Shazad Latif on Lily James, Lead Role in Toronto Fest Romantic Comedy Whats Love Got to Do With It

Shazad Latif on Lily James, Lead Role in Toronto Fest Romantic Comedy Whats Love Got to Do With It

If you’ve seen the British satire “Toast of London,” chances are that voiceover engineer Clem Fandango’s name still rings in your ears. Now Shazad Latif, the man behind Fandango, Ash Tyler on “Star Trek: Discovery” and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde on “Penny Dreadful,” has nabbed his first romantic lead in  “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” 

The Shekhar Kapur-helmed acquisition title, which has a Gala world premiere Sept. 10 in Toronto, “has slightly more depth than a normal rom-com because it tackles arranged marriage,” Latif said. Lily James plays his character’s childhood friend, and complications ensue when she decides to make a documentary about the nuptials.

“Lily is one of my closest friends,” Latif said. “She’s like a sister to me.” They met when she did a play with his old roommate, and co-starred in the 2021 BBC miniseries “The Pursuit of Love.” “I read [“What’s Love”] a while back, then it disappeared, then it suddenly started racing towards being made because Lily wanted to be involved. I keep telling Lily I owe her my whole career now, ’cause she’s done a movie with me,” he laughed.  

This is a pivotal moment for Latif, who’ll soon be seen as Captain Nemo in “Nautilus,” the Disney+ series that tells the origin story of the hero from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” He’s about two-thirds through the 11-month shoot in Australia. “Every day there’s a new set being built that’s something you never expected,” he said. “It’s a wild, wild job.”

Latif’s Pakistani immigrant father changed film reels in the cinema, and his English/Scottish mother’s obsession with film rubbed off on him. “I remember shoving on the tights in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ when I was eight,” the London native recalled. “I knew it was a way out of my circumstances. My mother was a single parent and we were very, very poor. It gave me a drive, and since I didn’t really have other options, it meant that I couldn’t fail.” 

Latif got into the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School about a year before support for low-income students dried up. He left a year early when he got a role in the BBC One spy drama “Spooks” in 2009. “I thought that was gonna be it, but then I kept having to try to break through.” In 2015, he had his first big-screen roles in “The Man Who Knew Infinity” and “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” then a larger part in the little-seen 2018 ISIS drama “Profile.” 

After experiencing these ups and downs, “I want to create my own work,” he said. “I’m working on four or five writing projects. A couple of autobiographical, intense family dramas, and then there’s absurdist comedy in other things I’m writing with friends — one movie, one 10-part series. It only took me 15 years to start,” he laughed. “But it’s happening now.”   

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