Bally Gill is a talented theatre and television actor who will be seen in his first major feature film role as Indian immigrant Dr Valentine in the NHS hospital drama ‘Allelujah’, which opens in cinemas across the UK this week.
The British Indian actor from Coventry admits feeling incredibly lucky to be working with acting greats such as Dame Judi Dench and Jennifer Saunders in his screen debut. ‘Allelujah’, a screen adaptation of a successful Alan Bennett theatre production, sees Gill take on the role of a deeply empathetic medic who is constantly by the side of his ageing patients in a geriatric ward struggling to keep its doors open to the community amid NHS funding cuts.
What was it like to make your film debut with such great actors?
I still can't believe this quite happened, to be honest. When you audition, there is very limited information. When I found out from the director, Richard Eyre, the icons I will be working with – I called my mum in excitement!
Then we get on set and there is obvious nervousness to be working with such legends. But they were just so down to earth, and lovely and welcoming, really friendly, grounded human beings. It felt very much like a family by the end of it.
What kind of work went into immersing yourself in the character of Dr Valentine?
You go through a lot of different stages of research. The first thing was just getting into the mindset of what a doctor is. I am very fortunate that I have some family friends who are doctors, so talking to them helped.
At the time we started, we weren’t allowed to physically go into hospitals because of Covid but there was a lot of online research to be done. And, on the set we had a doctor who was our consultant.
Did the film also give you an added respect for our NHS medics?
We unfortunately lost my grandma to cancer at the start of this year. It’s interesting to film something a year and half ago and then to have an actual lived experience of caring for someone – I am still trying to figure out all the emotions around that.
It makes you fully appreciate the doctors and the nurses, the care and looking after someone and treating. There’s definitely a new-found level of respect and admiration for them. It’s a really tough job, especially in this country.
Unfortunately, with the NHS, those people are underpaid and under-valued and they have been for years. But we have started to see an emergence of people saying enough is enough, and rightly so.
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Do you hope this film can get more conversations around valuing the NHS going?
There’s a speech towards the end that I have, which is like a rallying cry to invoke some action from us and also the government to do something about it.
Doing this film makes you realise that the NHS, when I’m at that age, will probably not be here unless we do something about it. That worries and scares me, that this system that we love so much in this country could potentially not be here.
So, yes, we do want this film to evoke questions and to force a response, as well as be entertaining and enjoyable, funny and heartwarming.
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Finally, what comes next after ‘Allelujah’?
It’s strange because there are projects you are sworn to secrecy about, but I did film something in Canada, which hopefully will be out soon on one of the streaming platforms. There’s a couple of things in the pipeline – a few television series. But I would love to also go back and do some theatre because that’s where I started, and I can’t wait to be back on stage.
’Allelujah’ is in cinemas from March 17