Being Osama bin Laden
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If I had known that my nostrils poking out of a body bag would be the main feature of my performance in Kathryn Bigelow's film Zero Dark Thirty, it would have saved me eight weeks of heart palpitations as I prepared for my role as Osama bin Laden. How does one play the global face of evil? My journey to becoming bin Laden started in March of last year, when I got a call from a casting director in London, who said she had been trying to get hold of me for a week — apparently the phone number I had registered on the Spotlight database, an online resource used to contact actors, was an old one. I apologised. She asked if I could come in the next day. I said yes, what for? She said she couldn't tell me.
The next week, I was offered the part of the world's most notorious terrorist. My first reaction was an expletive that cannot be printed here. I am a 29-year-old native Londoner, a moderate Sikh with a drama degree from Royal Holloway, University of London — a pretty far cry from a 54-year-old Saudi multimillionaire-turned-terrorist who had been on the lam for nearly a decade. I guess I do look a bit like bin Laden — I am 6 feet 4 inches tall, about what he was. I have brown skin and a prominent nose, but it's not as though anyone has ever stopped me in the street and shouted, "Hey, aren't you bin Laden?"
It's not that easy to be an actor of Asian ancestry in Britain or America. There are fewer leading roles for us, but then again, there are also probably fewer of us going up for those roles. Of course, the problems of Asian actors can't be compared with the suffering of both Sikhs and Muslims who have been targeted and killed in hate crimes.