Naveen Andrews: 'At least I've been a good parent'

The actor and former heroin addict has had his failures, but one achievement stands out. Genevieve Roberts meets Naveen Andrews

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The Independent Online

Naveen Andrews is about to loom large on our screens as a baddie. Only he doesn't want to call it that. "I suppose ostensibly he's the baddie. I view him as a human. He has been deprived of his son, which one might regard as a legitimate grievance to pursue somebody and kill them," he says of the role of Lord Akbari, arch-nemesis of Sinbad, in a fantasy family drama about to debut on Sky 1.

The sentiment seems heartfelt, perhaps unsurprisingly: the role he is proudest of is that of being father of two sons, one a 20-year-old at university in Manchester and the other, aged six, who lives with him in Los Angeles. I have the clear impression he would similarly pursue anyone who threatened either of them. Parenthood, he says is "wonderful, a privilege", revealing that "it's turned out to be good for me in a way I could never have predicted".

Andrews, best known for his role as Kip the bomb disposal man in The English Patient and Sayid in the cult US TV drama Lost, will also start filming for Caught in Flight this month. He plays Dr Hasnat Khan, former lover of Princess Diana. "When I read the script it seemed a very intimate love story. It reminded me of David Lean's Brief Encounter. The relationship is always going to be impossible; it's not going to work. There is a certain grandeur about a love that both people recognise doesn't have a hope in hell."

However many roles he takes on as an actor, they will be overshadowed by those he has played in real life. Abused child. Alcoholic. Heroin addict. Husband of his school maths teacher. Lover of actress Barbara Hershey. Father.

Now 43, Andrews was born in London, growing up in Wandsworth in the 1970s, though 14 years in Los Angeles have diluted his south London tones. His family was one of the earliest non-white families to settle in an area now richly multiracial. Racism was standard then, he says. "It didn't seem exceptional, from when you're very small till later, when it becomes violent." From his LA perspective he believes Britain has improved, racially speaking, but is aware there are still problems.

It wasn't simply on the streets that he faced abuse. At home, his parents were strict – and violent. "The older I get, the more I look at how hard it was for them to come here from India in 1965, three years before Enoch Powell's infamous 'rivers of blood' speech," he says. "They dealt with unimaginable stuff I still can't fully comprehend. I've got a lot of sympathy – that comes with getting older." Both his parents are dead. "They did what they thought was best," he says. "I hope, wherever they are, they're finding peace, because they didn't have it when they were alive. They didn't get to be parents in the way I've got to be a parent, and that's very sad."

While he might not agonise over his past, it has left marks. One consequence is his reluctant to watch himself. "If you've grown up feeling unattractive, I don't think you ever lose that. It never goes. I'm never going to wake up and look in the mirror and think, 'Yes, I'll go out and meet people'. Most of the time you wake up, look in the mirror and want to give up. And that doesn't change. It isn't awful, it's just the way I feel."

Aged 16, he fell in love with Geraldine Feakins, a 30-year-old maths teacher at his private school. They had an affair; she split up with her husband, and by the age of 18, Andrews was living with her. The couple's son Jaisal is now 20 and studying English at Manchester University. He declines to talk about Feakins. "I still have a great friendship with my eldest son's mum," he says. "She's my mate. We have this wonderful son who's6ft 3, gorgeous, and I'm his dad. I've not been a total failure."

He also remains good friends with Hershey, with whom he had an 11-year relationship after meeting her when he was 29 and she 50, while filming together in 1999. "We're really close friends – she's 10 minutes down the road from where I live in Santa Monica. It was the longest relationship of my life," he says. When they split up briefly in 2005, Andrews fathered a second son, Joshua, now six, with the actress Elena Eustache. They later fought a custody battle over the child which he says he's legally bound not to talk about. Joshua now lives with him. While currently in a relationship, after splitting with Hershey in 2010, he says it remains private.

Previously he has admitted being attracted to older women because his relationship with his mother left him looking for "a nice mum who you can also shag". He candidly admits it was certainly true when he was younger. "That might have been a strong element in what attracted me to the person in question, but I'm old now," he explains. "That dynamic isn't there any more, and perhaps, I hate to say this, I've grown up. That's what having a 20-year-old kid does for you: it gives you a sense of perspective. You can't be a victim of arrested development."

Has he matured? "I'm a lot better than I used to be – thank God. Girls mature earlier, in every way. Men are the weaker sex and retain their immaturity, it seems, to the grave. It's like a built-in design fault. You can't do anything about it."

He is unaware of the latest tabloid sensation, Harry Styles, the 18-year-old One Direction singer, having a relationship with the 32-year-old television presenter Caroline Flack, but thinks interest in age difference is utterly natural. "It's a theme in literature and art. There are great novels about relationships between older women and younger men. It's been there for hundreds of years. I think it's part of the human condition, age gaps in relationships, whether between older females and younger males, or the other way round," he says, before suggesting people are interested only in older women. "Nobody ever questions it when it's an older man and younger woman. It's just accepted."

In his twenties, Andrews struggled with addictions to alcohol and heroin. He went to Alcoholics Anonymous and has been dry for many years. A life without drink and drugs is a relief. "I don't have to do that any more. That compulsion to keep doing it – even when you don't want to – is the worst thing about alcoholism or addiction, and to be free of that, it's a miracle," he explains. "Life's a lot easier. I'm treasuring the few brain cells I have left and I'm going to hold on to them with all my heart."

Addiction hasn't blurred his memories. "I can remember all of it: the blood, the hospitals, the broken glass." A meeting with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones at an LA party led Jones to take Andrews to his first AA meeting. "I felt my life was over because I couldn't have a drink. The fact Steve was sober made me think, for the first time, it was possible for me. It was hugely important."

Quitting London was also key. "I don't know if I'd have been able to do it: to see three pubs on every street. I virtually lived in the pub," he says, contrasting it with the warm weather culture of LA, where people don't "sit in the pub and watch the rain outside while getting completely obliterated".

He may have conquered his demons, but it strikes me that Andrews may have some regrets. He seems concerned about ageing, repeatedly mentioning he's old as we chat. I suspect he is striving to find peace with the world, rather than happiness. "I may be a total failure at most things, but I'm a good parent," he says. His failures? "All the important things. Relationships, maybe. It would have been nice, looking back, now I'm 43, if I'd been more of a good partner."

Andrews, who is otherwise guarded and cautious, though very polite, opens up more when talking about being a parent. "It's given me a sense of what's important. It's not your career; it's not you. There's a human being that is much more important than you are, or ever will be, and that's good."

And if anything is going to heal the scars of his past, it seems it may be his children. His ambition is to continue being a good dad. "Once they're 18 they tell you to fuck off, which is sad, but to always be there for them and maintain a friendship with them, that would be a huge achievement."

Curriculum vitae

1969 Born in Wandsworth, south London after his parents moved there from India in 1965.

1985 Falls in love with his mathematics teacher, Geraldine Feakins, who is 30 at the time.

1987 Attends London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

1991 First break in Hanif Kureshi's dark comedy London Kills Me.

1992 His son with Geraldine Feakins, Jaisal, is born.

1993 Stars as Karim Amir in BBC series The Buddha of Suburbia.

1996 Stars in The English Patient as Kip, a Sikh bomb disposal expert.

1998 Overcomes his drug and alcohol addiction. Meets Barbara Hershey and moves to Los Angeles.

2004 Plays Sayid in the cult US TV series Lost. Nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the role.

2005 Briefly separates from Hershey and fathers a son, Joshua, with actress Elena Eustache.

2010 Splits from Hershey.

2012 Plays Lord Akbari in TV's Sinbad.