Abu Dhabi has been abuzz with the news that former James Bond Pierce Brosnan is in town to shoot gold heist thriller The Misfits with Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin, and co-stars Jamie Chung and Hermione Corfield. But it's one of Brosnan's lesser-known co-stars who perhaps brings the greatest intrigue to the story of the film's creation.
Executive producer and co-star Rami Jaber, who has a major role in the film as "The Prince," has a backstory as intriguing as any James Bond plot. The Palestinian actor grew up on the divided streets of Jerusalem before escaping to Finland, where he is now a citizen and resides close to the Arctic Circle.
Jaber carved out a career as a rally driver in his new home and in 2010, he decided he needed to do something new to please his sponsors. He came up with the idea of making a series of short films of him driving around Finland, and eventually elsewhere too, pulling off stunts and racing through the streets of European cities.
Path to Hollywood
The videos took off on YouTube, and Jaber’s sponsors told him to continue.
As his online popularity grew, Jaber began to dream of heading to Hollywood. "I was already spending over $1 million [$3.67m] on YouTube videos, so it seemed the next step to do something bigger," he tells The National in Abu Dhabi. "But before I could make a feature I needed to learn. How do you make a movie? How do you edit? All that kind of stuff, because I'd never been to film school or studied movies or anything like that."
By way of learning, Jaber brought in Prison Break's Robert Knepper, Rockmond Dunbar and Amaury Nolasco through his production company RNG Media to make the 2016 short, Fate, which achieved US and Finnish distribution and can now be found on iTunes. The same year, Jaber began starring in the long-running online action-comedy series Tough Love. His path to Hollywood was taking shape.
The idea for The Misfits was Jaber's own, and on embarking on his Hollywood journey, he teamed up with Sin City 2 producer Kia Jam, who he asked to find him a writer to turn his dream into reality. The established shorts writer Robert Henny was drafted in for his feature debut. The trio would spend the next three years fine-tuning the script, working day and night.
Finding their way to Abu Dhabi
The film was originally due to be filmed in Puerto Rico, but when Hurricane Maria struck in September, 2017, shortly before the shoot was due to begin, the team's proposed location was left in ruins.
It was at this point that Jaber's partners in RNG Media became crucial to the story. Qais Qandil and Jalal Abu Samir, who both have executive producer credits on The Misfits alongside Jaber, both live in Abu Dhabi. The pair had actually initially suggested Abu Dhabi as a shoot location, but Jaber admits that his US team knew little about the place.
With Puerto Rico no longer an option, the team decided to look into it. "Me, Robert [Henny] and Kia came to Abu Dhabi and we loved the place," he says. "I mean, the hotel we're in right now is amazing. I'm loving the views, and we all had a big welcome dinner last night to get to know each other before shooting starts. We spent almost 18 months rewriting the script for the new location and now we're ready to go."
It was Jam who suggested bringing in veteran action director Harlin to helm the project once the new script was complete, and after that big name was attached, Jaber says the stars came flocking to join the cast. The Abu Dhabi shoot is set to start this week and will last for 30 days, with further scenes to be shot in Los Angeles.
What to expect from the film
A number of local crew and extras will take part, and locations will include Louvre Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Etihad Towers, where production is based. For Jaber, who has never appeared in a feature film before, it's quite a challenge to make his debut opposite a screen legend such as Brosnan, but the rookie movie star says he has plenty of help on set.
“It’s a challenge, because I have a big role and about 90 per cent of my scenes are with Pierce, but I’m happy,” he says. “Robert coached me on the script for about three weeks and is constantly coaching me still, and I have Miranda [Davidson, from UAE casting agency and acting school Miranda Davidson Studios] on set as an acting coach too.
“I’m just really focusing on my acting and letting the other producers worry about the locations and the shooting and the practical side of things.”
The film’s distribution and release date are yet to be announced, although Jaber says – unsurprisingly given the strength of the cast and director – that some potential deals are “on the table”. As for the storyline, what can we expect to see as the shoot makes its way around the capital for the next month?
“Well, I can’t give too much away, particularly since we don’t have the distribution deal in place yet,” says Jaber. “But I will say that it’s about someone who has to steal something, but for a good reason, to protect someone they love.
“I suppose the closest comparison I could make is that it’s a kind of an Ocean’s 11-type thing. It’s definitely in that sort of area. You’ll have to wait to find out more.”