Mawaan and Nabhaan Rizwan on Juice: "I can't believe we pulled it off"
The real-life brothers star together in BBC Three's buzzy new sitcom.
Mawaan Rizwan brings his breakout Edinburgh Fringe show to the screen with Juice, a new BBC Three sitcom co-starring his brother, Nabhaan, and mother, Shahnaz.
The story follows marketing whizz Jamma (Mawaan) as he navigates an increasingly serious relationship with therapist Guy (Russell Tovey), while simultaneously attempting to keep his family from falling apart.
Younger brother Isaac (Nabhaan) appears somewhat directionless, while the marriage between parents Farida (Shahnaz) and Saif (Jeff Mirza) teeters on the brink of total collapse.
Juice is not the first time that Mawaan has worked with his real family, as both his brother and mother were regular guest stars on his YouTube channel, where he gained an initial following by posting comedy skits.
All three have since built showbiz careers, with Mawaan becoming a prolific stand-up and writer, Nabhaan leading dramas Informer and Station Eleven, and Shahnaz getting headhunted for Indian series Yeh Hai Mohabbatein.
RadioTimes.com sat down for an exclusive chat with the brothers about Juice, covering their working relationship, influences and Mawaan's unusual party trick.
You've been working together for a long time, having started out creating sketches on YouTube. But was your dynamic different on a professional set for Juice?
Nabhaan Rizwan: A big thing I learned from Mawaan growing up was just be yourself, no matter what room you're in. So, luckily, we enjoy being brothers, we enjoy the experience of that. And working together, the dynamic wasn't any different… It was just nice to expand on our brotherhood.
Mawaan Rizwan: It's funny, because since the YouTube days, we've done a bunch of jobs and we've been working in industry for over a decade. I’m a jaded old man! We were both bringing techniques and ways of working that were completely different.
I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was completely delighted by the fact that Nabhaan and my mum were actually really professional and great and just sort of handled themselves. It wasn't like back in the YouTube days, when I was really forcing them to put wigs on and do terrible comedy sketches.
NR: We wanted to do this. That’s the difference. And we were paid.
MR: It was paid. And I can barely afford my mum's fees...
To what extent is the show autobiographical?
MR: When I got to writing the TV show, it felt like a shame to try and hold it back to what actually happened. So it became its own thing. And then, once the actors got involved – and Nabhaan read it and he had his take on his character, which was completely different to him – it felt a bit lazy to just basically type out my therapy sessions from real-life.
So the show has taken on its own life and is bigger than me, which I love because my ego can get out of the way. But a lot of the emotions and spirit that are in it are completely personal. I think all art is personal. That's what interesting storytelling is: stuff that we've viscerally felt in our lives.
Is Isaac (Nabhaan) the comedic straight man to Jamma (Mawaan)?
NR: We had conversations about the comedic straight man. Kenan & Kel is a big reference for us. We grew up on that. We loved that show. I still watch it. You think Kel is the outlandish one and then Kenan is the straight man, but that's actually not the case. They both have their moments. And we spoke about that with Jamma and Isaac.
I think, with Isaac, you might begin to see that, if and when the series rolls on - but we wanted to initially establish him as someone who is younger than Jamma, and doesn't quite know his place in the world. He seems very headstrong, but actually, he doesn't know who he is. So, yeah, we play with that [but] I think we were keen to avoid that comedic binary.
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MR: It really helped me, actually, not to be lazy and make Isaac one-note, because it's really easy when you're writing a character that you're going to get your brother to play, to write that character as one-note. Also, that character is often viewed through Jamma’s lens, so Jamma’s lens is reductive of him as a person.
So that was the challenge: to have him be three-dimensional and a contradiction, while still seeing this world from Jamma’s perspective. And, actually, Nabhaan’s previous projects really helped me with that, because going back and watching all his previous stuff, he plays a character in Mogul Mowgli who is really funny and so different from any sort of straight man typecast.
So I know Nabhaan has it in him. So, luckily, I had a lot to work with, basically.
There is also an emotional scene between Jamma and Isaac towards the end of the series. Was that your first time performing drama together?
MW: We hadn't actually clocked that, but it was. Yeah, it was a first moment working together like that.
NR: It was a really challenging scene to get our teeth into – in a really great way. It kind of went on this journey from when we were rehearsing it, from an emotional scene in a comedy to just an emotionally truthful scene. And, yeah, exploring that with Mawaan was super interesting and stripping away, stripping away, stripping away, until we got to the core of what matters to us.
Mawaan, you've said episode 5 is your favourite of the series – without spoiling anything, it also contains some weighty moments. How was the experience of writing that?
MW: It's a story with a lot of emotional weight and responsibility to it. It's a story we don't often see on television. And I really wanted to tell it in a way that was unexpected and still within the surreal, magical realism zone of the show. Otherwise, it would feel too alien...
It was a tough one to get right, and it was probably the episode I did the most drafts of. I can't believe we pulled it off.
The day we did the second-to-last edit of it and got the commissioner, Tanya Qureshi, and Navi [Lamba] at the BBC to come and watch, they watched it and as it ended, they just cried. And it was the first time I've seen a commissioner be so led by their heart. It was lovely. And we all just went, 'Do you know what? No matter what happens from this point onwards, we did alright!'
Against all odds and budget restrictions, we were all kind of shocked that we got away with it.
On an entirely different note, how did you feel about performing your 'butt dance' for the entire nation?
MW: Listen, I wasn't doing it for an entire nation. It was a reduced set. It was a safe space. When I saw it in the edit, that's when I buried my head in my hands and thought, 'Oh, no. What have I done?'
But you know, like they say, as a writer and creator of a show, you've got to put your entire self out there. And sometimes that includes your naked butt cheeks.
And would you be interested in a Juice season 2?
MW: Well, this first series was so ambitious and the ideas were so big, we just couldn't cram them all into one season. So there is a very, very long note on my phone with all the stuff that I've had to bank. So it's left the door wide open.
All I know is I loved working with literally everyone on set. It was a real magical combination of people and their creativity... people went way above and beyond to make the imagination of the show. Sets were being built and puppets were being made and wigs were being made to spin.
A lot of extra hours went into this show – and we all left feeling like we would love to do that again. So, who knows?
Juice premieres on BBC Three at 10pm on Monday 18th September 2023, or you can stream as a box set on iPlayer. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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