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A chat with Asher from 'EastEnders: E20'

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Eastenders E20: Asher played by Heshima Thompson

© BBC

In our latest EastEnders: E20 interview, we chat with Heshima Thompson, who plays Asher Levi - a former bad boy who's on the path to redemption following a stint in jail. After viewers meet Asher for the first time, it soon becomes clear that he's loyally protective of his younger brother Solomon - but is also keen to strive further and make something of his life. Asher's talents as a street dancer also make him key to the dance element that features in the new series. Our Q&A with Heshima follows below...

How would you describe Asher?
"I'd say he's a very confident individual! He's had run-ins with the law, but I think that he's on a path now where he's trying to come away from that - especially as he does have a brother to look after."

Why has Asher been in jail?
"I think it's pretty much been a case of trying to look after his brother. It's one of those situations where there isn't really much other family around, and Asher has been playing the role of a parent as well as a brother. As a result, he's taken chances and gone for opportunities that were available, whether they were legal or not…"

How has being in jail affected Asher's relationship with his family?
"In terms of his mother, she does tend to bring it up sometimes and make reference to the past, so it's difficult for him to forget it. But with his brother, it doesn't have so much of an effect - it definitely doesn't mean that Solomon respects him any less, but it does mean that he isn't necessarily the best role model."

How does Asher develop over the course of the series?
"Well, Asher is a street dancer for starters, and as I'm also a dancer, it was good for me to be able to fuse my love of dance and acting together. What happens is that Asher sees street dance as his way out, so I think that's his main journey - seeing a possible way out from his current situation through dance. It's a journey of trying to escape and using dance to do that."

How do you think the second series of E20 compares to the first?
"I think this series is a lot faster-paced. Also, because we've got dancing in it, that's a completely different element, and there's never really been dancing in Albert Square before. So we've brought that to it this time."

Did you have much advice or support from the regular EastEnders cast?
"Everyone was really helpful. There's a lot of information and advice that you need when you join the show, so members of the cast were there for that. Especially Nina Wadia - she literally gave me a two-hour talk and that was amazing. I also had a good chat with Ricky Norwood, who plays Fatboy."

Eastenders: E20 Cast
Would you say that E20 is just for younger fans of EastEnders, or is it for older ones too?
"I'd say it's not just for the younger audience, older people can enjoy it too, and there's so much going on in this series. Obviously we've got the dancing, and there's also some great youthful and cross-genre music that you don't usually hear in shows, so that really adds a different viewing experience and a great dynamic to the show."

Street dance acts Flawless and Avant Garde make guest appearances in the series - what was it like working with them?
"It was fantastic. As my character is a street dancer and Solomon dances very well as well, myself and Tosin both had to go for a dance audition, so we met the lead from Avant Garde then and he was part of that process. We also had some dance rehearsals with them. Then, for the actual show, we were all filming in Albert Square together and it was a bit crazy but very enjoyable! It was brilliant."

How did your dancing skills compare to those of the two groups?
"Well, I am a dancer and I'm confident with what I do, but Flawless and Avant Garde are among the best in the business and, when it comes to dancing, they live and breathe it! So that was the main difference between us."

EastEnders is often known for its big shocks and cliffhangers - can we expect the same from E20?
"Yes, there's a lot of 'duff duffs'! I'm so excited that I've finally had a 'duff duff'!"

What would you say the main themes and issues of this series are?
"I'd say the series focuses on families, friendships and relationships, as well as belief and faith. It's dealing with all of those everyday issues that people can relate to."

What would you like viewers to take from the new series of E20?
"I'd actually like the viewers to go away thinking that they'd like to watch it over and over again. I think that because we're providing the dance element as well as the drama, as well as some great music, I'd like the viewers to feel like they want to see it more than once. I also hope that the viewers feel like the show is reflective of what goes on in everyday life, as it is supposed to be authentic. There's even a lot of slang in E20 and that makes it more realistic."

What's next for you?
"I actually have an exciting music project coming up. So I'll be doing that as well as my acting. I'd love to be able to somehow merge my singing, acting, dancing and writing - that would be my dream project!"

The second series of EastEnders: E20 launches on Tuesday, September 7 at 8pm, with the second episode following on Wednesday, September 8 at the same time. After that, new episodes will become available for viewing on the show's official site every Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm, while 30-minute omnibus editions will be screened on BBC Three on Monday nights.

> Meet the new EastEnders: E20 cast
> A chat with E20 producer Deborah Sathe
> Emer Kenny talks EastEnders: E20
> A chat with Stevie from EastEnders: E20

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