The Hollywood star Navid Negahban was so believable in his role as America's arch-enemy on the TV show Homeland that some of his fans confess they are scared of him.
But as he showed during a recent stint in Abu Dhabi shooting for the short film 51, the Iranian-American actor is actually quite likeable.
Humble, in fact. He smiles often and his eyes dance when he laughs.
But when the heat is on, there is one thing he is fiercely adamant about: his famous character, Abu Nazir, is not a terrorist; he’s just a man. “It depends on your point of view. I’m playing a man who has been put in a situation and is reacting to the situation.”
In Homeland, which also stars Claire Danes as a CIA agent, Abu Nazir was an Islamist mastermind seeking revenge for a US drone strike that killed his young son.
According to Negahban, “everything originates from love. Hatred doesn’t exist; it comes as the result of loving something.
“The man in Afghanistan and the man in America, and everywhere else in the world – they all have a son or daughter who they love. They have to take care of their families.
“It doesn’t matter who pulls the trigger – a soul is being lost.”
Negahban says Abu Nazir, who was Homeland’s central enemy, does not see himself as a villain. And Arab actors who refuse to play terrorists, for fear of the stigma such a role brings, should change their mindsets, he says. “Because already in their minds they see the character as a terrorist and they want to play him as one.” He adds that he would “have no problem” playing that type of villain again: “I would play all the terrorists in the world.”
Negahban started acting at the age of 20 when he left Iran and moved to Germany to work for a theatre company. Almost nine years later he moved to Hollywood and has since appeared in a multitude of TV shows, including The Shield, The West Wing, Lost, 24 and CSI: Miami.
But he says it has not been all smooth sailing. There were moments, he says, when he thought all hope was lost. “And then I turned the corner and suddenly I would see an opening.”
He used to take odd jobs, such as cleaning toilets at a German hostel, and would sometimes sleep under a bridge on his way home because he could not afford the transportation costs. “You name it, I’ve done it,” he says.
Taking the first step is all people need to accomplish their goals, he says. “Nothing is being handed to you. As long as you believe in yourself and you don’t let the outside world dictate who you are, you will be successful.
“But people are afraid of that step.”
Negahban says he is successful because he is “deaf to negative voices and sounds”. One of his favourite stories is about a group of frogs competing to jump up onto a high rock. The only frog that succeeds is the one that turns out to be deaf. “He could not hear all the others saying, ‘you can’t make it, you can’t make it’.”
A near-fatal car crash in 1998 was also a wake-up call, he says. As the car was hurtling down into a 150-foot canyon, he remembered all the things he wanted to do, but had never got around to. “After that I lived by the saying, ‘today is tomorrow’. Don’t wait for tomorrow.”
According to Negahban, many of his friends gave up on their dreams along the way, “but I can’t see myself doing anything else”.
The actor has finished shooting Homeland and will not be seen when season three comes back in September. The famously feared Abu Nazir died at the end of season two.
Just before his Abu Dhabi stint, the actor was in Canada shooting the feature film Words and Pictures, with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, directed by Fred Schepisi and due out next year. “They were fantastic,” he says. In the film he plays the headmaster of a private school, which was “something totally different for me”. He also has a play in the works and another project, which is still top secret.
Filming 51 in Abu Dhabi was exciting, he says. It was the first time he has done a movie in the region, which he says brought him closer to his roots. “I believe that we are good storytellers in this part of the world.”
From Iran to Hollywood, via Germany, Negahban has travelled far but stayed faithful to his heritage.
“When I went to Los Angeles, everybody told me I have to change my name, as there was no way I would get a job in Hollywood with it.”
Negahban means “protector” in Farsi, and his first name, Navid, means “good news”.
“I didn’t want to change it. I said at the time, there will come a day when people will be able to spell my name.”
The official trailer for season three of Homeland, which starts on September 29 in the US, was released this week
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