IT was the quality of the writing that drew Arsher Ali to The Missing, BBC One’s prime time thriller about child abduction.
“I was sent the first few episodes and they were good, old-fashioned cliffhangers,” says the 30-year-old, who plays journalist Malik Suri.
“When I’d run out of episodes to read, I was genuinely annoyed,” adds Ali, who rose to prominence in the hit film comedy Four Lions.
“It was like only having the first hundred pages of a good book. The writing was superb. It’s obviously the first thing you look for, as an actor. You don’t have to expend energy trying to find the reason behind what you’re saying, it just is what they would say.”
The Missing follows Tony, played by James Nesbitt, as he searches for his missing child Oliver in Paris, and charts the impact the hunt has on his relationship with wife Emily, played by Mr Selfridge actress Frances O'Connor.
“Malik is an ambitious man,” says Ali.
“At the beginning of the story he is a fledgling journalist looking to make a name for himself, driven on by the memory of his father who was also a journalist. He manages to find a way into the case via some of his father’s past discoveries and as the case progresses he is faced with some ethical and moral questions whose outcomes shape him and haunt him in later life.”
Journalism was a trade he had considered before acting.
“Acting came along as a happy accident,” says Ali, whose TV credits include Silent Witness, Beaver Falls, mini-series The Guilty and Channel 4’s feature-length drama Complicit, for which he won an award at the 2013 Monte Carlo Television Festival.
“My interest was in sports journalism, a different field all together to Malik’s,” says the avid Forest fan who writes about the Reds for the Post.
After flunking media and English - “because I couldn’t be bothered” - he turned to acting with the encouragement of a drama teacher at Bilborough College.
Once he’d graduated from the East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex, where he won the Laurence Olivier Student Award, Ali worked on the stage, with stints at the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, before Four Lions came along in 2010.
“I’ve never experienced such a calm, unified and productive atmosphere on a set before,” he says of The Missing, which was filmed in Belgium with Rebus star Ken Stott also in the cast.
“The crew were super-chilled but extremely diligent. In the UK, I think most people like to work themselves into a tizzy.”
He adds: “The most memorable thing for me was the strong smell of herbal cigarettes. It’s a distinctive smell on film sets or on stage for ‘character smoking’. I’m not sure how many packs I got through as Malik, but it felt like an unhealthy amount.”
The Missing returns to BBC One on Tuesday, the fifth episode of eight.
“It’s a very compelling story and it’s been afforded the time to tell it properly. I can’t believe the BBC gave us eight epiosdes to tell the story. And I’m surprised that people have stuck with it because they usually want everything wrapped up in two or three.
“British TV can have a tendency to sometimes rush through stories but if we’ve learnt anything from American or Scandinavian drama, it’s that if the story is compelling enough then people will go with you no matter what.”
Ali, who grew up in Sherwood, now lives in the city centre with Emmerdale actress Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi. The pair are yet to start a family but the horror of child abduction wasn’t hard for him to imagine.
“It’s every parent or family’s greatest fear, isn’t it? Losing a child. It’s earth shattering.”
He has just finished filming with Martin Clunes and Art Malik for Arthur & George, an ITV drama about Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“It’s a true story about a guy, who I play, wrongly imprisoned and Arthur Conan Doyle comes to his defence to get him a pardon. I can’t believe it’s real. It’s like someone getting done for terror charges and Russell Brand leaping to their defence.”
Today he’s off to Belfast to shoot a film alongside This Is England star Stephen Graham. But his biggest role is coming soon, one will that will see him once again on prime time television. Although he’s sworn to secrecy.
“I can’t say but I’m slowly getting there,” he says of a career that will keep him busy for the foreseeable future; one which threatens to interrupt his love of watching Forest play.
“I’m nuts,” he admits.
“I’ll travel everywhere to watch them. And if I can’t make it I’ll ring home and get my mum or my missus to put the phone to the radio so I can listen to the commentary on Radio Nottingham.”
The Missing continues on BBC One on Tuesday at 9pm.