Richard Kay, one of Princess Diana’s favorite journalists from Daily Mail once said about the Princess, “By the end, the number of friends she had you could count on one hand.” Dr. Hasnat Khan, who was Princess Diana’s companion during her last years, topped that list. “Everybody sells me out,” Diana told a friend. “Hasnat is the one person who will never sell me out.” She was right. As per the statement submitted to the Metropolitan Police by Khan, he and the Princess of Wales were in a relationship between 1995 to 1997. The two managed to keep their relationship a secret and there is little about either their relationship or Khan in the public domain.
Khan is a British-Pakistani doctor and a heart surgeon who met Diana In 1995, at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital where he was the attending surgeon for the husband of Diana’s friend and healer, Oonagh. It was love at first sight for her and a relationship soon followed. The two parted ways after Diana became romantically involved with Egyptian film producer Dodi Fayed. In the fifth season of The Crown, Pakistani actor Humayun Saeed will play Hasnat Khan, whom Diana once called “Mr. Wonderful”.
Saeed is a superstar from the world of Pakistani entertainment, having worked extensively in both film and television industries over the past three decades. In 2021, he was awarded the prestigious Presidential Pride of Performance for his achievements. For Saeed, the dictum he lives by as an actor is simple but demanding: “I don’t act, I just live a role.”
Film Companion spoke to Humayun Saeed about his experience on The Crown and what goes into scoring an international casting:
You are one of the most credible and established names in Pakistani entertainment. At this stage, when you try out something new, that too in a different set up, does it take you back to your initial days? Or are you more prepared because of the years of experience?
I had auditioned at the beginning of my career and after that, no one ever asked me to. But The Crown's journey started with a call from Hamid Hussain, my talent agent, asking me to do an audition! So in this case, yes I was taken back to my initial days. Every new project has its own requirements and challenges. You can never be totally prepared for everything that is going to come your way and this is what helps an actor grow.
With the influx of OTT [over-the-top platforms], do you feel cinema will eventually become a thing of the past?
The real big change that is coming is that people now want to go and spend money on good content only. They have access to content from across the world due to OTTs and they are spoilt for choice. But if the film is good, people will go to cinemas for it as there is no substitute for a good immersive film experience. Recent cinema releases like Top Gun: Maverick (2022) are huge box office hits, which goes to show that people still like to go to cinemas for a good film. OTTs also realise this and new business models are developing. Like Netflix has done a deal for its original film, the sequel of Knives Out, to be screened in select cinemas across the world for a week.
They say OTT is the most convenient medium of entertainment. But for an actor, it lacks the thrill of a Friday release and the box office madness. Would you agree?
I haven't had a direct OTT release yet for any of my films, so I am yet to experience the difference. I work in television too and for me, my show releasing on a TV channel or an OTT evokes the same feeling. In fact, a show releasing on OTT somehow adds more pressure as you know people are going to binge-watch it and give their feedback based on the entire season within a day of its release.
How was it playing a real-life character for the first time, that too Diana’s love interest?
Yes, this is the first time that I will be playing a real-life character on-screen and to play the role of Dr. Hasnat Khan, who everyone knows due to Princess Diana, was a huge responsibility. I am very confident that the viewers will love the simplicity and purity of their relationship and how it has been portrayed on-screen.
What’s your take on infidelity? Is it okay for a man or a woman to walk out of the marriage if he or she isn’t happy in it?
I believe that if a man or a woman is stuck in an unhappy relationship and if they feel this cannot be resolved, then instead of compromising and continuing to stay in an unhappy relationship or marriage, it is better for both to end it. But they shouldn’t do that without trying.
What do you think is needed for an Asian artist or a film to make an impact Internationally? Besides talent obviously, does networking and having a public relations (PR) team help?
I feel it is a misconception that an actor needs to do networking and PR to get work internationally. They work very differently there. You need to have a talent agent who could showcase and pitch your profile for upcoming projects. And then, if they like your work, they will ask for an audition. In my case, had Hamid not pitched me and my work to the team at The Crown, I wouldn't have got the opportunity to audition. At times, actors have to audition multiple times for the same role before a decision is made. So, a good representation along with acting skills are the only way forward there.
You have been a producer yourself. How different are their challenges from ours?
Every project has its own challenges and with a project that is on the scale of The Crown, I am sure the challenges are a lot more. But I feel something we need to learn from such productions is how organised and planned everything is. They try their utmost to stick to the schedule and inculcate the same behavior in the artists as well. And this planning preempts most of the challenges.
The fifth season of The Crown will be available to stream on Netflix from November 9th.