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Crisscrossing Globe, Khalid Abdalla Headlines Afghan Epic

Egyptian-British actor Khalid Abdalla (“United 93”) commands his first starring role as Amir in “The Kite Runner.” The novel is a big favorite of many around the world, so the expectations for the film have been very high. The Washington Diplomat had the pleasure of conversing with the soft-spoken actor, who has been quite the globetrotter lately.

In fact, in the last 18 months, Abdalla’s worldwide whirlwind for the film has included trips to London, Pakistan, Afghan-istan, Beijing, Western China, Cairo, Paris, San Francisco and various other places in the United States.

The shooting of the film was equally international: “We were a group of people from 26 different countries with 46 languages to translate between us and shooting in a part of China that most people don’t know anything about—a group of people who’d come from all over the world to tell a story about a place nobody really knew about but everyone discovered was important to them,” Abdalla recalled, noting the uniqueness of the film’s shooting location in China’s Xingjiang province, which is 95 percent Muslim.

“The people there are Uigar. Even their language is quite close to Turkish and Farsi,” he explained. “It’s always a bit of a surprise to people that we shot there. We needed somewhere that could look like Afghanistan in the ’70s and could look like Afghanistan during the Taliban. It was a beautiful experience shooting there. We did studio work in Beijing and the U.S. location stuff in San Francisco, the Bay Area. The story takes place partially in Fremont,” Abdalla noted.

When asked what he got from the experience, Abdalla replied: “I got a language out of it. The time I was in Afghan-istan, I was having four or five hours of Dari lessons a day. It was kind of complete immersion—banished English,” he said, adding that he did everything possible to understand the Afghan culture, including crisscrossing the globe.

“Toward the north, you get these valleys of lush green with arid mountainscape and snow-capped mountains in the distance. And the light is just so extraordinary in the way it filters through the trees…. You can feel the travel-weariness of the country … what it means to travel. You can feel it’s the crossroads of civilization. Alexander [the Great] was there. Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, Persians, Arabs, British, Russians,” Abdalla marveled.

“I kind of carried that experience throughout the shooting, which was totally crucial. It’s the first film in the history of Hollywood where the first point of contact with that part of the world is a human family story, not political violence. To be part of something that tells that kind of story is an extraordinary privilege. It’s a film made in that spirit by people with that spirit,” Abdalla explained.

“There were 30 years of war, but during that time, there were also 30 years of weddings. The whole experience for me is like a kind of graduation into the full Middle East. Although Afghanistan isn’t technically the Middle East, it’s always considered to be and thought of in that way.

“The reason the book and the film work is because at heart, they are beautiful stories about people who happen to be from Afghanistan,” he continued. “From that, seamlessly or just naturally comes a story about the history of Afghanistan and the 30 years that it’s been through in its different stages—from pre-Soviet when it was called the Paris of the East, to the experience of having to leave the country, to the experience post-civil war during the Taliban. It tells that story in the background while focusing on themes that everybody understands … fatherhood, growing up, friendship, betrayal, the moment when you want your father to be proud of you.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999