French actor Tahar Rahim takes on a new role as Lebanese-American FBI agent Ali Soufan in Hulu’s Limited Series, “The Looming Tower.” Rahim shares how he prepared for the role, and why it’s so important for the world to see the real account of what happened leading up to 9/11.

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CK What drew you to this role? Did you feel instantly connected, or did it take time to grow into it?

TR It took some time. My agent called me to tell me they were considering me for the lead of a television series about 9/11. I wasn’t convinced – I didn’t want to be typecast as a terrorist, but he insisted I read the first few pages. And so I did, and I was hooked. I’m not used to agreeing to a project without reading the entire script, but it wasn’t possible this time because the writers were still working. It’s a funny story though. I told the producers I was going to call Ali [Benmohamed], who is my agent in America, and they thought I was talking about Ali Soufan (the hero the series is based on), so they said, “Great, we will set up a Skype call.” I was like “No worries, I’ve got his number!” But of course they were talking about Ali Soufan. So Soufan called me the day after and we talked together for a long time, and I have to say, he was able to tell me so much more about the story and his life and what this project means for him and for America. From then on, I had to do it. It means something. It was bigger than me.

CK How did you prepare for this role?

TR To be honest, I was totally unaware of what happened before 9/11. I never knew that the CIA and the FBI were not sharing all their information with one another. I started by reading Lawrence Wright’s book as well as Ali Soufan’s book, “Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and The War Against al-Qaeda.” I then went to America and met with Ali in person. For Ali, you can either play his character by training yourself in his mannerisms, or, the more interesting approach I think, you can play him by truly understanding him and his feelings and relationships. You have to understand what it means to be an FBI agent, to be over-silent. You can’t share information with anyone – you are totally isolated.

CK You are French and Algerian – what are the tricks you used to hide your natural born accent?

TR I worked with a coach and I used something called “parakeeting,” which is essentially what it sounds like: talking like a parrot – repeating lines and repeating lines AND repeating lines all day long. It was much more than that though because I needed to understand Ali’s society and the ways he communicates. The lines are important, but it is what is underneath the words – sometimes you don’t and won’t understand it if you are not from that specific culture. I worked with two coaches, someone in France and another in New York. The coach I worked with on set in New York was a very precise dialect coach and helped me a lot. It’s just a question of putting in the time. Even for Arabic, it is not my language. My parents used to speak Algerian, but that is totally different. I had to learn Lebanese Arabic, which is so much harder than English.

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“It’s good.. to work hand in hand with one another to make the world a better place. To try to change things for the future, for our kids.”

CK What was the most moving thing you learned from the real Ali?

TR His values. He values, above all, respect, freedom, family and of course, America, his country. His love for his country is huge – he is always talking about his country, bringing it up in conversations, and that is something important. To play him, I needed to understand two Ali Soufan’s as there are two sides of him. The real Ali, at home in his private life, and the other one, the investigator searching for answers. There is a difference. He is totally committed to his work and craft – truly focused. And I wanted the audience to feel the difference between that Ali and the soulful, natural man who had been through a civil war as a child in Lebanon and witnesses his friend perish in front of him. The audience needed to understand that this was not the typical 27-year-old man – Ali felt the need to do good, to fight against injustice.

CK Why do you think it is important for the story about Ali and the FBI/CIA’s work to come to the screen now?

TR If you don’t learn about your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them. History repeats itself and it’s crucial to have reminders from time to time of what has, and could happen. I also think raising some questions is good. We want to teach our kids about this event that changed the face of the world. Knowledge is power, and it’s always a good thing to work hand in hand to make the world a better place.

CK Your film Mary Magdalene is coming out later this year and we just learned you’ll also be paying in Secrets From The Russian Tea Room. How does it feel to already have an incredible 2018 lined up?

TR I am happy about it – I am so glad things are moving right now. I did Mary Magdalene movie with Garth Davis, who is one of the most special directors I have ever met and I am saying that in a good way. Having the opportunity to portray Judas was unique and this Judas was more of a family man, so that was an interesting take and brand new enough. As for Lone Scherfig – I am so happy to be a part of her new film. I remember when I first discovered An Education I was blown away, and I started to follow her work closely. When she gave me a call about this script, I read it I saw there was a great balance between comedy and drama – which is rare. And the comedy isn’t just jokes, but humor from the characters themselves. It is great.


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CK We are asking the individuals we find to be extraordinary, #whatsyoursbjct? What moves and inspires you?

TR People. Watching people, talking with people, sharing with them. I think that is the best way to live – to know more about your neighbor. Wife, son, friends, family – people trying to be good and when you know more about people, then in acting, you will know more about your characters, always. Of course, I love reading and seeing movies but the most beautiful thing is being with people from different cultures. Culture is the richest, and the more you educate yourself about different cultures, the more you enrich your soul.


“Culture is the richest, and the more you educate yourself about different cultures, the more you enrich your soul.”

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