Lamborghinis in full rev across the Abu Dhabi Corniche, glitzy cocktail parties at Etihad Towers and a whirlwind heist that takes us to the depths of a prison in the UAE capital.
That's what you can expect from long-awaited heist film The Misfits, shot almost entirely in Abu Dhabi and due to be released in US cinemas on Friday, June 11.
Despite the film's stellar cast, which includes Pierce Brosnan, Tim Roth, Jamie Chung and Nick Cannon, the most striking star of the film is arguably city itself.
The film, directed by Die Hard 2 filmmaker Renny Harlin, does not only offer a dizzying (and dazzling) adventure around the city's landmark locations. Produced by FilmGate Productions and K Jam Media, The Misfits also marks the first Emirati-Hollywood joint production, a calling card to both the emirate's filmmaking capabilities as well as the UAE's acting talent.
Several supporting roles in the film have gone to actors from around the country. Milena Schwager, a member of the film’s casting department, was charged with finding the right people.
Her company, Geb TV Productions and Entertainment, manages several actors regionally and internationally. For The Misfits, Schwager says she wanted to pool as much talent from the UAE as she could. The task, it turned out, was easier than she anticipated.
“The producers went for my first picks,” the US casting director says. “They loved the casting reels and, after meeting the actors in person, brought them on board.”
Rik Aby: the prison warden
One of these is Rik Aby, a full-time actor living in Abu Dhabi who has worked on several local and international productions, including the action thriller Saaho and Until Midnight. In The Misfits, Aby plays the warden in a high-security Abu Dhabi prison. It's a role he says he had very little time for, but which he hopes may be considered his breakout.
"I had to memorise the script while coming back to the UAE," the Sudanese actor says. "I printed it the day before and read it on the nine-hour trip between Jordan's Wadi Rum, where I had been working on another project, and Abu Dhabi. The Misfits didn't take long to memorise because it was such a memorable, fluid script."
Aby’s first day on set was at Etihad Towers, for what he cryptically calls “the kitchen scene with Nick Cannon”.
“We did about four takes there. Everyone was having so much fun,” Aby says. He adds that the positive atmosphere inspired several out-of-script additions. “Nick was throwing stuff and I was throwing stuff back. We added so much stuff and the director was so supportive. The chemistry was beautiful. We really had a lot of fun. Every time the cameras went off, we’d break into laughter.”
He says the experience of working on The Misfits is a stride forward in the careers of all the actors from the UAE who took part.
“This is a launchpad,” the actor says. “I doubt if we were in any other part of the world, we would get this opportunity that we got here.
"So we count ourselves as very lucky and very blessed. We look forward to just seeing where we are going to go after this and we’re very optimistic.”
Ali Aburayya: the Lamborghini driver
It's hard to miss Ali Aburayya in The Misfits. He's the one driving Brosnan around the capital in the navy blue Lamborghini taxi. He says he didn't know what the role of the driver entailed until the day of the shoot.
“I thought I was driving a regular taxi,” the Palestinian actor, who lives in Abu Dhabi, says. “And then this Lamborghini pulls up. It was my first time driving a car like that.”
Aburayya, who lives in Abu Dhabi, had no idea it would be Brosnan sitting next to him until he saw the Irish actor striding towards the car. “He got in and saw my surprise and jokingly said, ‘Yup, I’m Pierce Brosnan'," he says.
It was also Brosnan’s first time in a Lamborghini. However, Aburayya says the former James Bond star was not too fond of the cramped interior of the Italian supercar. “He’s really tall, so getting in and out was a whole thing,” he says.
While Aburayya shot several scenes with Brosnan and the Lamborghini, including some in Dubai's Maktoum International Airport, the chance to zip across an emptied Corniche road in a car with more than 700 horsepower is what he remembers most fondly.
“I was lucky. Not everyone gets the chance to do that. The police had closed off the road for the shoot and I got to drive down the road with two police cars in front of me and another two behind me. It all felt very presidential,” he says.
Mohamed 'Feez' Hafez: the cellmate
Mohamed Hafez, who goes by Feez, is seen in the trailer of The Misfits sitting alone in the prison cell he is supposed to share with Brosnan's character, criminal mastermind Richard Pace. However, we soon see Richard has escaped the maximum-security prison, leaving Feez's character to tell the authorities how he managed to do it.
Feez, who lives in Dubai, had a healthy amount of screen time with The Hateful Eight actor Tim Roth. It was an opportunity, the Egyptian actor says, that gave him unique insight into how a Hollywood star approaches a role.
“He’s very on point,” he says. “I picked up quite a bit from him. The way he gets energy from his scene partner, the way he’s in character the moment he walks in the room.”
Feez says Roth advised him to think outside the box when playing a role. “He’s like, 'Do whatever you want, see how you feel about the character and just do it.'"
Majed AlZubaidi: prison surveillance officer
Emirati actor Majed AlZubaidi takes up the role of the prison’s surveillance officer, or, as he likes to call it, “the eyes of the prison”.
“One creative decision that was made in the film that I’m proud of is that my character wears a kandura,” AlZubaidi, whose acting roots lay in theatre and voiceover work, says. “Initially he was in uniform and then we decided why not have a local presence in the film?”
AlZubaidi also shared several scenes with Roth and says he couldn't forget seeing him in the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk, in which he played the antagonist Abomination, a gamma ray-mutated figure that towers over even the giant green-skinned hero.
“I was a bit scared of him. But that’s good because the dynamic between my character and his is to be intimidated by him. So that came in handy," he says. "But overall, it was a pleasure and a stepping stone in my career to act with someone like him. The way he carried his character, moulded him into the scene. It’s something that has stuck with me.”