Paralympian Gaz Choudhry on how acting and sport take him into a meditative state

From athlete to actor, Choudhry took a chance on an open casting (Apple TV/PA)
From athlete to actor, Choudhry took a chance on an open casting (Apple TV/PA)

From playing in international wheelchair basketball championships to acting on the small screen in a series also featuring Kit Harington, Daveed Diggs, Sienna Miller and Meryl Streep, Gaz Choudhry MBE has turned his career on its head.

“I was preparing for the Olympic Games Tokyo in 2021 and with the strict lockdown training camps, you were only allowed to eat with our roommates,” says Choudhry.

“And so for so long, it was just the gym, sports hall, and room with no time for recreation or fresh air. I went a bit stir-crazy and someone sent me this open casting and it sounded really fun and like a good way to spend an afternoon and so I auditioned,” he explains.

This became a pretty pivotal moment, for Choudhry, 37, from London.

“I hung out with the director Richie Mehta in the park and got it. I told my younger sister and she couldn’t believe it. It was all a bit crazy – I suddenly had to find an agent and work it all out super-quick,” he describes, surprise still clear in his voice.

Trust the process

Moving from professional wheelchair basketball to a show about the implications of climate change, in a format reminiscent of the early seasons of Black Mirror, comes with serious changes.

But, the two things aren’t so different.

“I think the trusting of the process is very similar, there is no kind of substitute for doing the work,” Choudhry explains.

“You can either execute something or you can’t, depending on the work you do.”

However, he points out: “There are differences in how interpretive acting is, whereas sport is certainly much more prescriptive. There are right and wrong ways to do things in sports, but there isn’t in acting, which is so freeing.”

Mindful state

The basketball player has always been in pursuit of that, which makes him feel free.

“I got into wheelchair basketball when I was 12, I fell in love with it straight away. I remember getting in a basketball wheelchair and it was so freeing. I went along to a local club and was so inspired by players such as Ade Adepitan, and I never looked back.

“Since I started competing I have prioritised my wellbeing. Since I was 22, I have had a very robust, long-term meditation practice in place and that really helps me be present in the moment. That has probably been the key to keeping level. I do Vipassana mindfulness, following my breath, and becoming aware of awareness itself,” he explains calmly.

“That is the target I am going for. I got into it quite late and I went and played abroad in Italy.”

Being in Italy changed his life.

“Living in Sardinia, I saw a sunrise on a cliff and had an altered state experience, and therefore followed the path of feeling that. I felt I should know what is in the contents of my mind.”

Exciting role

This mindfulness and self-awareness made Choudhry even more eager to immerse himself in his new role as an actor, playing Neel, who is tasked with ferrying a cargo of stolen goods on a dangerous road trip across India.

Neel as a character, he says is “brilliantly written, and some of it was adapted for me, depending on what the character would be able to do. I was able to bring certain details to him and I was empowered to have enough time with the character and invest in it”.

He continues, “I really got to create a process to become the character and I had that time, which was helpful.”

Making the best of a bad situation, Neel is optimistic, while Choudhry describes himself as more analytical.

Choudhry says, “Climate change has made it so you have to live by night, which as a person with a disability, is hard. Neel lost his legs through a war he was a soldier in, a lot of his world is not his own doing and he is trying his best to deal with it.”

The flow state

Acting and sport take Choudhry to a similar place mentally.

“As far as reaching flow state goes, it feels similar to being on set. You get to the truth of the experience, and in sport you often feel like you are reaching the bedrock of truth.”

A different kind of stress to competitive sport, Choudhry never let his meditative practice slip.

“I meditate every single day and that sets my day up, it was the same on set. No matter what, I am on the cushion for 20 minutes and I deal with the present moment and the challenges that come my way.”

Climate change threat

But we cannot meditate our way out of the terrifying future of climate change, and Choudhry explains how we must take responsibility after watching Extrapolations.

“I’m not a politician or scientist, but I think just being more aware of the choices we make, being responsible, voting with our cash, supporting carbon-neutral businesses or just mindfully consuming. It is about applying the principles of meditation to what you buy.”

Extrapolations is an eight-episode limited series told across eight interconnected episodes that should be watched in order, with new episodes premiering weekly on Apple TV+.