Sunday, May 3, 2015

Peyman Moaadi talks about 'Camp X-Ray' and Kristen with FilmInk (Australia)

Peter Sattler's beautifully acted, troubling, touching, and important debut feature makes it clear why America must close Guantanamo. The synopsis in the press notes: "A young woman (Kristen Stewart, giving her most mature performance, excels as Amy Cole) joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small town roots, but ends up as a rookie guard at Guantanamo Bay. Her mission is far from black and white, as she is surrounded by hostile jihadists and aggressive male squad mates. When she strikes up an unusual friendship with one of the detainees (Iranian actor Peyman Maadi, who follows the Oscar-winning A Separation with another extraordinary performance), both of their worlds are forever shifted. Written and directed by Peter Sattler, Camp X-Ray is a deeply human story of two people, on opposite sides of war, trapped and struggling to find a way to live together."

Was A Separation instrumental in your getting cast in Camp X-Ray?

Peter Sattler was a big fan of A Separation and it was a big reason I got this film. I was in Iran making Melbourne when my agent sent me the script. When I read a script, the first thing I focus on is the story. Maybe it's the writer in the me, but it's the experience I have had since A Separation. The film must be a good film. If the only award a movie gets at a film festival is Best Actor, it doesn't matter, no one will see me. If it gets a Best Picture award it will seen by a wider audience and will open more doors for the actors. So for me the story must be good, then the character must be good, and the third thing is the director. I didn't know Peter at the time. This was his first movie. I liked his script right away. But I had to read it again. The second time I went through it I focused on the characters. English isn't my first language so I had to focus on every word.  Then Peter called me. He wanted to see me so we spoke for about ten minutes on Skype.

It seems so odd to me that someone in Hollywood can Skype with an actor in Iran about being in his film.

There are a lot of things that are filtered in Iran but not Skype. The Internet can be slow and you often get disconnected but it's not something that can be controlled by the government.  A lot of my friends are in America and they Skype or Face Time with their families back in Iran.  I did that when I was here and my wife and daughter were there.

In the press notes it says Peter was reluctant to contact you because he wasn't sure you were right for the part.  Did he tell you that?

After he confirmed that I was in the film and we became really close friends he told me,  "I loved A Separation and I loved your performance but I felt I needed somebody louder, who expressed himself and didn't keep things inside."  He wanted somebody who would shout and laugh loudly...

But in A Separation you weren't particularly quiet or withdrawn. There was anger and shouting.

I know.  But what happened was very funny.  When Peter Skyped me, I don't know what kind of mood I was in that day but I had a very loud greeting, "Hello, Peter!"  I later told him, "Peter, don't worry about the loudness because I am very loud.  In fact, whenever I'm talking to my wife in public, she has to tell me to lower my voice."

Also in the press notes, he says he cast you because he saw the chemistry between you and Kristen Stewart when the two of you Skyped.

The next night the three of us met on Skype for about forty-five minutes because Kristen wanted to meet me. Then she said she wanted to see A Separation. She got a DVD and watched it and said she loved it.

So she hadn't seen your films yet?

No, but to be honest, I had never seen Twilight or any of her movies before, either.   So I had no prejudgments about her.  I saw her the first time at Peter’s home in Los Angeles and she was more than friendly.  She came to me and said, “I’m very happy to work with you.”  I asked Peter if Cole’s hair color will be blond or dark because in the movie, Ali always calls her “Blondie.”  He said dark, like Kristen’s natural color.  He asked me what I thought about that.  I said I loved it.  To Ali, all American girls are “Blondie.”  That’s funny.

What's great is that Cole accepts being called "Blondie." You and Kristen come from two different parts of the world, you have made different kinds of movies, her acting is very low-key while you are expressive and verbal. I do think it paid off for creating two different characters that you were so different as actors.

Kristen said, "Let's rehearse and talk.  Tell me about your style of working or let's create something together."  People come to me and ask, "How is she on the set?  Is she friendly at all?"  And she is. She was very thoughtful, very hard-working, full of energy, very eager to do something great. She was never satisfied with whatever she did, she was always asking for another take, saying "Let's do it the other way." I liked that very much.  It was very, very important to me because most of my performance was dependent on my partner. It was all dialogue between Kristen and me, it was like ping pong. I couldn't be a good actor unless I had a good partner in this film. So I was glad we rehearsed a lot trying different versions.

Did you talk to Kristen about what her character's reactions were supposed to be in response to Ali's imprisonment at Guantanamo and all the different ways he communicates with Cole?

I asked her what she was thinking about.  She was thinking a lot about these issues and about her character every day and she would tell Peter and me if she thought her character should react differently from what we had planned. And Peter would say, "That's true." And I'd say, "Kristen, can you do it for me because I need to know what I must do if you change your reaction like that." I'd say, "If you change something here, then we have to also change that other action." Peter would say, "Payman is a screenwriter and he remembers everything."

