I recently got the opportunity to talk to Akin Gazi about his role in ‘The Devil’s Double’. Here, Akin talks about the film’s controversial nature and about how he got into acting in the first place…
Hey Akin. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film ‘The Devil’s Double’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film? I hear it’s based on a true story?
The story begins in the 80’s hence all the moustaches and shoulder pads you see in the film, its the Iran-Iraq war and Lt. Latif Yahia is summoned to Baghdad where an old school friend Uday Hussein, psychotic son of Saddam asks Latif to be his ‘fiday’ or body double, Latif says no, then is tortured and has his family threatened, so he has no choice but to accept. The film shows the struggle that Latif has dealing with this maniac Uday. I believe after having met the real Latif Yahia that the story is true. Researching Uday it’s hard to find a single soul who has anything good to say about him.
In your opinion – is this film aimed at shocking people or educating them to a degree?
I don’t think the film wants to shock or educate, I think it will entertain and divide opinion, it’s a risky film in that the war in Iraq has been a total disaster, but this is a gangster film with a great story, I think its more about sharing this amazing story of a man’s struggle to escape the devil! It illuminates the inner workings of the Saddam regime unlike any other film before and for that reason I’m very proud to be a part of it and look forward to the response to the film.
Tell us a bit about your character in the movie…
I play Saad Abd Al-Rezzah, a war hero and law abiding Iraqi citizen. We are introduced to Saad on his wedding day. Unfortunately Uday takes my bride and rapes her, and then she commits suicide by jumping from a roof and smashing into the wedding celebrations. Saad understandably is a bit broken by this, so he moves away to Jordan haunted by this event, until Latif visits him offering him the chance for revenge some years later. It was interesting to have to play the happiest and worst day of your life in the same afternoon, a big challenge too!
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
The traditional way, I had a meeting with Lee Tamahori and we spoke about Iraq and the project, I read a few scenes for Uday and he offered me the role of Saad then and there which never usually happens. It’s my first feature film so I was very happy to be working with a director of his calibre.
The film stars the likes of Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi and Mem Ferda – and has Lee Tamahori onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew? I’ve watched the trailer and Dominic Cooper – wow.
It was a dream to be working with Lee Tamahori, I’m a huge fan of his movie ‘Once Were Warriors’ and I was very proud to be working with him. He is a wonderful director – full of energy and with a mind that works at a million miles an hour, he kept me on my toes at all times. We had two or three takes on each set up due to time constraints and the difficulty of shooting a film with one actor playing two parts; we effectively were making two films in one, so we were all working under extreme pressure to get it right. I knew also that Lee would know how to deal with the violent elements of the film; at no point do we have violence just to shock the audience. I had the good fortune of working a lot with Dominic Cooper on the film, he is technically a brilliant actor and fearless, he approached his dual role with courage and did an amazing job. Its hard enough to play one lead role but to play two against yourself is a great achievement. I learnt from all the cast you mention and have massive respect for them. Raad, Ludivine and Mem are amazing actors, I saw Raad Rawi perform at the Tricycle Theatre in ‘The Great Game’ and he blew me away, Mem Ferda is a fellow Turk and I remember watching him on set as he played drunk flawlessly in one of his scenes, his focus was immense, apart from when I was distracting him!
Let’s talk a bit about you Akin. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
I don’t think I had a choice! My family were opposed to it, I pretended to be studying biology when I was doing performing arts at college, but my dream always was to perform since my earliest memories. As a child it was a way to make people laugh, to have fun and forget myself in other characters, the natural progression for me was always to try and break into film as I love cinema, its ideology, its a reflection of ourselves, its entertainment, its thought provoking, its dangerous, its a great way of telling a story, cinema is all this and more, it really gets my juices flowing!
You’ve had numerous roles in different films and TV projects – who has been your favourite actor to work with and who has given you the best advice?
Its difficult because along the way you meet so many good people, working with Tahar Rahim was a great experience; I play his older brother in the upcoming film ‘Black Gold’. He gives you nothing but the truth in a scene – if you’re not open and willing to tell him the truth back, the scene doesn’t work. I knew I had to raise my game when I was cast in the film after seeing his amazing performance in ‘A Prophet’. Mido Hamada, another great actor, who played Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan has given me so much good advice. I worked with him on ‘The Path to 9/11’. One thing he said to me that echoes in my brain is you only have to fill the shoes of your role; you don’t need to convince anyone else you can play a part, apart from yourself, courage and self belief are essential if you want to be an actor. Mark Strong also told me during filming on ‘Black Gold’ that the film business is like a club, once you get in, try and stay in.
You’ve even had a role on ‘Doctor Who’ as well – what was it like working on that show?
It was really fun, I got shot by an alien lizard with a laser gun before my character could really establish himself! David Tennant was uber cool and really nice to work with.
If you could have dinner with three historical guests – alive or dead – who would they be and why?
Jimi Hendrix for the cool vibes. Groucho Marx for the laughs and Sophia Loren for after dinner discussion and dessert.
What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?
My God, the world is crazy right now! The riots in London and around the country would be pretty hard to ignore. I was born in Tottenham where all the chaos began and I predicted this some time ago when local services where being cut by the government. Now there is no excuse for the looting and destruction but even if we imprison all the criminals responsible, new ones will spring up again and again. We need a fairer society with job opportunities for all young people, there is a whole generation of young people that feel like they have no hope, and we need to find solutions rather than just continue to demonise young people.
What’s coming up for you in 2011?
I began the year in Tunisia filming ‘Black Gold’ directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, a film about two feuding Arab tribes and the discovery of oil in the 1930’s in the Arabian desert. It stars Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Mark Strong and Tahar Rahim. I play Prince Saleeh, a desert warrior who carries a falcon. I live with my brother Prince Auda ( Tahar Rahim) under King Nesib (Antonio Banderas) who is the enemy of our father King Amar (Mark Strong). Its world premiere is at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and will be released elsewhere in late November 2011. Look out for it!
Thanks for the interview!