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Chris Ryan's Strike Back - Dhafer L'Abidine interview

Chris Ryan's Strike Back

Interview by Rob Carnevale

STRIKE Back star Dhafer L’Abidine talks exclusively to IndieLondon about appearing in the new Sky1 drama as Hakim Al Neseri, and why it shows that the UK can compete with the Americans when it comes to this level of entertainment.

He also talks about the challenge of playing such an extreme character, working with Richard Armitage and the diversity of a career that next sees him appearing alongside “the girls” in Sex & The City 2.

Q. You became a father for the first time recently and you’re starring in Chris Ryan’s Strike Back as well as Sex & The City 2… it’s a really exciting time for you…
Dhafer L’Abidine: Thank you and yeah, work-wise it’s been amazing and now to have a family also is incredible. But work-wise, Strike Back has just started on Sky1, Sex & The City 2 is also on general release from May 28, and I start something else on Monday in the Middle East, which will be on TV. So, it’s great.

Q. Strike Back is an exciting programme for British TV…
Dhafer L’Abidine: Absolutely, it’s good for British drama because when the money is there you can see the quality is really high. And that’s brilliant because it means that you don’t have to bring stuff over from the States. It’s time to see a British TV series that could go the other way… that could go from here to America on HBO. So, I think Strike Back is a very exciting prospect.

Q. How did you get involved?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Well, I read for the part and had a chat with the director and then got cast. The interesting thing for me was to do something action based, but also something that was thought-provoking. You do question whether what you’re seeing is morally right or wrong. For me, as an actor, it was a challenge to understand my character and to figure out what he is doing. You can’t be judgmental as an actor anyway… but try to understand why he’s doing things without judging whether that is wrong or right. This is his truth and finding that truth was very interesting to explore. He’s very far away from me. We’re so different. But I had to think how he’d react and understand his own truth.

Q. How did you go about finding that truth? Did you speak to people?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Well, I’m very interested in politics in general and in the Middle East and the world. I’ve watched a lot of news, seen a lot of films… my background is that I come from Tunisia, I’m an Arab speaker, so it’s part of my culture too, which means I know both sides. So, part of it was what’s written in the script, which gives you a lot of clues about the character, and part of it’s my imagination. They work together… my personal experience and what the script gives you.

Q. Was Chris Ryan ever on set?
Dhafer L’Abidine: He wasn’t there when I was there. It would have been great to actually meet him and talk about his take on it. He went through this type of thing in real life, he was in the Army, and he’s got a first-hand point of view.

Q. How was filming your big fight scene with Richard Armitage?
Dhafer L’Abidine: Richard is great. He was really good fun. He’s a hard working actor, really hard working, and is very focused. But that’s what helps to make things work. He wants to figure out how to do things properly and I like to work like that too. But he’s also a really chilled out guy, so it was easy to work with him. The stuff I had to do is quite intense but the relationship with my co-stars was very chilled.

Q. How did you cope with the torture scenes?
Dhafer L’Abidine: It was quite intense while we were filming because of the nature of the scene. But after filming everyone had a good time and a good laugh. But I think that translates to the work because it means you’re enjoying it.

Q. But how do you approach a day when you’re going to have to do some despicable things, especially to a woman?
Dhafer L’Abidine: It was a bit challenging. The situation was challenging, but you have to always remind yourself that it’s not you. It’s you doing it… of course not for real. But you have moral beliefs and you know what’s wrong and right. That said, you also need to keep in mind the character’s beliefs and the fact that this is his world. It’s his truth. So, that helps you in the moment. But of course it’s uncomfortable to do those scenes. And it’s an issue that’s close to my heart, coming from the Middle East, and one which is very sensitive. You have your own ideas and thoughts, so it challenges you constantly.

Q. Is it important for you not to get typecast in this type of role given your background? You’ve played terrorists before…
Dhafer L’Abidine: Yes, it’s important but luckily it’s not become an issue so far. My first job in England was when I did Dream Team for two years, playing a French footballer. I’ve done Strike Back, of course, but also Sex & The City 2 so I’ve tried as much as possible to keep it diverse. You can’t always be choosy but I wanted to be in Strike Back. The story itself was interesting in the way that it challenges you as a viewer, so I wanted to be part of that. I’m not going to be scared of taking on roles.

If the work is interesting, I’ll do it. And I knew I’d be in safe hands. I was working with a director who is so keen to do a good job. He’s very experienced. And you know that Sky are investing so much in it, so you know you’re in safe hands… everyone is pulling together in the same direction.

Strike Back’s explosive first two hours reviewed

Keep checking back with IndieLondon to read the second part of our interview with Dhafer and his experiences of working on Sex & The City 2 as well as Neil Marshall’s Centurion… as well as his journey from Tunisian professional footballer to bona fide TV and movie star.