By David Hennessy
Well known for playing the role of businessman Jai Sharma, Chris Bisson has been a well known member of the Emmerdale cast since 2009. He was already well known from another soap prior to coming to the Dales for playing Vikram in Coronation Street from 1999 to 2002. Other roles include Shameless and the movie, East is East. Chris also appeared in the second series of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
Jai has seen his son Archie ripped out of his life. Conceived in a drunken fumble with factory cleaner Rachel, Jai wanted to keep his parenthood of Archie secret but this hurt him deeply. Jai is now tortured that Rachel, with help, has taken him away and he has no idea where. Life is seldom dull in soapland and Jai is set for some tumultuous times ahead now that Priya is set to get married to an old business acquaintance but one that can reveal secrets of Jai’s own past.
What may not be well known is the actor’s strong Irish links. Chris told The Irish World: “My stepdad is Irish so I’ve got quite strong Irish connections. My stepdad Eamonn O’Neal used to play in an Irish band, quite a prominent Irish singer, and his mum, my nana, Margaret O’Neal is an Irish dancing teacher in Manchester.”
Chris’ stepfather’s parents came from Ballybunion and Belfast. Among Chris’ many Irish relations are the Collins family in Killarney: “I have an auntie who lives in Killarney so I’ve got quite a lot of family over there and I’ve got quite a few pals in Dublin.
“I love Dublin actually. The first time I went to Dublin, I missed the plane home by two and a half days and the woman at the check-in thought I was taking the mickey. She let me on the plane. She looked at me, she said ‘that is the most ridiculous thing’. Only in Dublin would someone let you on when you’ve missed your plane by two and a half days: She saw it as a positive thing, only a Dubliner could do that.
“It’s Kerry for new babies, christenings and family dos, Dublin mainly for work-related or press- related things generally. I used to go a lot more but I still get over there as much as I can.”
Chris has spoken in the past of his desire to film in Ireland: “It would actually (be great). I’ve never actually worked in Ireland. I’d love to do something over there. It’s got beautiful countryside. I did a tour of Ireland once. There is (a lot of exciting TV/film in Ireland). What are they filming in the north? Game of Thrones. And there’s a lot around Dublin way.”
Asked if he is equipped to take on the Irish brogue, Chris answers in a Dublin brogue that slides down into a Kerry lilt as he asks: “Ah now, I’ve done a couple. Do you want north side Dub or do you want Killarney which is a bit softer, son?
“I struggle with the north accent to be honest with you. I’m quite good at north side Dub because me and Keith Duffy were living in the same house when we were working on Coronation Street so we used to have quite a few glasses of red wine while we were going over our lines and I would mimic his accent, probably drove him mad actually. I would mimic his accent constantly so I’m quite good at north side Dub. I got the hang of the Dublin accent by copying him and taking the mickey out of him.
“He even called me once for a casting, it was an Irish part that came up. I had to play a Dubliner. He said, ‘you could do it’ which is lovely because he had that confidence that I was good enough to carry the accent off.”
It is shaping up to be another Kerry v Dublin All-Ireland football final and although he has links to both counties, Chris knows where his loyalties will be: “I’d have to go with Kerry if I was to support a team. I’ve got friends in Dublin but I’ve got family in Kerry.”
Chris has enjoyed getting his teeth into many different storylines that have come his character’s way over the last while: “It’s been good actually. I’ve been really busy. I haven’t stopped for quite a while now. I’ve just been very fortunate that they keep writing for me. We tend to focus on the people who are having not so good a time instead of the people who are having a great time and I’ve had quite a few troubles: Having a secret son, losing my wife, falling into a frozen lake.”
Although the audience have seen Jai’s callous side when he kept his son a secret, even allowing his father to own up to his misdeed, he has been supportive and comforting while his sister Priya has struggled with anorexia, a condition made even serious by her being pregnant at the time.
“He’s been sticking up for his sister. I get a lot of feedback actually about it, I get a lot of feedback on Twitter these and a lot of it positive about the brother/sister relationship. The writers have really focused in on a kind of love/hate relationship with Jai and Priya so it’s great that we can fall out and argue but that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. That works really well.”
Heartbroken single mother Priya has surprised her family recently by announcing she wanted to seek an arranged marriage. Jai was supportive at first but took a different view when he realised who it was his sister intended to marry. Citing only business dealings in the past, Jai let Rakesh know immediately that he was not welcome anywhere near his sibling.
“We have a massive storyline now where Priya’s getting an arranged marriage and Jai is absolutely dead against Priya’s suitor. He’s not keen on her getting an arranged marriage but he’s dead against the person she has chosen for reasons that could be explained at a later date. He feels Rakesh screwed him over on a past business deal but it could be deeper.
“The frustration builds. Because he won’t fully tell, they’re all beginning to be annoyed with Jai and one by one, begin siding with Rakesh. Jai throws a punch for Rakesh in The Woolpack, Rakesh moves out of the way and he knocks David clean out. It was a great scene to film actually, almost comedy but we weren’t playing comedy. I really do swing quite hard, he really would have felt it.”
For the full interview, see the August 2 Irish World.
Emmerdale continues at 7pm all this week, catch up services also available.