Here are sections of two interviews with Nabil Shaban, Sil from ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’. The first part is ‘Doctor Who’-focused, and you can read the original here. The second part is from a Channel 4 documentary in which he talks about, among other things, his reasons for becoming an actor and his experience working with Derek Jarman.
“Ron Jones was searching for someone small to play Sil… he’d interviewed and auditioned many ‘dwarf” and ‘midget’ actors for the part but he wasn’t satisfied with any of them. Time was running out and rehearsals were scheduled to start within the month. Then Martin Jarvis, who had already been cast as the Governor of Varos asked if Sil had been found yet, and when he was told No, he said he knew of the ideal person. Apparently his wife had seen me in a TV show a few years previous, and reminded Martin that I could be what ‘Doctor Who’ was looking for. So as a result of Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis’ suggestion, I was invited to read a couple of scenes of Varos at an audition with Ron. At the end of the interview / audition, Ron offered me the part outright. However, I nearly didn’t make it to the interview because I got stopped by a traffic cop for carrying out an illegal motoring manouver, and because I insisted on arguing with the pug when I had no right to – I knew I was in the wrong but I don’t respect the law and I despise the pigs. He very near arrested me. However, I like to think that the ghost of William Hartnell was looking after me, as I was his biggest fan, and he planted a thought-form into the ‘Rozer’s brain and so I was allowed to continue.
“As a fan of ‘Doctor Who’ since its birth in 1963, I was extremely excited and nervous on the first day. By chance, I got into the lift with Patrick Troughton. Of course he had no idea who I was or what I was doing at the BBC, and I didn’t tell him. We just smiled at each other. I took teh coincidental encounter as a good omen. Because I was an inexperienced, untrained actor and disabled, I didn’t want to appear a dud, so I learnt all my lines before the first day. I assumed all the actors would have done anyway, well I then became embarrassed when I discovered I was the only actor to know the script word-perfect, so for the first few days I had to pretend not to know my lines, but Forbes Collins and Colin Baker saw through my ruse and Colin Baker announced that I was a swot and trying to win Brownie points from the teacher! Also, by the first day I had the Sil laugh off to a tee. I’m met a snake the week previous, and got my inspiration from watching it flick its tongue back and forth.
“I took up acting for several reasons. One, I wasn’t supposed to act. As a disabled person, it wasn’t expected of you, the best you could hope for was to be an accountant. Secondly, it’s a great form of escapism, being something that you’re not in your normal life. I’ve had the chance to playAyatollah Khameni, Haile Selassie, Jesus, Hamlet – a whole range of experiences which you wouldn’t normally be able to have. And thirdly, I like story-telling and being part of the story-telling process.
“I was able to get started as a professional actor as a result of setting up a theatre company for disabled actors. It was myself and an able-bodied guy named Richard Tomlinson set this up, round about 1979. It got going in 1980, we toured the States for a bit, went to Canada, and made a bit of a name for ourselves. We got press attention in Britain and attracted the attention of the Arena arts documentary makers at the BBC, and a combination of touring Canada and the Arena documentary allowed me to get seen. As a result, I was offered a few weeks’ stint as an actor on stage.
“The theatre I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed them for different reasons, so I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Jesus in ‘Godspell’ or Hamlet more, because they all enabled me to discover something in myself. I think it’s very hard for disabled actors and performes to get work, there’s still a lot of cliches within the arts industries and people tend to think of… for example, you get very few disabled people in leading roles, unless the script actually says ‘This person is disabled’, then they might get the role. I say ‘might’, because they might prefer to get an able-bodied person to ‘black up’, so to speak, and have that role. But generally because our culture’s very body-fascist, you’ve got to be beautiful, you’ve got to have a nicely-formed body, as a man or a woman, if you’re going to play a romantic lead, for example.
“In the case of ‘Wittgenstein’, it’s possible that Derek Jarman thought of me because we’d met before, when he was making ‘Caravaggio’. He was a very easy-going person, very open to suggestions, so I actually found it a joy working with him and it’s a great tragedy (that he died), there’s no-one to replace him.
“As a disabled person, there’s a lot to be achieved through the arts. Writing, acting, performing, it’s all about presenting mirrors of society, and the trouble for disabled people is that the mirror is one-sided, in other words we’re like vampires, the vampire’s not reflected in a mirror, and 99% of the time disabled people are not reflected in the mirrors that are presented to the people. And that’s perhaps one of the most important reasons for me being an actor”.