Not even in the middle of the year, Tahar Rahim is one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in 2021. After first appearing on broadcast shows like The looming tower and The whirlpool, the 39-year-old French Algerian actor has emerged for the first time as a lead with The Mauritanian alongside Jodie Foster and true crime drama, The snake.
In the latter, which is now streaming on Netflix, Rahim portrays the “Bikini Killer” and con man of the 1970s, Charles Sobhraj, responsible for the murder of more than a dozen Western tourists along the Hippie Trail of Southeast Asia. As shown on the show, he eventually gets into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a junior Dutch diplomat (Billy Howle), who sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to the capture of Interpol’s most wanted man at the time. .
“I’ve always wanted to explore evil,” Rahim says of wanting to find a character who was the most distant from who he is in real life. And as a teenager, he remembers reading accounts of Sobhraj’s crimes and then, in 2001, hearing that Benicio Del Toro was supposed to portray him in a biopic that never happened.
While Sobhraj, who is still alive behind bars, has been the subject of several documentaries and even a Bollywood movie, this is the first time he has received the real crime treatment in the US So when this project came up, Rahim was unable to pass upstairs.
However, entering Sobhraj’s mental space turned out to be more difficult than he expected. “I couldn’t find any connection at all. He is a murderer, a con man, a manipulator. And he did all those horrible things, ”says Rahim, revealing that he started to build the character from the outside in, which is something he rarely does.
So when he worked with the director, Tom Shankland, on the way he looks and the way he walks, the actor had a breakthrough. “I thought, ‘I’m an animal. Of course, a snake. But which? ‘”, He remembers, before deciding on the cobra. “There is a charm in this animal. He is still, calm, and when he rides his bike, it is very sudden and fast. So, I found my connection to the animal. ”
He added: “From then on, I started to feel something inside me coming. And that seemed like the right place to be. “
Not only did he work out rigorously on set to match Sobhraj’s muscular and often shirtless physique, Rahim also took advantage of all the period-perfect costumes, wigs and accessories he was able to wear while filming in Thailand. “It was fun to travel through time in a way,” she says, revealing that she took her entire wardrobe home with her. “I took them all; I took my glasses and my shoes. “
Although being in an exotic location had its advantages (“Every weekend we could be on an island or something, it was like a vacation,” he says), it kept him isolated from his wife and two children. “To be honest, I missed them every day,” says the actor, eventually developing a ritual that every other day, “I would talk to my kids and then go exercise. It helped me let it out. ”
The filming of the series also overlapped with The Mauritanian, which tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a man who was detained in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and held without charge from 2002 to 2016. In addition to starring as Rahim as Salahi, the cast is completed by Foster, Shailene Woodley , Benedict Cumberbatch and Zachary Levi in various roles.
“When I read the script, I literally wanted to sign up,” says the actor. “I cried. It touched me, and for an actor, it’s a great opportunity to play someone like that. I wanted to do this person justice to this extraordinary soul.”
Released in February, the film was opened to rave reviews for Rahim’s performance, ultimately earning him a 2021 Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination for Best Actor.
“I couldn’t have imagined it could happen one day,” says the actor, adding that recognition in America feels good. “You feel like people are saying, ‘you’re welcome.’ And my options also reassure me because when you try something, you don’t know if you will fail or succeed. “
And while both roles have earned the actor new attention and a chance to take on the title role, none of that matters more than honoring the real-life people behind it. The Mauritanian and The snake.
“Mohammed is a real man. [And during filming,] I was like, ‘I want to please him. I don’t want him to feel diminished or betrayed in any way. ‘ That was more important than the movie, ”says Rahim. And when I did The Serpent, I thought of the victims and their families. I was like, ‘I’ll try to do everything I can for them.’