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Sex And The City 2 - Dhafer L'Abidine interview

Dhaffer L'Abidine

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FORMER Tunisian professional football player turned actor Dhafer L’Abidine talks about landing a pivotal role in Sex And The City 2 and getting to work with the girls.

He also talks about the ongoing appeal of the show, having to sign confidentiality agreements, handling celebrity and what made him switch from football to acting…

Q. How was the experience of shooting Sex And The City 2? How were the girls?
Dhafer L’Abidine: It was brilliant. Sex And The City is a massive show and the first film did amazingly well. You go there and realise that the girls are the show. They’ve been doing it for so long… about six series plus a film – it’s like going into someone’s home. So, initially you feel vulnerable. It’s not like building a TV show from scratch together. With this, you’re going into a massive, massive thing. But the amazing thing was that they’re so down to Earth and such nice, normal people. They’re very funny… and that makes them so easy to work with. So any pressure I felt going in soon disappeared because they make it so easy for you just to work. From the first day, I was able to focus on my work and I forgot that you’re actually doing such a big thing.

Q. What’s your role?
Dhafer L’Abidine: I can’t talk about it too much because I signed a confidentiality agreement. What I can say is that my character is the reason the girls go to the Middle East.

Q. So, do you start in New York and go to Abu Dhabi?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Yes, I work in New York and then I go over to Abu Dhabi with them, which was filmed in Marrakech.

Q. Were you a fan of the show beforehand?
Dhafer L’Abidine: I watched a few episodes. My wife is a big fan of it.

Q. What did she think when you got cast?
Dhafer L’Abidine: [Smiles and shrugs] Yeah, she was impressed. But I was so excited myself! It’s a massive show to be a part of and it has such world-wide appeal. Anywhere you go, Sex And The City is known by girls or guys. Even for the guys, it can be very interesting to watch Sex And The City because you see things from the women’s point of view. You can understand how they think… so that can be useful when it comes to chatting up women [laughs]. So for me, on the few times I watched Sex And The City, it was an interesting thing… an eye opening thing [laughs]. You start thinking to yourself: “OK, OK, this is how they think.” But that’s what made Sex And The City such a fresh show when it first came on TV. It shows you the inner world of women and how they think and talk. It’s so different from when boys get together and have a chat.

Q. What about fashion advice? Are you a snappy dresser?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Yes and no. But you’re right, Sex And The City is also known for the fashion… the shoes, the dresses, the colours. To tell you the truth, these women… whatever they wear, they always make it work – even though it wouldn’t necessarily be your first choice thing. When you see them wearing it, they tend to pull it off. It’s another element of the show’s interest value – combining fashion with the insights into the women’s world and some raunchy sex scenes. It’s all fun.

Q. You mentioned having to sign a form… is that a different world for you, being part of something with so much interest and yet so much secrecy surrounding it?
Dhafer L’Abidine: It is different. But when you film in New York, you begin to understand just how massive it is. It’s New York’s baby. They’re really used to filming in New York… almost every corner has been used at some point. But when you see Sex And The City, it’s amazing. So many people gather to watch. They’re looking through windows and stuff. There are so many photographers. So, you understand why they don’t want people to know much about the story. It’s a very specific thing. But that whole experience was new to me… to understand the rules of the game and accept them. But the interest in the show is still so massive.

Q. Is it also fascinating to see how they handle their celebrity? Did that teach you anything about that level of fame and scrutiny?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Yeah, but I think that even from working with them you begin to gain an understanding of how they’ve managed to do it for 15 or 20 years. They’re very level-headed, they’re genuinely nice people and very down to earth. They have to deal with such crazy things… especially the girls, because most actors can be famous in their own country, or in a few countries, but with them it’s so global. But they handle it really well because they understand it, they understand the system, and they’re level-headed enough to deal with it. So, it’s been a real eye opener.

Sex & The City 2

Q. You also recently did Centurion, which is completely the opposite to Sex And The City?
Dhafer L’Abidine: [Laughs] Yes, I was like: “Well where’s the blood here?” I had a small part in Centurion, but that was very exciting for me because I got to do a scene with Dominic West. I’m such a big fan of his and I watched The Wire. It was a lovely scene… there was a lot of blood in it. But that’s the beauty of what we do… one day you’re playing a terrorist leader on the set of [Chris Ryan’s] Strike Back, which is more political, then you’re surrounded by the glamour of Sex And The City, which is a different world completely, and then you’re in Scotland filming a historical action thriller like Centurion.

Q. You’ve had an amazing journey since coming over from Tunisia. Didn’t you come over initially as a professional football player?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Not quite… I played professional football in Tunisia until I was 23 and then I went into modelling and different jobs. But I came here 10 years ago to study English. I didn’t speak English at all when I arrived here. But then I went to drama school, and just before finishing that I auditioned for Dream Team and I got the part. I was playing a French footballer for two series. It was amazing… such a perfect start. I was acting and playing football at the same time. But it was an amazing journey from arriving here and not speaking English to going to drama school and getting my first job. Things have been moving ever since, which is great. But you can’t plan it. You can’t plan a journey like that. I just keep faith, keep open minded and go for it. I may be successful, I might not, but I want to be able to say that I enjoyed the journey.

Q. What made you decide to switch from football to acting?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Basically, I had issues with my contract and stuff. The rules were changing in Tunisia. With my situation, I had to stop for two years and I got injured. It was a complicated situation. I would have been coming back at the age of 25, I would have had to start again, and yet I already had friends of mine who had played in the World Cup. So, I felt low about it. I didn’t want to start again at 25. I wanted to play at a good level but feared getting injured again. I found it really disheartening, so decided to stop there. I’ve always loved watching films… I used to have a rental shop near where I lived and was always there. So, I wanted to go on and do something I was passionate about, and so I found myself doing courses, working as a second AD, third AD, a runner on set… just to see what was happening. Then I went to drama school.

Q. Which actors inspire you?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Oh plenty… I love watching them. For me, my favourite films of all time are The Godfather trilogy. The second one, in particular, is amazing… De Niro, Pacino – they’re the big guys. I like that style of acting, the edginess of it, finding the truth of it. I love Goodfellas as well.

Q. Do you ever get intimidated by appearing alongside your idols? You’ve worked with Harvey Keitel before…
Dhafer L’Abidine: Oh yes [laughs]. That was extreme. You get on set, they say “action” and suddenly you’re doing a scene with the guy who did Taxi Driver, The Piano… all those great movies. And you have all those amazing scenes flashing in your mind. But then again, what’s great about these people and one of the reasons they’re still doing what they do, is that they’re just very nice people. I mean that guy… he’s been doing what he’s doing for 50 years or so, but you’d think that he’s actually just doing his first job. But he’s so professional, so on it, so in the moment and so enthusiastic that you think to yourself: “OK, this is the way to go. This is someone who has been in massive films and yet he’s still doing it.” It’s so inspiring to see. And it makes it easier for you when they’re nice – it makes it easier for you and you want to raise your game. But it’s great to be able to work with your idols as well.

Q. Would you like to direct one day?
Dhafer L’Abidine: I would love to. But for now I just want to get more experience and learn. The more you do, the more you learn, so hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to. But directing takes a long time… there’s preparation, filming, post-production, financing. It takes time. But it would be a dream.

Q. Will you stay based in the UK?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Yeah. My family is here, my wife and new daughter. But London is a great place to be – it’s so close to Europe and Africa. It has good air links. It’s an industry that keeps moving you to different places, of course, so we’ll see. But the important thing for me is to stay happy and to keep it all together.