Aisha Bywaters won a BAFTA Award for Best Scripted Casting last month for “We Are Lady Parts,” but just working on the groundbreaking musical comedy was already a win for her. “It was such a special experience working on this show,” she tells Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Casting Directors panel (watch the exclusive video interview above). “It was a chance to work with lots of people, lots of women who also came from similar backgrounds to me, people of color who’ve had similar experiences growing up in the U.K. It just felt like a really nice experience. You don’t have to explain all the time everything you’re doing, why you’re doing it and why it sort of feels important or authentic, and why you want to make work that people can watch and feel seen.”
Created by Nida Manzoor, the Peacock series follows Lady Parts, an all-female Muslim punk band in the U.K. that’s searching for a new guitarist. Amina (Anjana Vasan) joins the group that consists of lead singer and frontwoman Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) and Bisma (Faith Omole) on bass. There’s also Momtaz, their manager played by Lucie Shorthouse. The series, which has been renewed for a second season, subverts stereotypes of Muslim women, often portrayed as oppressed in media and definitely not rocking out in a punk band and dealing with boy problems. Each lady of Lady Parts is also a fully realized character with a different background and way of practicing her faith that is not over-explained on the show, a facet that also trickled into the casting process.
“It’s not really delved into in the scripts so we didn’t need to. As long as we felt those girls were authentic, then that was how we’d move forward,” Bywaters states. “There are different challenges. One of the cast wears a niqab the whole time, so you only see her eyes — the character Momtaz played by Lucie Shorehouse. So that’s an interesting audition process in itself because you didn’t start the audition process like that and actually most of the process she wasn’t wearing a niqab, but you just knew that she… could emote in a way that would really work. But that’s something that I’ve not seen before and would speak about how wonderful it was to see the idea of seeing someone wearing that and then sort of, like, smoking an e-cigarette through it and what that would look like. It’s just things you haven’t seen, which obviously will happen.”
Needless to say, musical ability was also paramount. In the first round of auditions, which were self-tapes, the actors were given a scene and a song for them to “sing and dance and rock out.” “Because what we wanted to see was how comfortable they were doing that. That would tell us who could or couldn’t sort of be in the back,” Bywaters explains. “And throughout the process, they actually met with the musical director of the show to just see their musical ability. Not all of them could play before we started. Obviously in a way we were given a weird gift by COVID because over that period everyone could at home alone harness their music ability.”
For Bywaters, it was also rewarding to be able to find multiple roles — and lead ones at that — for long-working actors of color who don’t often get opportunities like this. “It feels like such an amazing thing for me to do,” she gushes. “There are lots of time you get people straight out of drama school or young people who find these opportunities at the beginning of their career. But these are jobbing actors who I’ve met before, so to give them these distinct and defined roles and to just say, ‘Guys, they’re here, please cast them, they’re amazing, they’re versatile,’ it feels great. It feels great to have found that ensemble.”
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