After a breakout performance in last year’s gritty social drama County Lines, rising star Conrad Khan continues to go from strength to strength.
As well as landing his “dream role” in the sixth and final season of Peaky Blinders, he’s made a short film, is set to appear in new BBC drama Baptiste and just received an EE Rising Star Award nomination at this year’s BAFTAs. And as if all this wasn’t enough, he’s managed to do it alongside his university studies, where he’s learning how to write screenplays and direct. From his unlikely successes to his love of Charlie Brooker, here are seven things you need to know about Conrad Khan.
He owes everything to his barber
Khan caught the acting bug as a child, performing with the Arcola Youth Theatre in Dalston and appearing in school plays. But it was an unlikely chance meeting with a Muswell Hill barber that gave him his break. The hairdresser had some A-list actors on the books and he put the then 15-year-old Khan in touch with an agent who signed him immediately. “It was a weird, spontaneous thing, just getting into [this] through word of mouth,” Khan smiles. “I did some acting lessons about five years ago and I started auditioning soon after.”
He’s a big fan of Charlie Brooker and had an early part in Black Mirror
Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted Khan in Black Mirror episode ‘Smithereens’, where he appeared alongside Fleabag star Andrew Scott. “I was in Gravesend filming the episode for a few weeks. Black Mirror is such a well-established and ground-breaking show – it was just so great,” Khan says of the experience. “I love Charlie Brooker – I loved him before all the Black Mirror stuff too.”
Drill music was key to his breakout role
Khan’s major breakout role saw him play troubled drug-runner teen Tyler in County Lines. He first heard the term – which references how drug dealers use vulnerable kids to transport drugs from cities to the counties – in drill music. “Something Henry [Blake, director] says on the topic is that drill normalised county lines and the intricacies of what happens just by exposing kids to it, especially if they’re listening to this kind of music a lot,” Khan says. “It makes these kinds of situations Tyler [his character in the film] finds himself in normal to teenagers which is dangerous: this film has the very opposite [message] of that.”
He likes to be pushed to the limit on camera
Just 18-years-old when County Lines was filmed, Khan bravely portrays the horrors Tyler is subjected too by the drug runners on screen. In one scene, he snaps after months of exploitation, leading to a heated fight scene with his on-screen mother. “Henry pushed me every single day to my absolute limits and rightly so,” Khan explains.
“We did the [fight] scene again and again until it was right; it was very intense. But the reason you do these kinds of scenes as an actor is to tell a truth, it’s my job but there are young people who go through this in real life. I have a responsibility to perform these truths because otherwise it would do an injustice to people who the story is based on.”
He’s in the final season of Peaky Blinders
Khan’s hair is only just growing back after it was all shaved off for his upcoming role in Peaky Blinders. Looking closely, you can still see some of the lines deliberately shaved into his head to resemble scars. He hints the scars tell us a lot about his upcoming character. “The script is amazing,” he says of the sixth and final season of the hit show. “When I had my first audition, I was like ‘This is so cool that I get to read this’, I couldn’t believe it and then when I got the part, it really was a dream come true.”
How does he feel, joining such a huge show? “I was really nervous sitting in my trailer before I went on set because it’s such a family and so well established,” he says. “I felt like a bit of an outsider coming in right at the end… but the director said that I held my own, so I’m thinking that’s a good sign. I mean, if I do a really bad job then all the fans will hate me!
“From how they’ve responded to my announcement as one of the new characters, the fans of the show have been really welcoming.”
None of his mates knew he was an actor…
…until they saw him filming County Lines in their local fast-food shop, a stone’s throw from his school. “If someone doesn’t ask me about it, I don’t really have reason to tell them,” he says, shyly. His mates were nonetheless impressed seeing him filming. “My career is not something I advertise. It was very difficult juggling school and acting. County Lines was such an intense shoot: it was six days of filming and one day off and on that day off I had to go back to school. It worked out in the end though, I didn’t do so badly in my exams!”
He wants to write and direct too
Khan’s studying film in London right now (albeit remotely). As part of his studies, he’s written a screenplay inspired by Black Lives Matter and a race-related incident close to where he’s from. Like the films he appears in, it doesn’t shy away from social injustice or politics. “The story was about not judging people by how they look,” he says. “I’m learning to do these things alongside being on set which is an amazing education in how to direct and produce a film.”
Public voting for the BAFTA EE Rising Star Award is open here and the winner will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on April 11