Navid Negahban has worked steadily in Hollywood for years. He has appeared on TV shows like 24, Homeland, and is currently playing a recurring role on ABC’s Mistresses. He made headlines when he selected to play The Sultan in Guy Richie’s adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin. Navid will also portray the role of the Shadow King on the TV show Legion. Now he is set to appear in the upcoming biographical war film 12 Strong, where he will be portraying General Abdul Rashid Dostum. 12 Strong was released on January 19, 2018.
Screen Rant got a chance to chat with Navid Negahban on press day, where we discussed what it was like to recreate the story of 12 Strong, the portrayal of Middle Easterners in the film, and what we should expect from Guy Richie’s adaptation of Aladdin.
SR: This film depicts key battles that still have lasting effects in the Middle East. What was it like recreating this and were you familiar with the story?
Navid Negahban: I wasn’t familiar with the story at all and it was kind of fascinating for me to find out, Oh my God. These are the things that have happened and we didn’t know about it.
Navid Negahban: Getting to know the individuals who were involved in creating this movement, it was unbelievable. I mean, I met with Mark. I met with Bob and Mark and [mumbled] and they were telling me the stories and we didn’t know anything about it and what they went through and the bond and how, for example, the Afghan soldiers, how they were there. The first mission was to protect the American soldiers. JR was telling me that, “If anything happens to any of these guys and the person was responsible, I’ll kill you and I’ll kill the whole family.”
SR: Which they touched upon in the film with the boy.
Navid Negahban: They brought it in. Yeah.
SR: Which is interesting that you brought it up because, you know, usually when you see military films, it’s always about a sense of brotherhood, a sense of family, and it’s interesting because now they’ve bonded so well with the Afghan people, the Afghans, that they just took them in and it’s very interesting to see that relationship progress. And you made a great point at the press conference saying that it doesn’t matter necessarily, like we are the same essentially.
Navid Negahban: That’s what it is and one of the things that we forget and that we don’t realize. See, I grew up in Mashhad, Iran. Mashhad is kind of one of the cities of Iran that’s very close to Afghanistan and during the movements and everything that was happening, we had lots of Afghans come over, leave their families, and go back to fight. One of the things that was happening was that my mom, for example, was a school teacher, so there was lots of Afghan kids and through that I was able to get to know them and their culture and who they are. They are a very proud people, very honorable to the core. This is what it is. That is what you need to do. That is the way that is supposed to be and they were so friendly and they were so warm, so hospitable. Even when I lived in Germany, it was an Afghan family who, because I was on my own, an Afghan family that took me over and I had to go there every weekend for them to feed them. This is the culture. This is the mentality. They are very hospitable.
SR: You’re right! My best friend is Lebanese and you are completely right. It is the Middle Eastern hospitality and one thing that I do love about this film is that it depicts Middle Easterns in a positive matter, especially in this day and age.
Navid Negahban: In a true matter. Not a positive matter.
Navid Negahban: The thing is, one of the things that is happening we have projects here that were okay. They were there and just to feed ourselves. You create a movie that scares you and everybody wants to go see what it is about, but 12 Strong is a film, in my opinion, that doesn’t take side, shows you what has happened, and lets you judge it for yourself and that’s what I love about the film. That was what was important to me.
SR: It’s interesting you bring that about and, just taking it from a visual aspect because this is Nikolai’s first movie I believe, he comes from a photojournalist background. Is that any different than anything you’ve experienced before in the way he’d set up shots and portray the landscapes?
Navid Negahban: No because the landscape is one of the characters.
SR: Exactly! It’s like its own character.
Navid Negah: Without that, what Nikolai did, how he was able to, seeing the characters, seeing the actors, seeing how they relate to each other is one side of the story, but where they are and how tough it is for them to move and the bond that is being created because of the toughness, because of how difficult the movement is, that shows how human beings they, they forget about all of their differences when they are forced to move in the same direction. It doesn’t matter where you are from. It doesn’t matter what color. It doesn’t matter what nationality, what religion. I think all of us want to see that our kids grow up in an environment where they aren’t afraid to take a plane, so let’s get there. Let’s all of us join forces and go there instead of pointing fingers and going, “No. It’s your fault! No, it’s your fault! No, you did it!” Who cares? Let us create a ground zero and pick it up from there and build from there.
SR: I am actually really shocked by how much heart this movie has and, funny enough, even how much but not a lot, but it has a well placed sense of comedic timing, especially with your character when he calls the Taliban [mumbled]...it’s so funny. This was amazing. This guy has balls of steel.
Navid Negahban: He was like that. JR was telling me that this guy was so unpredictable. He comes and he walks. They are shooting at him and he starts walking and he says, “Oh, the bullets are not going to hit me. Are you coming? Let’s go!” This is who the guy was and he’s very playful. He’s very funny. Sarcastic. He tells jokes all the time. In the middle of the chaos, all of a sudden he finds something and starts laughing and they were telling me that his laugh was such a heartfelt laugh. That’s just who he is. I don’t know. Sometimes...I don’t know. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
SR: Not at all. Not at all. He still holds a lot of power in that region. He’s the vice president there. What went into the preparation and how did you want to depict a younger version of him? How accurate did you want to be with that depiction?
Navid Negahban: I wanted to be as close as I can be and one of the things that helped was Doug’s book and the script was giving me a kind of path that I had to move on. And then the depth of it, as Brian mentioned, Brian Williams, his book The Last Warlord, it gave me a different side. His was a biographical book. It showed how he grew up, what he went through, what he was fighting for and that was very helpful. Then, again, Brian, Mark, JR; they were very helpful to give me their point of view for Dostum. How they saw Dostum. And then I had [indiscernible], who came from Afghanistan and came to visit, he was giving me his opinion. And all of these things came together and created an image for me and then I wanted to be as truthful as possible. I even, my gosh, he is a very big guy. He’s very big and I was just all of the fast food restaurants became my best friend.
SR: [laughs] You were like, “Best job ever!”
Navid Negahban: No. No. I hated myself because I couldn’t move after that, but it was good. It was good. It was a character that also the Afghan people, the local Afghan people, and how they look at him and how they see him and some of them were fighting side by side with him. They were so old and playing Dostum and everybody would call me General and everybody was there and everybody would come help the guy playing Dostum.
SR: How is Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin going to be comparable to the classic Disney film and do you sing?
Navid Negahban: [laughs] No. My name is Singbad the Sailor so this is my name. I’m not a singer. My kids, they laugh at me when I start singing. Guy’s point of view goes deeper. One of the things he wanted to do and he was very, very cautious about it and he was emphasizing on that he wants to be very respectful to the characters.
SR: Of the original tale or the classic Disney tale?
Navid Negahban: The characters that he’s portraying in Aladdin. He’s very, very cautious. He wants to show the depth of each of these characters and the film itself will be a film that no matter how old you are, you’re going to enjoy it.
SR: I can’t wait.
Navid Negahban: It’s a fantastic team. Beautiful, beautiful team. I mean, you will see the costumes. Gorgeous! Unbelievable!
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