For four seasons, British actress Parminder Nagra has been captivating “ER” viewers as the complex Dr. Neela Rasgotra.
Last season saw some of the biggest plot twists for Neela. She broke things off with Tony Gates (John Stamos) and realized she had feelings for Ray (Shane West). Before she could tell him, though, Ray was caught up in a major accident in which he lost his legs, and then he ended up leaving town.
In turmoil, Neela journeyed to an anti-war rally in the May 2007 season finale, where she was trampled following a major explosion, just before Tony, who went looking for her, found her in the crowd.
It’s been a thrilling ride for the Neela’s portrayer, Nagra, who came to “ER” straight after the success of British indie-film hit, “Bend It Like Beckham” (a movie which makes a lot more sense in America now that David and Victoria Beckham have decamped to Los Angeles). She’s managed to survive her 20s in Hollywood, with little tabloid fanfare, all while keeping her Britishness intact.
“Access Hollywood” caught up with the charming 31-year-old during a break from filming. She talked about playing a patient, her advice for the latest crop of British beauties hitting American TV screens, and if she’s managed to bump into Becks in L.A. yet.
Access: So “ER’s” season premiere... I’ve seen some of the clips and you’re in a bloody mess!Nagra: I know. Even I was shocked when I got into makeup and I was lying on that stretcher and I was going, “Neela got really trampled on!” It wasn’t even just a little bit. We had like chest pieces and all kinds of different prosthetics that they had to use on me, so I was pretty shocked as well. It was really kind of something.
Access: Was filming that fun in a getting gross and playing with goo kind of way?
Nagra: I think other people were getting grossed out ’cause I was like eating a burrito on one side and the other side there’s like this chest piece that has basically got my fake insides all over the table. Everyone was like “Ewww!” That part of it was fun. I suppose the not so fun part was lying there for all those hours. It certainly makes you sympathize with people week-in week-out who have to do it.
Access: In several scenes you’re strapped to the gurney. They didn’t ever leave you strapped in as on-set humor, did they?
Nagra: No, thank God! Everyone was really nice to me. I think everybody has been a patient at some point. In terms of storyline as well, it’s just interesting to see how the ER reacts to one of their own going down.
Access: This season, two more British actresses are making their way to U.S. television screens — Anna Friel (“Pushing Daisies”) and Michelle Ryan (“Bionic Woman”). Do you know them and have you given them any advice about coming here?
Nagra: I met Anna. I know her so far as we’ve been out to dinner one or two times. Michelle Ryan I know through a friend of a friend.
I didn’t give them any advice, but I just think it’s so funny that a handful of the shows have got lead English actors playing American characters. I think it’s fantastic. It’s almost like you don’t miss being at home because those same faces are all over here.
Access: Michelle was on “EastEnders” in the U.K. for quite a long time.
Nagra: She was massive, but I was just saying this the other day, even when she was in “EastEnders,” she just really stood out, so it’s just not surprising that she’s doing this and it looks great. Actually, “Bionic Woman” looks like something I would want to watch.
Access: Do you have any advice for her?
Nagra: I think the difficulty is just being in L.A., and being here when you haven’t got your friends and family around. I think the most important bit of advice is try and ring home at least every day.
Access: That means getting up pretty early.
Nagra: It’s not so bad. I’m sure she gets up early for “Bionic Woman.” But just to say “Hi” or anything. Something like that keeps you sane. I think it can get lonely when you don’t know too many people here. I certainly felt that. I told myself that the first few months of being out here I was going to feel disorientated, and I was just going to feel all those things that you feel when you go somewhere new, and I was just going to allow myself to feel them instead of questioning why I was in a state. I was just so thankful that everybody here was so nice. It made it so much easier.
Access: So lastly, have you run into the Beckhams at all since their L.A. move?
Nagra: No, I haven’t run into them, I don’t know maybe one day soon.
Access: Seeing as you helped open the door for them with the movie “Bend It Like Beckham.”
Nagra: I don’t think they needed any of my ... they’re so huge back home.
Access: You’ve met them correct?
Nagra: I met them that one time when we were doing the screening of “Bend It...” just so I suppose David could see exactly what he was putting his name to, but they were lovely then. It’s funny. I think it was inevitable they were gonna come out and kind of hit and it’s kind of nice that he’s doing it with the football.