Read Shockya's exclusive interview with British actor Mem Ferda, who portrays Kamel Hannah in the new biographical drama ‘The Devil’s Double,’ which is now playing in a limited theatrical release. The film follows Latif Yahia, played by Dominic Cooper, an Iraqi who’s forced to become a body double for Saddam Hussein’s oldest son Uday. Latif searches for a way to escape the new dangerous lifestyle he’s been forced into, after he discovers how sadistic and power-hungry Uday really is. Ferda discusses with us, among other things, what attracted him to the role of Kamel, and how he prepared for the movie.
Written by: Karen Benardello
Shockya (SY): You portray Kamel Hannah, Saddam Hussein’s body guard and food taster, in ‘The Devil’s Double.’ What attracted you to the role?
Mem Ferda (MF): What attracted me to the role was the actual story of Latif Yahia. He’s written three books, one’s called I Was Saddam’s Son. The other one was The Devil’s Double, and the sequel to that is The Black Hole. I read all three, and I really liked the actual story. I thought it was really well told. When the opportunity came up, the screenplay was sent to my agent. The actual role of Kamel Hannah, in the book The Devil’s Double, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to his death, because he was such an important person to Saddam Hussein. He was his body guard and his food taster. He was also his confidante, he would rely on him and ask him for advice about things. The actual death of him, where he gets attacked by Uday, in reality, in the real story, it was an electric kitchen knife that he used. It was very, very gory and frightening. In the film, we didn’t actually use an electric kitchen knife, we used a machete. But it was frightening. I wanted to do the role because I liked the idea of playing Kamel Hannah. Also, Lee Tamahori was directing. I was a fan of his film ‘Once Were Warriors.’ He also directed the Bond movie, ‘Die Another Day.’
SY: Did you have any reservations about playing Kamel in the film?
MF: Well, not really. I know Latif Yahia personally, and he always speaks about Kamel Hannah in a very good light. He was a good friend of his. Physically, I was not right for the role. Kamel Hannah was very tiny, a very small person with a high-pitched voice. (laughs) Very much unlike me, a big guy. But I had no reservations about playing the role.
SY: How much did you know about Kamel before you began filming the movie, and how much research did you do into his life before the shoot?
MF: Yeah, the research I did, I read the books that he (Yahia) wrote, and I read the screenplay. When I read the screenplay, I thought it would be a very interesting role to do. It was a challenge, really. I had to have a prosthetic stomach made up, with all the internal organs. I was carrying this big, heavy thing on my body, and basically they shipped you overseas. They took a body cast of my body, and they made three bellies, which they put in an iron chest. We had problems going through customs. We flew over with the special effects team with the bellies. They (custom workers) came up to us, asking what was in the bellies. They wanted to open them, but they couldn’t do that because there’s internal organs in there. But I knew it would be challenging psychically, doing that death scene. But I wanted to challenge myself, both psychically and mentally.
SY: Dominic Cooper played Uday in the film. What was your working relationship like with him?
MF: It was fine. Dominic actually graduated from LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) as well. We went to the same drama school. He finished his three-year course degree in 2000, I believe. I was doing my post-graduate degree in acting there. So we kind of crossed paths there. There was another film that I could have possibly worked with him on, ‘Momma Mia.’ I got the audition and the role, but I couldn’t do it because I had a commitment. I met him, and he was a great guy to work with, friendly. We practiced out the scene, which reassured me that we’d be fine. We did a couple of takes.
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