What was the draw of Baghdad Central?
When I first read the scenes for my audition, I immediately felt Zubeida’s voice in my head. I was thrilled to finally be given the opportunity to be tested playing a strong Arabic role. It doesn’t happen every day that strong Arabic female roles are written, and happily, there I was reading just that in Stephen’s script. I was on a vacation visiting my family back in Palestine and I had one day to tape my audition before traveling back to California. I managed to ask a friend of mine who is a female filmmaker to help me tape it. We did it on a roof top overlooking my home city of Haifa – I felt Zubeida was there with me.
How would you describe Zubeida?
Zubeida is an independent, strong woman with high aspirations. She is a university professor; a well-educated, single woman. She plays her cards carefully.
She is patriotic and believes in a free Iraq and wants to be part of it. Yet she lives in an occupied dangerous place and takes serious risks to reach her goals. She wants to empower women, especially her students. She wants them to be independent and free. She’s totally dedicated to both her job and students.
How did Zubeida become involved in the resistance?
I think she knows it’s a masculine world we live in. You can find that, in any oppressed country, women are always mistreated. Women disappear never to be found. Women are raped and killed and nobody cares. I think Zubeida is a woman who wants to say: stop, it’s time to deal with this. And, being a respected professor, she wanted to use her position to effect change in her country.
What does she think of Khafaji?
She is sceptical. She doubts him. He was, after all, a former police inspector under Saddam. But, he’s also the father of Sawsan, her smartest student who she holds so dear and wants to protect. A part of her can feel Khafaji’s deep sadness, grief and his profound worry and love for his daughters.
Which of Zubeida’s characteristics did you particularly relate to?
I relate to her being a strong, independent woman who wants to help other women. I relate to the struggle of woman in oppressed society who are fighting to be heard and recognised. I relate to her using her voice as a woman. I always strive to teach my daughter not to give up and to always fight for her rights.
Where are you based and what is your own background?
I was raised in Israel to a Palestinian family. My father and brother are actors. I was privileged to study acting 20 years ago. My family always supported me through all my 20-year career. For the past eight years I’ve been living in the Californian countryside with my husband and two kids. I’m happy to be away from the conflict of Israel / Palestine and to raise a better generation.
How will Baghdad Central resonate?
It’s about time that mainstream TV depicts the “other side” using real human perspective. So, not just soldiers suffering in war but showing that there are real people with genuine feelings and everyday needs in Iraq too. That there is a real human struggle to survive and people who love, feel and care.
Women are central to this story, especially highly educated ones...How did the invasion ultimately make matters worse for women in Baghdad?
Women are always the victims of war, no matter if they are educated or not. The question is how they survived in this cluster of chaos - you have to use all you’ve got to survive.
The cast is incredibly diverse…what was filming like?
The cast was incredible. Everyone was devoted to telling this story. I made a lot of friends there and some became like family. I loved the fact that women were exec and associate producing and directing! And, of course also I got to see beautiful Morocco, where we shot.