EastEnders exit: Shaheen Jafargholi on Shakil’s death – “This is happening in real life. A lot of stabbings are fatal”

The BBC1 soap will tackle the emotive topic of knife crime next week

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 15/05/2018 - Programme Name: EastEnders - April-June 2018 - TX: 21/05/2018 - Episode: EastEnders -April-June 2018 - 5710 (No. 5710) - Picture Shows: *STRICTLY NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS TUESDAY 15th MAY 2018* 
Shakil finds the bike lock keys Shakil Kazemi (SHAHEEN JAFARGHOLI) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Shakil Kazemi will lose his life in next week’s episodes of EastEnders when he’s the victim of a stabbing. The traumatic upcoming storyline sees Shakil get caught up in violence when best mate Keegan steals a bike from a local gang. When Shakil decides to return the stolen cycle, both he and Keegan end up suffering stab wounds during a heated showdown to be broadcast on Monday 21 May.

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But when a wounded Shakil tries to get help, he collapses out of sight, while Keegan is rushed to hospital by Mick. The Queen Vic landlord is unaware that Shakil is also suffering from similar injuries and – by the week’s end – the Kazemi clan is having to deal with a tragic death in the family. Here, actor Shaheen Jafargholi reveals all about the drama and how he feels about Shakil coming to a fatal end:

So, how did you react when you found out about the storyline?
As an actor, I was privileged to have a storyline with so much meaning underneath it and the chance to raise awareness about knife crime. It’s such an important issue to tackle.

What’s it been like to play it?
It’s been a bit strange because it’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my life. The most important part for me when it came to tackling how I was going to do it was making sure it was done as realistically as possible. That involved doing a lot of research. We’ve been working really closely with the Ben Kinsella Trust on the storyline, so there has been lots of information from them.

EastEnders -April-June 2018 - 5710

Do you feel a responsibility with this?
One hundred percent. This is a massive responsibility for everyone involved in the storyline. Especially right now with how intense the problems of knife crime have become around the UK. I’m really pleased we’re doing this storyline – it’s so important.

How have you found playing the storyline? Has it been tiring?
I’ve always managed to have a sense of detachment from what I do in work and in my private life. The only thing that’s been at home for me is the research element, which I’ve got quite into as I want to do a good portrayal. So the only thing that’s spread into my home life is the research.

Is there anything you’ve learnt from this storyline?
I think just learning the actual scale of the problem. I’ve been keeping an eye on the reality of the knife crime problem that’s going on and seeing day to day how much of an issue it is. It’s shocking.

So, as for the storyline, how does Shakil feel initially when Keegan steals the bike?
It’s a typical moment for these two friends. The dynamic of Keegan and Shakil since day one has been Shakil picking up the pieces after Keegan messes something up. So I think it’s no shock to Shakil. He sees Keegan has stolen the bike and starts to think about how he can fix it.

EastEnders -April-June 2018 - 5708

Does Shakil have any idea of the danger he is in?
I think he does. It’s been put on social media that a bike’s been stolen and Shakil soon realises it’s Keegan. He’s aware of the possible danger, but not the actual extent of what it is.

How does it feel for this to be your exit storyline?
I feel really proud. As an actor, I was excited when John [Yorke] first told me the idea of what was going to happen. It’s hopefully going to help so many people and bring light to the situation. It’s something that needs to be spoken about, especially at this moment in time. I’m so grateful and humbled.

Would you have preferred the door to be left open?
Obviously I love the environment here, I’ve had such a good time and made some incredible friends and memories. So t’s like anything that you join that you love – you never want good things to end. But on the flip side of that, no one stays forever, it’s the nature of the business, but I feel really privileged with this storyline.

And it’s right for Keegan and Shakil to be involved because it’s people of their age that this is happening to in real life. Sadly, a lot of stabbings are fatal. Then there’s a whole family and world of people who are left with the consequences and having to deal with this for the rest of their lives. That’s the part of the story that’s going to be crucial to tell because the majority of us don’t see or experience this. If neither of them died, we wouldn’t be showing all the consequences of knife crime and that’s the important part.

EastEnders - Shakil Kazemi

Is there anything you want the story to achieve?
Number one for me is raising awareness. The thing about the news is that it delivers facts and figures, it doesn’t show the story and trauma and timeline that comes after. It’s not just as simple as one incident and that’s it. It impacts people for a long time, if not forever. It’s scary how many young people carry a knife, so I want young people to watch this – it needs to change. If even one person can stop carrying a knife, we’ve made a difference.

How did you react when you read the scripts?
I was really intrigued by how it was all going to happen because I knew the overall storyline, but not the details. When I read the scripts, you could really feel the emotion. A lot of research goes into these types of stories and I think that really came across in the scripts.

What’s been your favourite Shakil moment?
There have been a few! There was a scene once when there was a sponsored cycle and they put me in these really tight lycra shorts – it was so funny! I also enjoyed when I got to do a fight scene. It was quite early on in my experience here, and I was told I was going to have this big fight at the school. There was so many supporting artists all cheering on in the background and I had never done anything like that before and it was exciting for me to throw myself into it.

Have you had a favourite on set moment?
It’s a difficult one because I have made so many friends, especially Tilly [Keeper], Jasmine [Armfield] and Zack [Morris]. We predominantly work together ,so there have been countless amounts of jokes and funny moments. I can’t say just one single thing. There’s never been a dull moment. And that’s the vibe of this place in general. Everyone is so fun and easy going.

And what’s next for you?
I’m going to be doing music again, which I’m excited about. I took a break in my teenage years to finish school and then have been on EastEnders. So now that I’m leaving, I’ll be putting my energy into going to the studio and creating music. I’ve got nearly an album done already.

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