‘Profile’ Star Shazad Latif: ‘Every Time I Play a Non Ethnic-Specific Name, It’s a Little Cheer’

Shazad Latif Profile
Everett Collection

British actor Shazad Latif is ready for his close-up.

After a decade of racking up impressive TV credits including “Spooks,” “Toast of London,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Departure,” the actor is currently in the BBC’s “The Pursuit of Love,” Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s novel, where he stars alongside Lily James.

Latif also has some high-profile films rolling out. He has a featured role in opera-themed rom-com “Falling For Figaro” with Joanna Lumley and Danielle Macdonald, which was at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival as part of the festival’s ‘Industry Selects’ section and has sold around the world.

In Timur Bekmambetov’s “Profile,” Latif plays the male lead, a charming ISIS recruiter with a core of steel. The film won audience awards at Berlin and SXSW in 2018 and Focus Features releases the film theatrically in the U.S. May 14. Revolving around the interaction between Latif’s character and an undercover journalist (Valene Kane), “Profile” is eerily prescient in that the film plays out entirely on computer screens, echoing the real-life scenario for many people in 2020-21.

Latif notes the timing of the release as a “weird coincidence” and tells Variety, “Our relationship to technology and our digital privacy, with a movie about journalism, that stuff’s always relevant.”

Along with Lily James again and Emma Thompson, Latif is also one of the leads of Shekhar Kapur’s cross-cultural rom-com “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” written by Jemima Khan (“The Case Against Adnan Syed”) and co-produced by her and Working Title. “Shekhar is one of the great filmmakers,” says Latif. “‘The Four Feathers,’ I used to love that film, and ‘Elizabeth.'”

In the film, Latif and James’s characters are best friends growing up who drift apart. They reunite when Latif’s character is entering into an arranged marriage scenario and James’s character decides to make a documentary about the whole process. “There’s a strange love triangle that goes on and it’s a cross-cultural rom-com but dealing with a lot of deeper issues and South Asian issues — very serious issues for a huge community, but it’s got the Working Title rom-com banner as well,” says Latif.

Latif is of mixed English, Scottish and Pakistani heritage, and was brought up as a Muslim for the first 10 years of his life. “I’m always an outsider anyway. For them [his Pakistani family] I’m a ‘gora’ (white) boy, and to the white people, I’m a brown boy,” says Latif. “I love being there anyway. So it’s quite nice to dip in and out of both sides, but it’s a very unique position to be in.”

The ethnic diversity has led to a variety of roles. In “The Pursuit of Love” for example, Latif plays Alfred Wincham, in “Penny Dreadful,” Dr. Henry Jekyll and in “Toast of London,” Clem Fandango. “Every time I play a non [ethnic]-specific name, it’s a little cheer,” says Latif.

Latif hails his compatriot Riz Ahmed who plays characters regardless of ethnicity.

“Riz is opening doors for all of us, that’s the perfect position you want to be in,” says Latif. “As each South Asian gets to his own position of power, we get more privilege and position to tell — and to choose — what we want to do. And then it just becomes non-specific. But I suppose the battle [every ethnic group] has to go through is just to make it a level playing field. The quality of work has to rise from the top down.”

“It’s just the [volume of roles], you need more and more of it,” says Latif. “And then we can all play whatever the f*** we want to play, that’s the dream.”

But then, Latif considers, you also do need the cross-cultural rom-coms about arranged marriage. “Because if it’s just ‘East is East’ for the last 20 years, we need things to change quicker,” he says. “We need to knock the f***ing door down.”

Next up for Latif is thriller “Freegard,” with James Norton and Gemma Arterton. He is also in the process of developing film and series scripts.