Atheer Adel moved from Iraq to Germany right before his teen years. He attended one of the most prestigious German acting schools and went on to have parts in movies like the recent A Hologram For the King with Tom Hanks, and Homeland from which you might remember him best as Numan.
It seemed like a good idea to ask Adel about stereotypes, and if what we hear about actors from the MENA region always getting the same type of roles abroad was something he’d experienced.
“This is the question: What is a stereotype? If someone called me now and asked me to play an Iraqi in a film, am I supposed to be like WTF!? I am an Iraqi,” Adel answers.
Atheer Adel with Claire Danes in Homeland, Season 5. (SHOWTIME/Stephan Rabold)
Our Iraqi-German actor enlightens us, “I always take the example of Christoph Waltz. He got his marvelous breakthrough by playing a Nazi. So imagine Christoph Waltz sitting somewhere in an office with [Quentin] Tarantino and telling him: ‘Ok I’ll stop playing Nazis, this is bullshit.’ He did it of course and he did it f***ing great!”
“I think it’s independent of my heritage. Me as an actor I should always be euphoric to play. Acting is kind of a game”, he adds. However, Adel wasn’t always that positive about everything. He admits that when starting university, he had some moments where he wondered why all his friends were getting better roles than he did. “But no bullshit,” he tells us. “They don’t have better things. They do it with passion and love and [I was] not because [I was] looking at other things rather than my role.”
Now though, it seems like Atheer Adel knows exactly the roles he wants and do not want. He tells us he has to reject about 50% of the work he gets, if not more. “Although I really try to be an artist, it’s a business and it’s a very rushed business,” Adel says. He adds that you can’t lose your time on, for example, the role of a “black long beard guy that goes: I’m gonna kill youuu because you haven’t been a good wife mohoho!”
“You as an actor have one of the jobs that are not independent – you still have to find the inner braveness to be like ‘sorry guys I won’t be doing that.’ Maybe you’ll be in a situation where you’ll be sitting in a taxi and the taxi driver will tell you: ‘Yea Arabs are like that’ because he saw it somewhere in a movie.” Adel explains.
One type of role he will accept, though, is a role from what’s loosely referred to as “Hollywood.” It does seem like regardless of their baggage and background, most actors are in aura of big American productions, and according to our Iraqi actor, it’s not just about money.
“Everyone who works there behaves like a child. They are naive. They have passion. They do it as a game. They are positive. You work with someone that’s 60 year old and you see him in the morning and he’s like ‘this is gonna be a great day!’,” he tells us.
Adel has some funny stories from big sets and he chose to share one with us. It was just another casual make-up test day for the actor when he was offered to go say hi to Tom Hanks. “Because in the story I was playing with the young Tom Hanks which was another actor,” he explains.
When you’d imagine the story to get juicy and for Tom Hanks to get his first line on Scoop Empire, Adel tells us he categorically refused the offer. Why on Earth would any actor refuse to meet Tom Hanks when working on the same movie? “Because I was shitting [my pants] I was so scared. Tom Hanks is one of my all time heroes. I couldn’t do it. My stomach was tight close, I couldn’t breathe.” When asked if he regrets that absolutely irresponsible act, Adel seems pretty chilled about it, “I don’t regret it no because back then I know I would have fell down and maybe have some epileptic fit or something.”
“But now I met a few other people. I worked with Claire Danes in Homeland who was also in Romeo and Juliette that we used to watch as kids, so working with her was quite something for me,” Adel reassures us confidently.
So what Atheer Adel has to advise young actors that would want to get to the American or European scene too is to make their best to learn the great discipline the people have over there, and take in as much as they can. But always remember that we Arabs have so much to be proud of. He corrects, “I don’t wanna say Arab, because there are so many other people, there are the Kurdish, there are the Persians, the Berbers and I don’t know who I missed…”
Finally, another thing that Adel has realized over his years of experience in the field is that living in a predominantly white country doesn’t mean that most movies should include a majority of white people. “We are artists and we shouldn’t reflect reality, we should shape it. And we have always done that. So why shouldn’t we make a film with ten black families who are having a regular life in Scandinavia?” Adel regrets that not more directors are ready to cross that line of what the “norm” is or what the majority sees as “reality” and be more creative and artistic and innovative.
“Because even if the viewer is upset with that, he will be less upset the next time.”
By Anicée Gohar
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