my growing up in Manchester" before attending the Birmingham School of Speech and Dramatic Arts, made his film debut in 1996 in Kenneth Branagh's full-text adaptation of Hamlet, in a non-speaking role as one of the sailors. "I just stood there looking all windswept," he remarks of the role. He then spent a year on the soap-opera Eastenders, and is now gaining attention for his juicy role as Tariq--or "Tony" to the girls at the disco the studly Anglo-Pakistani lad in East is East.
Mistry had originated the role in Ayub Khan-Din's successful play, although there Tariq was "much more cartoon-like. He was more of a '70s guy." Tariq was toned down and made more realistic for the film, and at one point it was uncertain whether or not Mistry would be offered the part. "The director of the film hadn't done the play, and at one time it looked like he might just want to start fresh with a whole new cast."
Fortunately for Mistry, this didn't happen, and as a result he's a new addition to the list of Brit heartthrobs. His next film is a romantic comedy--titled, indeed, Born Romantic--in which he costars with David Morrisey and Craig Ferguson as one of three guys in love with, respectively, Catherine McCormack (of Braveheart), Olivia Williams (of The Sixth Sense and Rushmore) and Jane Horrocks.
Mistry recognizes that his his own status as an Anglo-Asian--a Hindu Indian doctor father and an English Catholic mother--would have made his new status as a movie heartthrob less likely just a few years ago. "Ayub Khan-Din wrote East Is East because he was out of work," notes Mistry. "Fifteen years ago, if you were even slightly Asian-looking, you'd be playing cab drivers and shopkeepers forever."