So was Peter accepting changes from each of you?

More than other directors I've worked with here, he's like Ashar Farhadi in that he leaves you to do whatever you want to do, minimise it or maximize it, and observes you to see what worked and what didn't work. He didn't talk to us and say for us to do this or that, which happens a lot in America. For him, performance comes first, then the camera.

Did you rehearse in the same place you shot the film?

We rehearsed and filmed at a former juvenile detention center [in Whittier, Ca.] that looked almost exactly like Guantanamo. We did this because sometimes you get surprised when you move from one location to another.  At the prison we rehearsed for two or three days with closed doors.  We wanted to determine what we could hear if the doors were closed between us.  I didn't have much space and Kristen didn't have much space so there weren't so many things we could do.

Even during, I imagine you sat close to each other.

We found some rooms and we tried to stay very close, to get used to the small space.  I wanted to watch Kristen very closely to make sure nothing was exaggerated. When you are close, you use your eyes to see all parts of a face.  There's big meaning in how the eyes go up or down or to the sides. We asked Peter to watch these things through the camera lens during the final days of rehearsal.

Were you told you would watch dailies?

I never developed the habit of seeing dailies, but for this film we had to do it because of the close shots.  We needed to see when we moved our eyes how big the movement was.   When I made my own film I didn't let any of the actors watch dailies. And the result was good.  But after this experience, when I make another film I will definitely show some dailies and rushes to my actors.

But while you were trying to get into Ali's character are you thinking always that he's someone who can't leave?Are you asking how does he exist? and how does he not go crazy other than by refusing to do so? And are you also thinking how heartbreaking his life is?

Yes, yes! I was thinking of that and many other things.  Ali is surely thinking, Where is my country?  Where is my family? Where are my friends?   He's thinking of his mom: they grabbed me and took me away and she hasn't heard of her son for eight years.  They're probably searching for me.  What is in the news about me?  Does everyone in my neighborhood now think I'm a terrorist?  Sometimes you get suspicious about yourself--what if I was a terrorist and did something I don't remember?  If I admit I did something and said, "I did it, hang me please," it would be end of story.  Those are things I thought he'd be thinking.

This movie makes us think that it doesn't matter if he did anything or not, but that he should receive due process and be treated humanely.

Exactly. We are not saying whether he's guilty or not. There are guilty people in Guantanomo who were caught doing terrorist acts and they deserve punishment-but punish them already, don't just keep them there without judgment or being subject to the Geneva Convention [just because they're called detainees, rather than prisoners].  Give them life in prison, even hang them but keeping them there is bad for not just the "detainees" but for the US government.  The people of America don't want this!  They just can't close it.

It will surprise many people to see Kristen Stewart starring in a low-budget film against the inhumane treatment of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay. Do you think it is important that Cole is a female, to contrast her even more with Ali?

It makes it more interesting.  I think it separates them more.  Cole could be a male and I think Peter wrote that character as a male. I like that it's a female and man and their relationship isn't sexual.  It's not about opposites attracting.  Before we were shooting we received a book two-inches thick, DVDs, photos, and links for Internet research.  I saw documentaries on Guatanamo and trials with lawyers talking about the prison and the issues.  I spent hours doing research and saw that the movie is very precise and correct about everything.  Everything in the movie is similar to how it really is in Guantanamo Bay. And there are female guards.

In the production notes, Peter Sattler says, "It's not a political film; it's a deeply human one." I don't agree. Often filmmakers will say their very political films aren't political because they don't want to scare away American moviegoers. But if we look at the human element and we start identifying with the people who are imprisoned at Guantanamo, then we start asking what can be done for them, including closing the facility – and at that point it becomes political.

That's 100% true.  That's good to hear.  I agree with you. You cannot say it's not a political film. When you say "Guantanamo Bay," you're talking about politics. When you say "terrorist" or "suspected terrorist," you're talking about politics. The focus is not on the political issues and that's what Peter was trying to get across. But we can't escape from the fact that there are political things in the movie and after you leave the theater you will think about the situation in the United States that has kept Guantanamo from closing.

Tell me about other projects that are out there already?

Melbourne was at the Venice and Zurich Film Festivals and it will be at the Cairo and Tokyo Film Festivals.  I'll try go but it depends on the schedule for the Criminal Justice series I'm doing for HBO.  It hasn't been on the air yet because James Galdofini was in it, and he died. We were in limbo for two years and now John Turturro is in it. He's absolutely great.

Were you surprised that in the United States you could make Camp X-Ray?

I was surprised.  You couldn't make such a film in Iran.  I'm very happy to see that's it's possible to make films like Camp X-Ray today.

Camp X-Ray is available on DVD and Digital from May 6 in Australia.


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