The Kingdom - Ashraf Barhom interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ASHRAF Barhom talks about working on The Kingdom and why he believes it is a balanced and important film that deals with a sensitive issue in a positive way…
What appealed to you most about doing The Kingdom?
Ashraf Barhom: When I read the script the first time I thought it offered something different. I felt a positive attitude towards dealing with this sensitive issue. And when I met Peter Berg [director] I saw how much he wanted to make a balanced movie. It was a challenge for him. I believed in this message, which is a positive message, and one that was trying to build a bridge between two different cultures and two different mentalities.
How did you enjoy working with American actors – and Oscar winners – such as Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper?
Ashraf Barhom: It was really wonderful. It was very unique and special working with Jamie. He’s very talented. And Chris Cooper was really like a father on the set. He’s also a fantastic actor. It was challenging to work with them. When I heard that Jamie had won an Oscar it demands from me to fight hard to bring more qualities out from me as an actor. But I think Jamie, myself and all the team have made a good movie and we had some good, good moments on the set. I think you can see that on screen.
You have actually studied Middle Eastern politics?
Ashraf Barhom: Yeah, I started studying them at university besides theatre and Middle Eastern history. But I didn’t finish it.
Did that give you a greater insight into some of the politics and enable you to perhaps add things to the script from your perspective?
Ashraf Barhom: Not much. It’s a part of my background, of course, and I used what I still know but I didn’t think too much about it [during filming]. But I did have a little bit of background and knowing some of that history did somehow help me for sure.
What kind of research did you do?
Ashraf Barhom: Reading from books, meeting people who knew about the culture of Saudi Arabia, and doing some training – such as shooting and using guns, in order to know the techniques of fighting, shooting and driving. Personally, I’m an actor who likes to do a lot of research into a character and their environment, anything that can help me to build a character in a good way. At the same time, Peter Berg borught people who could help us by sharing their knowledge about the history and the culture. We used as much as we could to help us make it as interesting and real as possible.
You’ve mentioned the balance in the film but a lot of American critics have criticised the film for being too gung-ho and pro-American in its approach. Were you surprised by that, or expecting it?
Ashraf Barhom: I don’t think that American audiences look at it in that way – perhaps one or two of them. I don’t believe the movie is pro-American. You can choose to look at it in that way but I don’t believe that. At least, it didn’t try to be that way. I believe the director was really concerned about doing a real and balanced film in order to build a bridge and somehow make a meeting between two different cultures. I don’t think he was trying to justify any particular side, or judge another side.
How do you think Saudi Arabian audiences will react?
Ashraf Barhom: I’m very curious. I’m really waiting because I believe it’s very important to know how Saudi Arabian will react to The Kingdom, especially since almost all of the movie is taking place in Saudi Arabia. I really hope that the people there – and also Arab people – will find the movie as a good step towards keeping a good dialogue [between cultures]. I hope I won’t be disappointed. But at the same time I’m open as an actor and as a person to hearing reactions, even if it’s not agreeing with what the movie is trying to do. But I know all the crew made their best effort to deliver a positive movie.
How did making this movie compare to your experience on Paradise Now [the Oscar-nominated look at Israeli suicide bombers]?
Ashraf Barhom: It’s different in many ways but I view both of them as important and, for me, they’re both trying to inform people about another point of view. Art is important and it enables people to meet from all over the world and share the common things and really to be in a circle that can offer the chance for dialogue and trust.