Actor Khalid Abdalla on The Kite Runner: The RT Interview
Meet the actor who learned to speak fluent Dari for his role as Amir.Khalid Abdalla would hardly seem a candidate to star in The Kite Runner . He hadn't read the source novel when he auditioned for the role of Amir (the character's journey back to Afghanistan to atone for childhood mistakes is the story's main plot), didn't speak a word of Dari, and had acted in only one prior film. But that film was the Oscar-nominated United 93, and his memorable performance as Ziad Jarrah happened to grab the right people's attention.
In Rotten Tomatoes' second Kite Runner interview (you can
read our interview with author Khaled Hosseini
while our interview with writer and novelist David Benioff will run later this
week), we met with Khalid Abdalla in San Francisco to discuss Afghanistan, his
relationship with the children on set, and why The Kite Runner (opening
this Friday) is quintessentially an American story.
Were you a fan of the book before auditioning for the role of Amir?
Khalid Abdalla: I always wish I could say that I read it before I was asked to audition for it, but I hadn't. I first heard about it when I was asked to audition for it. But then I read it immediately. I went out and bought two copies, in fact. I read it in a day and thought it was an extraordinary story.
You have a strong background in theater. How does that come into play when filming a feature, like United 93 and The Kite Runner?
KA: Obviously there's a huge difference between the mediums, but essentially you're dealing with the same material. In some ways, it's a different way of expressing it and you've got different means to do so. As an actor, it feels kind if similar. But United 93, it was a totally unorthodox filming experience. Our average take was 25 minutes and our longest take was an hour and 15 minutes, which is kind of unheard of -- and it was entirely improvised. I guess a theater background helped with that because you're running at it in long sequences, but each film comes with its own challenges. The essential thing that binds them all together is trying to tell stories for audiences, whether it's for theater or film. Being able to share my experience with people is what I love.
Amir is such a well-known character from the novel. How did you approach portraying him on-screen?
KA: I guess it really started for me after the first audition. Marc Forster called me to tell me, "It's you, it's you. But first, we have to go to Afghanistan to find someone to play the younger Amir." So they went to Afghanistan for three months to search for as many people as they could, and a month and a half later, they found the boys. During that time I didn't want to get into the role, I was being held back like a bull. I really wanted to go at it, but I felt that if I did, I wouldn't get the part -- kind of a superstitious feeling. Then finally with six days notice I got a call saying, "We've found the boys. Get on the plane." Six days later, I'm in Kabul.
I spent a month in Afghanistan and that month was absolutely extraordinary and crucial. I was born in Scotland, brought up in London, my parents are Egyptian, my father was born in Illinois. I'd never been to Afghanistan. In that month, I was in total immersion. I banished English completely, had Dari lessons five hours a day. I ate everything I had never eaten before, I went everywhere that was referenced in the book, I built my relationship of love with Afghanistan during that period. I did everything I could and the reward I got at the end was being able to speak the language, which I managed to do in a month somehow.