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Yahoo! TV Q&A with Navid Negahban: The ‘Homeland’ actor talks about playing terrorist Abu Nazir

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You know a character is pivotal to a storyline when his name is uttered more than 20 times in a single episode. On this Sunday's "Homeland," you'll hear "Abu Nazir" a lot as the al-Qaida terrorist leader finds himself in the line of fire during a dramatic CIA operation designed to snuff him out. For the second season of the popular Showtime series, Navid Negahban has become a regular, so we'll see more of the interesting relationship he's developed with "turned" war veteran Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who -- because of Nazir -- has become an undercover operative for al-Qaida.

Although he plays the world's most-wanted terrorist on television, Negahban was disarmingly nice and unpretentious when Yahoo! TV caught up with him to find out more about this season's happenings on "Homeland." Born in Iran, the 44-year-old grew up during the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, before leaving at the age of 20 and moving to Turkey, Germany, and eventually America. After getting his show-biz start doing commercials and modeling, he transitioned to episodic work on TV and small movie roles. If you watched the Emmys last month, you know he scored big with his role in "Homeland," which won Outstanding Drama Series while leads Lewis and Claire Danes (bipolar ex-CIA agent Carrie Mathison) picked up awards for best actor and actress, respectively.

How are things on the set now that you're a series regular instead of recurring? I hope you were given a dressing room upgrade …

[Laughs] No, no, not at all. Actually, it didn't change anything. Everybody was treating me very kindly when I was a guest, and now that I'm a regular it's the same thing. The good thing about the show is, people know the gift that they have been given, so they appreciate it. I really enjoy being there.

Did you know the show was going to be a hit when you saw the first script?

My first reaction was, "Wow, this is a very brave story." I could see layers; I could see different dimensions. I hadn't seen anything like that, where the creators are so bold that they're taking everything under question. So let's just say I had high hopes for it. And here we are now and I'm talking to you, so we did good [laughs].

What can we expect for Abu Nazir this season?

You will see more of his influence inside the society. And as the connections and relationships ... Oh, I am always nervous I'm going to give something away [laughs]. Let me put it this way. Did you like the first season?

 

Yes, I started watching midway through Season 1 and was instantly addicted and caught up on all the episodes in one night.

I know how you feel. Well, then you're in for a treat this season. When I'm reading the scripts, I can't put them down. And I can't wait for the next one to come. I keep calling [the production office], saying, "OK, are we done with the next one? Can I read it?' That's how I am. So, let's see what's going to happen.

Did you get to go to Israel with the rest of the cast to film the first two episodes?

Yes, I was there for 15 days. We shot for Beirut in Tel Aviv and Haifa. What surprised me was the Israeli people's reaction -- how much they like the show. "Oh my God, 'Homeland' is here. 'Homeland' is here." I'm not sure if you know, but "Homeland" is based on the Israeli show "Prisoners of War." It was inspired by that show. So for them, it was like a homecoming. They were very proud. They were very excited. The whole city was unbelievable. The way that they were treating us -- oh, you should've seen it. Whether we were at the hotel, walking down the streets, or shooting, people would come up to us and offer us tea and sweets. What a great experience.

Even though you're the nasty villain on the show, they treated you so nicely? What's it like playing the bad guy?

It's fun. You get to do things that you'll never get to do in your real life [laughs]. But at the same time the villain of the show here is being considered a hero in other parts of the world. So it's playing the villain, playing the hero, and just playing the man. The good thing about the show is that you don't know who the villain is and who the hero is. It stays in the gray zone. It's really for the audience to judge and question, "What would I do in that situation? What if it was me?" And I think that's one of the reasons that the show is so popular -- the concept of deciding for yourself is new for viewers. It's not just sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. They are getting involved in the storyline.

Was there apprehension about playing this type of bad guy when it's based on a real-life terrorist group?

Yes and no. When I read the script, I just fell in love with the character. I fell in love with the material. It was a fascinating character. He's not just a villain. He's also a father. He's also a lover. He's also a teacher. So maybe his ideology is different, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have all the other qualities. But playing a role like this, it took a while for me to really dig into the backbone of the character. I had to read the news and look on the Internet and find similar people to educate myself and ask: Where are they coming from? What is it that they are saying? I just wanted to stay truthful to what I understood from the character, no matter what it is.

What has the public reaction been to your character?

The best reaction I got was in Israel. They didn't even know who I was, but everybody knew Abu Nazir. One of the comments, which I will never forget, was when we were in a coffee shop and a man came up to me and said, "I just want to say that by watching this show and seeing Abu, it is mind opening. It helps me to see the other side." That was the best compliment that anybody could've given me. It means the show is giving them an opening to view things from the other side and to see the different aspects of the same situation. There are two sides to every story. You just need to go through it and look at it from the other side. See what they see.

Your own background must give you an interesting perspective.

I grew up during the Revolution of Iran and the war between Iran and Iraq. The things that I saw. The impact. How it changes you. How it changes the way you look at the world. There are so many material things that you don't even care about because you think: OK, I'm breathing. That's good. Who cares if I'm driving a Porsche or I'm driving a pickup truck? It changes your values. It makes you appreciate life. And when you're going through your life like that, it just opens your eyes and opens your mind in the way that you look at people; you see them as who they are.

Most of your interaction on the show is with Damian Lewis, who plays Nicholas Brody. A lot of times it takes place over the phone or through a computer -- is that hard?

Even if it's over the computer, we are interacting with each other. That is the good thing about Damian -- he gets so deeply involved in the character, he's so invested, that you don't need to "act" with him. You just need to be. He is a giver. So he takes, he gives, and it becomes a beautiful game of Ping-Pong and the ball never drops. You go back and forth -- and get more and more excited about what you are doing.

How about Mandy Patinkin [Saul]?

Mandy, I've known him. I'm familiar with his work, and then I've also worked on an episode of "Criminal Minds" when he was on the show. He's an amazing person. Everything has an impact on him. He is very, very sensitive. He's a sensitive man. When we were in Israel, we went to the places that nobody else wanted to go. He pays attention to details. Most people might pass by and close their eyes and say, "Oh, I don't care about it." But he genuinely sits and spends time to understand it. And he's so invested in everything that he sees that when you are walking with this man, it opens your eyes to see things that you might have never paid attention to. So I really enjoy it. And watching Claire is great -- just sitting back there, you can just keep watching her. And Morena Baccarin [Jessica] is ... I just enjoy everybody. When I'm on the set -- even when I'm done -- I don't want to leave. I'm just hanging out watching. I just sit there and watch the process -- it's great.

Has anything changed behind the scenes with Claire being pregnant?

No, you don't see anything [different]. Nothing. She is pregnant. I don't know -- I've never been pregnant -- but I think sometimes pregnant women have their own moods, so you just stay out of it [laughs]. But, no, it hasn't affected her work. Nothing. She's good.

What do you like to watch or read when you're not working?

I like "Shameless." The first season I just watched it straight through. I literally didn't get up. I just had to finish it. Then it was: Now what? Now I have to wait until the next season? So, that was good. I like "Breaking Bad" and "Game of Thrones." I like that era. I like that fantasy world.

I know you're kind of busy with "Homeland" at the moment, but is there a show on the air right now you'd love to be on?

From your mouth to God's ear! I would love to be on "Boardwalk Empire." I grew up on Harold Lloyd, Charles Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, and those were the ones who inspired me. When I'm watching it, it just kind of takes me back to that era. I wish I was born in that era.

And wear a three-piece suit like Nucky Thompson?

Oh, yes. Well, I do have the suit, so they just need to give me the job [laughs].

Is there anything else we didn't cover that you'd like to add?

The only thing I can say is just please let us treat each other with respect. Maybe the world becomes a better place. That's all. Hopefully one day.

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