She talks to a poster in her bedroom, kicks cabbages in the kitchen and shoots balls around a washing line in the garden. It was all in a day’s work for Parminder Nagra, FIFA Presidential Award 2002 winner and star of the hugely popular movie “Bend it like Beckham”. The English actress sat down with FIFA.com to talk about football, fans and the shooting.
When you heard about the award, what did you think?
Originally my agent told me that FIFA had invited me to come out to Madrid to pick up an award and I thought it would be for our director Gurinder Chadha. I thought it was an award for the film “Bend it like Beckham”, until word came back that they would really, really love to have me out here and would do anything to try to make that happen. I thought I’d research it a bit more because I’m working at the moment. A television company is not going to want me to go abroad when you’re in the middle of shooting. But when the researcher came back and said the award was specifically for me, I lost my voice and said, ‘what, sorry what did you just say?’ They told me it was for contributions towards football and I thought, what, they’re giving it to an actress? My god! And then they told me I was the first female to have ever received it, which blew my mind even more, especially being a young Asian girl whose home town is Leicester. Coming to Madrid to pick up this award is absolutely stunning. Although, it’s a bit scary being in front of a whole crowd of footballers.
Tell us how you got the part for Bend it like Beckham?
Gurinder, apparently, always had me in mind. I hadn’t played football at all before and we did two months of intensive training before we started filming. She’d seen me doing a couple of jobs in the theatre and approached me after one particular production to ask me if I’d be interested in a football project. At first I thought, ‘why would you want to make a film about football?’ She told me she’d send me the script and to let her know what I thought. I remember just reading the first page which was me (Jess) playing at Old Trafford for Manchester United and heading in a goal, which I thought was just the funniest thing. The more and more I read of the script, the more I thought it was funny and actually quite touching as well. I went for the audition and she (Gurinder) told me she’d always wanted me to do it.
But you hadn’t played football before?
No, I didn’t quite know to what extent the football might be, but it was quite a bonus for me to try to learn new skills and to keep fit at the same time. It wasn’t just the case of playing a 90-minute game: I was doing nine hours a day pounding up and down the pitch. With filming, it’s over and over again and in crucifying heat! – last summer was pretty hot in West London.
What about the dribbling moves, how did you perfect them?
I had a fantastic trainer called Simon Clifford, who did a lot of the football choreography on “There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble”. Gurinder had hunted him down. He runs quite a big youth scheme all across England, which is spreading its wings internationally now. It’s called – Futebol De Salao (futsal) – and he works with Juninho a bit. I learned quite a lot of first touch on the ball - using the smaller ball - and learnt how to bend the ball. I went over all the moves again and again and again like Ronaldo and Maradona.
Did you practise taking free-kicks?
I did and at first I hurt my foot because I was toe-poking the ball. I wasn’t doing it properly until he chalk-marked the side of my foot and told me I had to slice it, lean back, lift it up and all of that... Once the ball even slightly lifted up, I was quite happy. But I think my crowning glory had to be one of the first scenes at the beginning of the shoot where I had to bend the ball round the washing line. Everybody was looking at me thinking is she going to be able to do it and I was looking at the ball thinking am I going to be able to do it. It was really, really, nerve-wracking! And it just happened - it went in between the posts and the washing, straight through and round. I don’t know how, but it happened.
After the success of the film, have you received mail from many football fans?
Yes, lots. It has been lovely getting post from people around the world. I think most people are quite inspired and enjoyed the heart of the movie. There’s some really nice personal stuff just saying that people have watched or followed me over the years. And there are those, who have just found out about me, who are liking what I’m doing.
What about Beckham, did he help you at all?
No, I met him but Gurinder had more to do with him about using the name. I met him at a screening and I know that he was very, very gracious. He shook my hand and said well done - it was nice icing on the cake.
And, as part of the preparation for the film, did you have to practise speaking to a poster image of him?
(Laughs) No, it would have been nice to have the live version, I have to say, but I had to make do with the poster - but there you go. His spirit was there at least.