Talking to Homeland's Abu Nazir

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An interview with actor Navid Negahban

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Iranian American actor Navid Negahban, cast member on the Showtime cable channel drama series "Homeland" poses during a portrait session in Los Angeles (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

Iranian-American actor Navid Negahban is one of the stars of the enormously popular American television series Homeland, a show whose plot revolves around CIA agents, an ex-prisoner of war, and terror threats to the United States. In December, "Homeland" finished its second season on the Showtime channel and earlier this month it added three more Emmy awards to the haul it won last year. President Barack Obama is among its biggest fans.

For two seasons, Negahban has played the show's central nemesis, Abu Nazir, an Islamist terrorist mastermind seeking revenge on the United States for a drone strike that killed his young son.

Negahban was born in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran in 1968, and was fascinated with acting and art production from an early age. After moving to Germany he studied acting and theater for nearly eight years before heading to Los Angeles to try his luck as an actor. The risk paid off: he has won roles in both television and movies.

Tell us, how is it that you came to be on Homeland, which is one of the most talked about shows in America?

My agent gave me the pilot script, "Homeland." I knew the show's production team from the time I worked with them previously on 24 (eds: another counterterrorism-based TV show, no longer airing). One of the writers had translated a book about different writers and poets into English, and one of the poets in that book was Iranian poet Forough Farokhzad. I saw one of the producers of Homeland, Howard Gordon, at a reading of this book. I knew him from 24. I went to him and asked, "Have you found anyone for the character of Nazir?"

Are you saying you saw yourself in the character of the terrorist Abu Nazir and knew exactly what you wanted to do with it?

Yes. I knew that I wanted to play Abu Nazir. I saw many layers in this character. Remember that in [the pilot episode] Abu Nazir just has a couple of lines. I still wanted to do it. My agent and manager said it was insane for me to do a show that had just two speaking lines for me, but I insisted that I see value in the script.

Why? What was the big attraction of just two lines?

It was a very different kind of script. I saw a lot of good things in the writing. It was revolutionary. No one has ever seen anything like this on U.S. television.

In what sense?

In the sense that the show doesn't try to create heroes. It shows the mistakes of the main characters. The Abu Nazir that I had in my mind was a man with intentions and goals, and he made a decision to fight for what he wants. It didn't make a difference where he came from. I became attracted to his personality, which has different layers. I thought, I can show different layers of him. That is why even when I went for an audition I did not read any lines from the script. Alex Ganza, the other producer of Homeland, was there and we just sat in a room and talked. In the end, we found out that all of us had the same idea in mind about Abu Nazir.

Homeland features dramatic characters like war veterans, White House officials, and CIA operatives, and deals with the controversial issue of the U.S. war on terror. Did you know it would be such a hit?

I think one of the things that made this show such a success is its ability to show us the consequences of what we do. We do things, but usually we do not have the ability to look closely and slowly at what we have done. Picture this: It is raining, you are driving, there is a puddle of water and you just drive through it, sending the water splashing on a mother and her child on the sidewalk. If, in that moment, someone could take you out of the car and show you what you did, then I think you might think more about the consequences of your behavior.

So I guess the series made people think about what they have done. I was in Israel shooting some episodes and while we were in a tea house someone came to me and asked, "Are you playing Abu Nazir?" And when I said yes, he just thanked me and added, "I really am thankful because for the first time, I can see how it is on the other side." It was the best gift for me. People are seeing [the show] as if it was real, they become emotional, and it has opened their hearts and allowed them to see outside.

What is your next project? Where might we see Navid Negahban next?

Now I am working on CSI: New York, which might be released by the spring, and there is another project named The Game, which is filmed in Atlanta. There have been some film scripts, as well, but we will see if there will be a show or not. If not, if you come to the restaurant, I will be serving you. (Laughs)

[SPOILER ALERT] 

In season one of Homeland, there were scenes in which Abu Nazir breaks the captured U.S. marine, Brody, under torture; but we never saw details. Could we see something about that in season three?

I really am not aware on what we might see in season three, it is hard to say. But there might be a chance to see some flashbacks.

You know why I am asking: my friends and colleagues told me ask you if Abu Nazir comes back in season three somehow!

(Laughs) Let's hope God is listening. Let's see what happens.


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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