He used to get cast as either a doctor or a terrorist. Now Prasanna Puwanarajah is on stage at the National, starring opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose – and even writing his own sci-fi show
It was nine years ago that Prasanna Puwanarajah last worked on a hospital ward – he went from there to rehearsals for Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the previous two years, he had been working as a jobbing actor, writer and director, and as a doctor – going wherever he was needed in the NHS, and fitting in auditions, making a couple of short films, directing some plays, in between. He had been deferring a training post in reconstructive surgery, and at some point, though he never really made a definitive decision, he just never went back to medicine.
We meet at the National Theatre, where Puwanarajah is appearing in Absolute Hell. There is still something doctorly about his manner – the steady voice; the careful, analytical responses. The National is a place that proved instrumental in his career change. “I’d done a show at the Arcola,” he says, “and I was heading back to the NHS. I got auditions at the RSC and then at the National. I came here and did four shows and wrote a play, over the course of a year and a half. It felt vibrant and exciting and possible.”