“If you don’t learn about your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” That’s one of the most important takeaways of the Hulu limited series “The Looming Tower,” according to actor Tahar Rahim. He stars as Ali Soufan, a real-life FBI agent who investigated al-Qaeda in the years leading up to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Watch our exclusive video interview with Rahim above.
Rahim had the opportunity to meet Soufan before portraying him, and he wanted to get to know him “just like two friends, to understand more about who he is in his private life so I could bring this to the character.” He was especially impressed by Soufan’s dedication at such a young age. He was in his 20s when he joined the FBI, while Rahim remembers his own 20s as “hanging out with my friends, having fun, parties, restaurants. I was not even aware about the fact that we could do something to change the world.”
All the while Soufan was straddling two worlds. Born in Lebanon, he moved to the United States and found himself investigating Middle Eastern terrorists who were perverting his Muslim faith. But understanding two cultures is part of what made Soufan a “better man.” Rahim explains, “The more culture you know” and “the more you understand people,” the more “empathy” you’ll have.
Rahim has also had experience taking in multiple cultures during his career. He’s a French actor of Algerian descent who has performed in multiple languages, even ancient Scottish Gaelic for the 2011 film “The Eagle.” For “The Looming Tower” he had to learn Arabic and Lebanese. In fact, the climactic scene in the finale episode, in which Soufan interrogates al-Qaeda suspect Abu Jandal (played by Zaki Youssef), was “10 or 12 pages all in Arabic. That was tough.”
That scene was also important in reinforcing the true nature of Islam as Soufan shames Abu Jandal with passages from the Quran he clearly hasn’t read. “In 10 minutes of the scene you make people understand what’s the difference between someone who understood his religion and another one who didn’t,” says Rahim.
Now the actor hopes younger viewers will learn “more about what happened so they can understand the world they’re living in. It’s important. The world has changed since 9/11.” While the events of that day are “part of American history, of course,” it has also become “part of world history.”
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