Photo by Kathryn Gaitens
The Sudan-born, English-raised Alexander Siddig (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Syriana) actor first worked with Ruba Nadda on Cairo Time, where the writer-director cast him as a gentlemanly Egyptian who shows Patricia Clarkson's disconnected Canadian around the city while she awaits her husband.
While they were shooting that picture, Nadda gave Siddig the screenplay for Inescapable, about a Syrian-born Canadian who must return to his homeland when his daughter goes missing there. He signed on without hesitation.
Four years later, Inescapable - starring Siddig, Marisa Tomei and Joshua Jackson - is premiering at TIFF as a Gala presentation. And with the red carpet just a few hours away, Siddig and I are standing in a makeshift TV studio in the Intercontinental, grabbing a few quiet minutes to talk. I start by asking him about Inescapable's utterly inappropriate poster, which sells the film as a slick Hollywood action movie.
I'm kind of surprised to see the marketing angle here. This movie's awfully deliberate, for a thriller.
Yeah, there's a whole thing going just about pace. It's about waiting, about the imposition of pace. You cannot quickly solve these things. [laughing] You have to sit in your bed and wonder what the hell you're gonna do next.
I quite like the fact that people are expecting a high-powered, high-tension, MTV-cut action movie on the lines of Taken. I like the fact that they've piqued a kind of genre expectation, and the fact that Ruba's willing to try to compete with that Michael Mann, astonishing-superhuman-ability kind of movie.
True, Inescapable is a very different animal.
I don't mind conning people if it's to get them into the cinema. And once we've got them there, hopefully we give them something new but hopefully not lose them; that's the difficult bit, which I think Ruba might have pulled off.
As a Syrian who's lived in Toronto for a couple of decades, your character slips between what Ruba described as "Western and Middle Eastern" modes; differences in accents and physicality. Was it difficult to find those degrees of difference in the character?
No, it's just literally this kind of unconsciousness [laughing], if that's possible to imagine. You have to just go - and not fall over. Because we're running; the dollars are being eaten up, burned, right away, and we can't go back.
Ruba told me she wanted to use the action aspects of Inescapable as the delivery system for a message about the paranoid police state that Syria had become - this is before the civil war broke out, obviously. Was that something you were conscious of during the shoot?
I think that's the most exciting aspect about it. I think the fact that she's taking a gin and tonic and adding something to it to [jazz] it up when people are expecting the comfort of a gin and tonic. Because we're dealing with a country in which comfort does not play a part, in Syria. Then that might spark an interesting discussion.
[And at the same time] we have to make a film with a sense of responsibility that someone will watch a bootleg copy of this in the next eight months - someone who has lost someone, or maybe knows someone who has lost someone, [and] they're gonna go "Hollywood came and used our story, they fucked us, they made some money and now they don't care about us any more." I'm hoping that that can't happen with this. I'm hoping it's got an inbuilt sense of truth about it, [so] that people cannot just go, "We've just been raped by this company, and our experience has been abused."
My agent came to see it with me the other day; I saw it for the first time as she was seeing it for the first time. She came out going, "Oh my god, I didn't remember how lucky I am not to be living in that place, like that." And that was a result for me. I went, "Wow, thank you. That's perfect." If anybody else does that, then we're in good shape, because we've helped. We've given people the sense that it's a foreboding place in which to live.