Baghdad Central: Maisa Abd Elhadi

Baghdad Central: Interview with Maisa Abd Elhadi: Zahra

Category: Interview, Press Pack Article

What was the attraction of Baghdad Central?

There were three things. First, the story is being told from an Iraqi perspective, which is important. We see a lot of projects that are supposed to be telling an Arab story but are from an American point of view, which is a big difference. Secondly, I liked how powerful Zahra becomes. She starts working with the Americans as a translator, then realises she has made a mistake and is helping the wrong people. So she decides for herself what to do next and goes her own way. The third thing was working with Alice Troughton, whose work as a director I knew already. I had one scene where I had no clue what to do, but Alice helped me through and reminded me of Zahra’s drive. She goes into every detail with every actor.

Does Zahra welcome the arrival of the Americans?

Not really. She started working with them because the money was good without knowing really what that would mean. Working as a translator in the Green Zone, she finds out a lot of secrets regarding Iraqi women and Iraqi money. She realises that she’s helping the wrong people and working at the wrong place, so she becomes an Iraqi resistance fighter and becomes friends with Sawsan (Leem Lubany).

Are they part of a movement?

They’re not, but at the same time, they’re not a big group, just a few young people who love their country and are giving their all for it. They believe that if they work together that can make things better and make things right. They want justice and freedom and to live in dignity, but it gets out of control.

Is she prepared to die for the cause?

Yes, I imagine she’s been through a lot since deciding she didn’t want to work with the Americans and reached the point where she has nothing left to lose. That’s when you’re afraid of someone, because it means they’re willing to do anything.

How much did you know about these events?

I knew a bit but meeting real Iraqis like Dr Abbas Abdulghani opened a lot of doors. He was our dialect coach who himself had a very difficult experience in Iraq during the American invasion. It was very important to know those small details that I couldn’t hear from anyone other than Iraqi people. During the American occupation, everyone who worked as a translator was considered a collaborator, but it wasn’t an easy situation. If you’re drowning you grab onto anything you can to survive, so I can’t judge them for it.

What does it mean to you to be making this show?

It’s very important for me – artists have a responsibility to tell the truth and fight propaganda. I’m Palestinian but I still have a responsibility to every nation who has gone through occupation. It’s important to tell the story from the Iraqi point of view, to see them as human beings. I have to be honest to my character, the script and to Iraq.