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Soaps Interview

Ace Bhatti - 'EastEnders' Yusef Khan

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Yusef Khan from EastEnders

© BBC

EastEnders' scheming doctor Yusef Khan has proved to be one of the most intriguing villains in soap over the past few months, keeping viewers guessing as his grip over the Masood family gradually tightens. Having succeeded in causing major problems for Zainab and Masood's marriage, the sinister GP continues his nasty ways in next week's episodes as he ensures that Masood is banned from Tamwar and Afia's wedding celebrations. However, he's soon in for a surprise of his own when Tamwar makes a shock confession at the Mehndi - coming clean about how he's already married to Afia. We recently caught up with Ace Bhatti, who plays Yusef, for an insight into his character's complexities…

Now that Yusef has managed to cut Masood off from his own family, what's his long-term game plan?
"I'm not quite sure myself! It's up to the writers, but I know what I feel and what I'm playing, and that's Yusef just wanting to smash things apart. I think the way it's been written has been very subtle and he's a great character to play. I'm realising that more and more as the episodes are being aired."

How do you think the viewers have reacted to Yusef?
"I've been tapped on the street by women a few times who've called me 'Dr Evil' and said that I'm horrible! I'm not sure whether I've met them in real life before, but I'm assuming that it's because of the TV! (Laughs) And then the other reaction I've had is people asking me, 'What's Yusef up to? What's he about?' It seems to be mainly women who ask me that. People seem to be intrigued about what exactly Yusef is doing and why he wants to split up Zainab and Masood."

Are you surprised when some fans seem to confuse you with your character?
"No, because I think the viewers invest a lot of time in the soaps and the characters. During 'rest periods' in my career, I've worked as a waiter, done labouring jobs and done driving jobs - and you come home absolutely exhausted. You want to stimulate the intellect, but all you can really manage is the soaps! People can lose themselves in soaps - you pick the character that you're really into and you join them on a journey. I can see why people want to do that."

Do you see Yusef as total villain, or is it more complex than that?
"I like to think that Yusef is flawed - but it's just that he's more flawed than other people, or he shows a lot more of his flaws. But hopefully in real life, once people spend five minutes with me, they realise that I'm not like that. I'm a pretty clumsy person and not like my character at all! I find that people eventually say, 'Oh, you're quite nice, aren't you?' And I don't know quite what to say to that!"

Yusef reveals to Zainab that he wants them to be together.
Is Yusef's main aim to win Zainab back?
"I don't think Yusef's intentions are clear just yet, and I don't want to give too much away. I think that's the good thing about the character - you're not quite sure what he's up to, where he's going and he's very ambiguous. What I do know is that he wants to rip the family apart and he wants to hurt people."

Is there a part of him that wants to own Zainab? Does he see her as a possession that he's lost?
"Well, I think there's definitely an element of control there - because Yusef is all about control. At the moment, the sleeping tablets that Yusef has given Zainab are affecting her behaviour and making her more compliant…"

What's your take on the relationship between Yusef and Denise?
"I think that when Yusef is with someone, he is quite genuine and he does have feelings for them, but I suppose you just don't know in this case. It's funny as when the relationship between the characters first started, Diane Parish said to me, 'You're not a nutter, are you?! Denise has had a few nutters!' At the Mehndi and in the aftermath of it, Denise finds out how close Yusef is to Zainab and she's not very happy about it. It's all because his sister-in-law has decided to spread this rumour that Yusef and Zainab have had an affair, even though nothing's actually happened physically."

Does Yusef genuinely care about his daughter Afia?
"He would die for his daughter - without question, at a moment's notice. At the moment, I think he's very happy that she's found love with Tamwar - he likes the combination between them and he likes the fact that Tamwar makes his daughter happy. He likes Tamwar, but at the same time, that wouldn't stop him from manipulating him. But through it all, he's confident that he won't lose Afia - she's the one constant thing in his life and I think she's a little bit like Yusef, but not as bad!"

Masood, Zainab and Yusef are all reeling from Tamwar's confession.
How does Yusef feel at the Mehndi when he finds out that Afia and Tamwar are already married?
"That definitely hurts, because he's so close to his daughter and there's been a betrayal of trust. But he's happy about the relationship and he's happy that she's happy. It's also quite handy for Yusef because it gives him an excuse to hang around the Masoods!"

At the moment, Masood suspects that Yusef started the fire that almost killed Zainab all those years ago. Could Yusef do something dangerous again?
"With Yusef, you never quite know. I think that he's the kind of person who, even if he did settle down with someone, you would never know what he'd do next. He's the kind of person who will just go after something if he wants it. There's a scene coming up where Yusef really takes things to extremes and it'll be a real revelation when people see that he's prepared to take things as far as he does…"

Do you think Masood is a match for Yusef?
"I think Masood is prepared to defend his family, but I don't think Masood has prepared himself for how far Yusef may go further down the line…"

> Read extra EastEnders chat from Ace Bhatti in Soap Scoop Get the Inside Soap magazine on your iPhone or iPad

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