Homeland has become more than just a show, it’s become a cultural phenomenon. Navid Negahban has been a crucial part of that as the show’s enigmatic villain Abu Nazir, a character seeming to pull all of the strings.
With the second series of the show keeping us enraptured every week, we talked to the Iranian star about Abu Nazir, why he thinks it’s been such a success and rumours about his cooking ability.
So what’s it like being a part of one of the most critical adored shows of recent time?
It’s great to be a part of this show, it’s been a great ride. I didn’t expect the love that I’m getting, and the character’s getting from the audience. It’s fantastic.
Abu Nazir’s not just a cookie-cutter villain though. Is his depth what drew you to the part?
Yes. At the beginning, after I talked to Alex and Howard, we sat down and talked about the character, and read the script we realised that Abu Nazir was someone fighting for his rights. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter what he does or what his actions are, what he believes he is doing is the right and proper thing. So that created some layers that drew me to the character. I loved it.
How did you prepare for a role like this?
Well, they gave a bio about the character. That had where he was coming from, what he has been through, that the character has studied in America and what he’s been through there specifically. There are a variety of personalities out there who have a similar background, but I think Abu was really born during the pilot when I was working with Damian [Lewis] because the moments we had were so rich. I think that really created who Abu is right now.
Does being made a series regular for series two feel like a reward for you?
Yes, of course. As an actor, you coming in and becoming a series regular just shows that what you’re doing or what the character’s doing is important to the show. So it validates you.
Has playing Abu Nazir had an impact on you?
Playing him has just given me a different point of view. I think it’s the same thing that’s happened to the audience. We never try to get to know the other side and I think that playing this sort of character gives you a different point of view.
Also, as an actor, when you’re going in, you’re studying the character and trying to figure out all the layers. Then you sit back, you look at it all and think ‘Oh, OK, I see, I understand’. Right or wrong, as an actor you get to understand a person’s actions.
Personally, why do you think that Homeland’s found such an audience?
To be very honest, I think Homeland is a revolutionary show right now for our times. Especially in the West. It’s a show that doesn’t give you all the answers, it raises questions, makes you think about it and look at yourself and your surrounding environment and sit down and say ‘How would I behave in that situation?’ I think the audience was hungry for that.
Maybe that’s the reason why the show’s been so successful, because I talk to some of friends and they say that the show’s really stimulating. It makes them think and have discussions about the show and the events that they have seen. That’s what makes the show so interesting. It’s all about how you look at it. Everybody’s a hero and everybody’s a villain. We have that good and evil inside of us and our heroes might be perceived as terrorists somewhere else.
What’s it like working with Damian Lewis?
Working with Damian is great, as was David Harewood, he’s just fantastic also. With Damian, when you get into a scene, you forget about the set or the environment because the connections so strong that you’re just reacting to each other. That’s a good thing that you get from Damian, because he jumps in and he goes for it. He even went to the mosque, just to study the prayers. I enjoy every second of it.
What’s it like being an Iranian actor in America?
It was tough road. I’ve played Russians, Italian, Turkish characters, but the characters that have gotten the attention have been the Middle Eastern characters because they are very tense in character. It was getting to the point when you’re getting parts just because you are able to create that illusion.
In Germany I never had a problem like that, I played a variety of roles. They just looked for an actor who could create that illusion, who can portray a character. Here in America it’s been a little bit difficult, but I think I’m getting there. It’s a journey we all go through.
You spent several years on stage in Germany, so what’s the biggest thing you learn there?
In Germany, everything was very disciplined. That discipline that I got from working on the stage there came in very handy here in the US. For example, one time this director was giving instructions as to the emotions he wanted on every single line, even every word. It makes you stop thinking, and you become the instrument instead. To me, it came in very handy working here because it allows me to switch between emotions very quickly in a moment and give them whatever they want. I can go back and forth between emotions. That was one of things I learnt in Germany, just to let go.
We’ve heard that you’re a rather excellent chef. Is that true?
(Laughs) People say that? Well, because my parents were working so much, a lot of the time I was raised by my great-grandmother Bibi and she was always in the kitchen. So, I would sit and watch explore. I think I’m okay. You’re not going to end up in the emergency room if you eat my food, let’s put it that way.
So, what’s next for you then after series two of Homeland?
There’s a play that I’m really passionate about and I want to do that, I haven’t been on stage for a while. We’re talking about it and when I’m visiting London in December for a couple of meetings, but keep your fingers crossed because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
I wish I could talk about it more, but it’s the story of a Palestinian who becomes a surrogate father to a young Israeli boy who becomes a commander on the West Bank and how their relationship was built and gets destroyed because of outside influences. It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece. I have never read a piece like this, and I’m not a cry baby, but when I read it brought tears to my eyes.
Homeland airs on Sunday nights of Channel 4 at 9pm.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith