Sasson Gabai in 'Human Cargo'

Israeli cinema exports terrorists

(Video) It used to be a routine procedure: Sasson Gabai, Alon Aboutboul, Dan Turgeman and others cast as Arab terrorists in Hollywood films. How did Israel's actors become the ideal terrorists, and what do they have to say about it today?

VIDEO - Multi-million dollar Hollywood productions on the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan may already be in the works. They'll have all it takes to become box-office hits: Explosions, gunshots, action, politics and patriotism, as well as American heroes on the one side and an Islamic villain on the other.


It's safe to assume that the fighters will be portrayed by someone like Ben Affleck or Mark Wahlberg. And who'll play the Saudi arch-terrorist? Perhaps Alon Aboutboul, Liron Levo or some other Israeli actor.


These days, Hollywood studios may not wish to cast an Israeli actor for the role of the al-Qaeda leader, but some two decades ago it was a routine procedure: Leading Israeli actors were given the roles of Arab terrorists and other dubious fellows in low-budget action films.


Aboutboul, Dan Turgeman, Sasson Gabai, Juliano Mer-Khamis, Uri Gavriel and many others, all played violent and cruel terrorists as part of their cinema "internship" abroad.


Uri Gavriel in 'The Delta Force'


The first to recognize the potential of the high-quality Middle Eastern manpower in the Holy Land was Menahem Golan, who produced and directed countless action films through his Cannon Films company.


In the 1980s, most of these films were about the Cold War and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. But upon the Communist bloc's collapse, Golan and other producers were in need of a new enemy. Reality provided them with one – the Islamic terrorist. And who better than the Israelis to portray this character?


The opening shot arrived as early as 1986, with the first movie in the "Delta Force" series. Alongside a group of American stars led by Chuck Norris, one can spot the bearded faces of Uri Gavriel, David Menachem, Menahem Einy and Avi Loziah as Lebanese plane hijackers.


The film was inspired by Menahem Golan's "Operation Thunderbolt" (1977), in which most of the Israeli actors – led by Yehoram Gaon – got the roles of the "good guys".


'The Delta Force.' Pioneering


After the great success of "The Delta Force", films shooting locations in Israel received a significant boost, as did the local population of actors. Action films were shot on a production line, combining well-known American action stars with leading Israeli actors, unknown to the world.


Dan Turgeman, for example, played a terrorist in three different films in 1991-1992. From Hussein in "Delta Force 3" to Sayyed in "L'Amérique en Otage" and Mahmoud in "Hostages".


Giat, Aboutboul and Mer-Khamis in 'Deadly Heroes'


"At the time it was much easier for the Americans to shoot films in Israel, mainly because the insurance was cheaper here," explains Turgeman. "They came here, hired good production people and discovered the landscape, which was perfect for a story taking place in Afghanistan, for example.


"And while they were at it, they also cast local actors as terrorists. We have a Middle Eastern appearance. Our look was what they needed. It was like a production line. They brought two or three stars, and the rest of the cast was Israeli."


Why didn't they cast Arab actors in your opinion?


"The American directors came to make a film about the good defeating the evil, and did not want to get into political conflicts. The terrorists in the films were portrayed as difficult and problematic characters.


"I have no doubt that the roles were offered to Arab actors, and that after reading the script they had a problem with the way Arabs were presented, for ideological reasons."


Imperfect Muslim terrorists

After taking part in 1987 in "Witness in the War Zone" (starring Christopher Walken as a journalist in refugee camps in Lebanon), alongside Amos Lavi, Moshe Ivgy, Arnon Zadok, Gabi Shoshan and Yigal Naor, Sasson Gabai landed a role in "Rambo III" (1988) and shared the screen with Sylvester Stallone.


Sylvester Stallone with Sasson Gabai as Mousa


Although he played an arms dealer, who cooperates with John Rambo, this paved the way to less prestigious productions, including the role of Marwan Khreesat who was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing in "The Tragedy of Flight 103" or arch-terrorist Khalil in "Blink of an Eye" (in which Uri Gavriel portrayed the "good Arab").


Gabai as a terrorist in 'Blink of an Eye'


Michael Paré, who starred in "Blink of an Eye", found himself as a Navy SEAL in "Deadly Heroes" (1993) dealing with a series of terrorists, this time Latin for a change, played by Israeli actors Aboutboul, Mer-Khamis and Galit Giat.


"I have nothing to say about 'Deadly Heroes', not at all," said Giat when she was asked about her rare experience. It seems Alya the terrorist is not a role she takes pride in.


Threesome. Giat, Aboutboul and Mer-Khamis in 'Deadly Heroes'


As opposed to Giat, fellow actor Aboutboul, who also worked with Paré in "Killing Streets" (1991), built himself a successful career abroad in the "bad Arab" roles. In 2008 he was cast as Al-Saleem, who is being pursued by Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies". He recently participated in TV series "Castles" as shady Fariq Yusef.


David Menachem with Hanna Schygulla in 'The Delta Force'


Turgeman is actually pretty satisfied with his Hollywood typecast. "I didn’t really have any hesitations," he says. "The Americans were the only ones who could offer me a bad guy role.


"It's an interesting experience. They didn't know me, so it was easy for them to give me these roles. Besides, we are talking about pampering Hollywood productions. In 'Hostages', for example, we spent three months in Rhodes.


Turgeman breaks into studio in 'Delta Force 3'


"The production was unique, and the sets' magnitudes were different, with 2,000 extras. It also helped me professionally. I played a fanatic student, who leads part of the revolution, which is different from another suicide bomber like in 'The Delta Force'.


"It was a prestigious and rewarding production – it's a major league. Had I gotten stuck in it I may have regretted it, but I have done many other things."


What kind of talents does one need in these roles?


"Luckily I speak Arabic, although our English, any way you do it, will always sound foreign. Language is an important element in terms of reliability.


"As an actor I really delved deeply into the matter, asked where my character came from and why it does what it does. In my case as a combat soldier, I have a deeper orientation. Firing a weapon is part of my DNA."


Different kinds of Arabs too

In the Israeli cinema, however, when Turgeman played the role of an Arab (George Kouri in "Esh Tzolevet"), he was required to show more depth and sensitivity, just like Gabai as an Egyptian in "The Band's Visit" or Aboutboul as Amin Khalidi in "Streets of Yesterday". It seems Israeli filmmakers are much more sensitive to the Arab characters and don't just view them as terrorists with no feelings.


"I played many Arab characters, and each one is different – George Khouri, or the Egyptian officer in 'Avanti Popolo' or the terrorists. The approach is completely different in each one," says Turgeman.


"When you portray an Arab in an Israeli director's film, there is a deep dialogue and you try to delve in. With the Americans, as an actor you look for the character and its colors, because as far as they're concerned – the terrorist is just a terrorist.


Turgeman as Hussein the terrorist in 'Delta Force 3'


"Within myself I tried to find all kinds of justifications for the terrorist's reasons for doing what he does, for the situation he's in. I didn't just focus on what the American directors asked me to. Not even in 'The Delta Force', when Hussein commits suicide in a live studio. There is an internal dialogue going on inside you."


Yigal Naor (who played PLO representative Mahmoud Hamshari in "Munich", Saddam Hussein in TV series "House of Saddam" and a traitorous Iraqi general in "Green Zone") looks for the depth in the characters of the dubious guys he portrays, but as opposed to Turgeman, he is basically opposed to roles of terrorists in different action films, although he says he has received such offers.


Naor as Saddam Hussein


"I have turned down quite a few such offers," says Naor. "I am against labels. And these are crappy roles of Muslims from a stereotypical point of view. I understand that it's about being pampered and that the feeling of working abroad is better than working in Israel, but it's not my thing.


"I went for more complex characters, because the fact that I speak Arabic and English and have a Middle Eastern look is an advantage, and I must be a pretty good actor too. I don't think that today Israelis are favored over Arab actors. The considerations involve physical resemblance to the character and your acting abilities."


Would you play bin Laden?


"Even if I were willing to play the role, I don't look like him. In any case, I have no problem doing it. You must remember that I'm the actor. It's art, and I'm not a bad person just because the characters are defined as bad.


"In any event, playing Bin Laden isn't such a bargain. In Hollywood films the American soldier and the American unit are the heroes, not the Arabs. This is why I did Saddam – in order to explore his story, not the West's."


Turgeman, on the other hand, believes bin Laden is a fascinating character. "It's not simple but it's a great challenge as an actor," he says, admitting that there are some terrorists he would have reservations about portraying.


"I think that if I have to work one-on-one with a terrorist who murdered children and families, I would have a problem with it," he says.



פרסום ראשון: 05.10.11, 18:14
 new comment
This will delete your current comment