HOW, I ask Nikesh Patel, do you film sex scenes in the middle of a pandemic? Scratch that, how do you even do kissing scenes? “All I will say,” Patel explains, “is it involved lots of testing, lots of swabs up the nose, some truly horrific anti-bacterial mouthwash and at any given opportunity we had masks on until it was time to act.”

Ah, the romance of it.

It’s possible that you may have recently fallen in love with Patel. Since he appeared in the Channel 4 drama Indian Summers, he has become a regular on our TV screens, most recently in the Mindy Kaling reboot of Four Weddings and a Funeral on Hulu.

And now he has turned up as Rose Matafeo’s love interest in the BBC Three’s Starstruck. The whole series is currently streaming on BBCiPlayer.

It is also on BBC One on Monday nights, one episode a week. But to be honest, it’s hard to imagine you’ll have the patience to wait a week between episodes. It’s very bingeable. Written by Matafeo and Alice Snedden, this romcom sitcom is a sweet, self-confident, glorious thing. At a push you can see the ghost of Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill and even Nora Ephron hovering above it.

Matafeo, who is 29 and an Edinburgh Fringe regular, is a joyous, bubbling screen presence as Jessie. It’s to Patel’s credit that he is her match in the series. Patel plays Tom Kapoor who meets Jessie in the men’s toilets on New Year’s Eve. They spend the night together, after which she realises her one-night stand is actually a famous actor. The rest of the series follows the push and pull of their will-they-won’t they romance.


Patel offers a likeable, restrained presence to Matafeo’s nerdy comic energy. Well, that and his good looks. It’s a bit of a theme. When he turned up in Indian Summer the tabloids became a tad obsessed with the scenes in which he was shirtless. In Four Weddings and a Funeral his character was described as “Ryan Gosling dipped in caramel.” Now here he is playing a successful actor and a bit of a heart throb. Typecasting again, Nikesh?

“It’s very kind of you to say so,” he says laughing (while also avoiding the question).

Patel is at home in north-west London this April afternoon. “I live with my flatmate, who’s an old friend of mine. I feel like everyone who’s living with someone in lockdown, we’ve had our own version of DIY couples therapy,” he says.

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Patel was already a fan of Matafeo’s stand-up before he signed up for Starstruck. “But reading these scripts was great. If you know her stand-up you know what a wonderful voice she has. She is very honest. I think she gets something about what it’s like to be obsessed over someone. Or even if you are just passionate about someone. It’s a good sign when you are rooting for the couple and then you have to remember you are going to play one half of that couple.”

Playing a successful, handsome actor is easy money presumably, I tell him. He doesn’t put the phone down on me. “The obvious thing is an understanding of the world that Tom is in,” he concedes. “Certainly, my career is not in the same place in terms of the kind of fame that he has. I don’t think I would particularly wish that.

“But there’s an understanding of what the business is like.”


Matafeo is part Scottish, part Croatian and part Samoan. Patel has south Asian roots. One of the many pleasures of Starstruck is the way it doesn’t feel the need to even comment on its character’s ethnicities. “I think it feels real,” Patel suggests.

It was Patel who suggested that his character’s surname should be changed to one reflecting his own heritage when he came onboard. “I didn’t want to ignore the fact that I’m brown and I’m cast in this part, but nor did I want to insist that a whole host of other things have to change.

“Without being glib, I don’t set out to do things in a south Asian way. I exist in the body I am in and me being in this story on screen does a lot of that work. I live in London. Our mayor’s a Khan. We have a Sunak and a Patel in the cabinet I don’t think it’s going to break people’s brains that I’m [playing] a Kapoor.”

It’s a good time for British-Asian actors, he thinks. This is the year that Riz Ahmed was an Oscar nominee after all, he points out. “I think maybe a few years ago the term colour-blind would have been held up as an end goal. But actually, I think there is something more nuanced which is about being colour-conscious.”

The filming of Starstruck happened between lockdowns. But like many actors he’s been cooling his heels for much of this last Covid-infected year. It’s been a struggle for many, he says, but there has been the odd, good thing to come out of it.

“There was something about the start of lockdown when everything just stopped. There were weeks when we didn’t have to worry about checking in with our agents. And that allowed space and time to step back.

“I think one thing I realised was one benefit of having done this for 10 years now is I’ve formed relationships and I’ve become aware of brilliant people I want to collaborate with and work with. Getting more of a sense of a community, particularly for my fellow south Asian creatives.

“As it stands, we’ve not really had the chance to collaborate before because the system is such that the stories we get cast in there’s space for one of us. There’s a change I’ve noticed in the last years. More stories are being told that value or seek to improve representation. It’s been really great meeting people at casting and going, ‘Won’t it be great when we’re not all vying for one slot and we’re telling something together?’

“And I think I’ve really taken that away from lockdown. It’s going to take a bit of time channelling that energy, but it definitely has got my juices going to create and collaborate.”


Time for a quick Q&A, I tell him. Starstruck is a sitcom that has fun with pub quizzes, hash brownies, movie discussions, the etiquette of going out with actors and dating in general in the 21st century. The following questions are all drawn from what’s said and done in Starstruck itself.

What are your parents’ names, and which do you like more?

My dad’s name is Bharat and my mum’s is Tarulata and I’m a mummy’s boy, so I’m going to go for mum.

Do you date actors or civilians?

I have dated ‘civilians’, but I’m going to quickly jump on and say how objectionable the term ‘civilian’ is. I have dated actors and non-actors.

Do you eat bread? (in the series his agent, played by Minnie Driver, reminds him not to.)

Yes, Jesus, yes.

Do you love a pub quiz?

I really love a pub quiz. One of the saddest things about lockdown was the pathetic clinging onto the pub quiz experience by doing them on Zoom. With the best will in the world, it is just not the same. One of the things I’m really looking forward to getting back in a pub and doing a quiz.

When was the last time you were starstruck yourself?

Oh, I know. Just before the pandemic happened, I was in LA and I remember seeing Chris Evans and I was like that’s Captain America. He’s right there. And he was in a T-shirt and jeans. I was pretty starstruck by that.

Are actors boring?

I think I’m pretty boring. I think a lot of them can be. Not all. I think a lot of them come alive in their work and away from their work they’re not particularly exciting … Or maybe that’s just me.

When was the last time you ate hash brownies?

It would have been in Amsterdam, a few years ago.

And which is the best film in the Rush Hour series?

It’s definitely not Rush Hour 3.

One last question. As everyone sits down to watch Starstruck, what’s Patel’s own favourite romcom? “The Princess Bride. I think that might be the most rewatched film in the flat over lockdown. That story doesn’t work if you aren’t completely rooting for Westley and Buttercup.”

What does that make Nikesh Patel. A romantic as well as a romantic heart-throb.

Starstruck is on Mondays on BBC One. The entire series is available on BBC iPlayer