Waleed Zuaiter receives Bafta nomination for role in ‘Baghdad Central’

3 December 2021

Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter has received a Bafta nomination for leading actor for his role in Baghdad Central.

The six-part drama series offers a fresh locally rooted perspective of life in Baghdad following the US-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq. The show is produced by Euston Films and has been released on the UK’s Channel 4.

Nominated in the same category are John Boyega (Small Axe), Josh O’Connor (The Crown), Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You), Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Shaun Parkes (Small Axe).

Based on the debut crime novel by Elliott Colla, Baghdad Central follows the story of Muhsin Khafaji, played by Zuaiter, a former police inspector who is looking for his missing daughter and is thus forced to collaborate with US troops.

This is the first Bafta nomination for the Oscar-nominated film producer.

Zuaiter also stars in the coming HBO film Oslo, which is based on the true story of the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which led to the 1993 Oslo Accords. It’s adapted from the Tony award-winning play of the same name.

Zuaiter plays Palestinian Hassan Asfour, a PLO liaison and the associate of finance minister Ahmed Qurei.

The 2021 Bafta TV nominations, which were announced on Wednesday were dominated by British anthology series Small Axe with 15 nominations, followed by Netflix drama The Crown with 10 nominations.

The Bafta TV Awards will be held on Sunday, June 6 while the Bafta TV Craft Awards will be on Monday, May 24. Both will take place in a studio format.

Baghdad Central goes global

1 June 2020

Fremantle has sold Channel 4’s Iraq war drama series Baghdad Central in almost 90 territories.

Fremantle-owned Euston Films’ six-part drama has been picked up by French/German broadcaster Arte along with Spanish pay-TV operation Movistar+, which has also acquired The Investigation and Salisbury poisonings as part of a package.

Arte will air the series across its networks in European French and German-speaking territories including France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Other deals include Canada’s CBC, Brazil’s Globoplay and Russia’s IVI.

The series has already aired on SVoD Hulu in the US, Australia’s SBS and StarzPlay across the Middle East and north Africa.

Starring Bertie Carvel and Waleed Zuaiter, the series is set in Iraq in 2003 and follows Iraqi ex-policeman Muhsin al-Khafaji, who loses his job and home and is arrested and tortured after being mistaken for someone else.

In the UK, it aired to a consolidated average audience of 500,000 (3.6%) in a Monday 10pm slot in February.

“Baghdad Central is an authentic and compelling crime thriller,” said Al De Azpiazu, Fremantle’s Senior Vice President of sales and distribution for French-speaking Europe.

“The gripping storyline is told through a unique perspective that we don’t often see on TV and bought to life by an incredible international cast.”

Hulu Boards ITV’s Russell Tovey Drama ‘The Sister’ From ‘Luther’ Creator Neil Cross

29 May 2020

Russell Tovey-fronted drama The Sister, an adaptation of Neil Cross thriller Burial, is coming to Hulu.

The digital service has boarded the drama, originally commissioned by ITV and produced by Fremantle’s Euston Films.

The Years & Years star leads a cast that also includes Bertie Carvel (Baghdad Central), Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones), Nina Toussaint-White (GameFace) and Paul Bazely (Benidorm) in the four-part series.

Tovey plays well-meaning but directionless Nathan, a man trying to escape his past. Nathan has a terrible secret he’s long prayed would stay buried and for which he’s long worked hard to make recompense. Almost a decade into his new and devoted married life, Nathan is rocked to the core when Bob, played by Carvel, an unwelcome face from the past, turns up on his doorstep with shocking news, triggering a series of catastrophic decisions which cleverly drive a tense and compelling narrative of psychological suspense, dread, love and possible redemption.

The series, which was previously known as Because The Night, is exec produced by Euston Films Managing Director Kate Harwood and Noemi Spanos (Dublin Murders). Niall MacCormick (The Victim) will direct each of the four episodes. Fremantle will sell internationally. Jonathan Curling (Tin Star) will produce the series, which is set to air later this year.

The Sister cast and first look at new ITV drama with Russell Tovey

28 May 2020

Russell Tovey will lead the cast of new ITV drama The Sister starting on TV soon.

First announced under the name Because The Night last year, the new four-part series comes from Luther creator, Neil Cross and is inspired by his novel Burial.

Russell Tovey plays well meaning but directionless Nathan, a man trying to escape his past. Nathan has a terrible secret he’s long prayed would stay buried and for which he’s long worked hard to make recompense.

Almost a decade into his new and devoted married life, Nathan is rocked to the core when Bob, played by Bertie Carvel an unwelcome face from the past, turns up on his doorstep with shocking news….triggering a series of catastrophic decisions which cleverly drive a tense and compelling narrative of psychological suspense, dread, love and possible redemption.

Additional cast include Amrita Acharia as Holly, Simone Ashley as Elise, Nina Toussaint White as Jackie, Paul Bazely as Graham and Amanda Root as June.

Russell Tovey said the show would “challenge me as an actor more than I’ve ever been challenged before.

“As a web of lies, that he thought was dead and buried, comes back to haunt Nathan, he sinks deeper and deeper into the horror of the event that happened ten years ago. I cannot wait to start filming and join this amazing team and cast ”

Neil Cross added: “Nathan, Bob and Holly have been with me for many years. I couldn’t be more excited to see them brought to life by Russell Tovey, Bertie Carvel and Amrita Acharia”

Executive Producers, Kate Harwood and Noemi Spanos commented: “We’re very excited to be working with the brilliant Russell Tovey in this lead role, we’ve always been great fans and we are delighted to have him play Nathan.

“We are excited and know him, Bertie and the rest of the cast will do a fantastic job of bringing Neil’s propulsive thriller to life”

The Sister is a Euston Films production for ITV and is distributed internationally by Fremantle. The series was commissioned for ITV by Head of Drama, Polly Hill.

The series will air on ITV in 2020.

Meet Baghdad Central star Waleed Zuaiter – the new ‘Morse of the Middle East’

29 January 2020

Waleed Zuaiter can remember the precise day he was “catapulted into adulthood”, as he puts it. It was Thursday 2nd August 1990, and Zuaiter, then 19, was in Kuwait for his brother’s engagement party with his parents and 93-year-old grandmother. Born in California, from the ages of 5 to 19 he was raised in the tiny Middle Eastern state, where his Palestinian father worked in finance, before he returned to the US to attend university.

“Growing up in Kuwait, it was one of the most secure, wealthy countries in the Middle East, it was perfectly peaceful, ” the actor says today. That summer in 1990, there had been fearful rumblings that Saddam Hussein might be plotting an invasion from neighbouring Iraq. In August, those fears were brutally realised.

“I looked out of the window and there were Iraqi tanks right outside, it was so surreal. I speak fluent Arabic so I went out and spoke to the soldiers. Most of them had no idea what they were even doing there.”

Knowing they were to be at best evicted, Zuaiter and family fled to Jordan, the nearest open border, over three gruelling days. They slept for a few hours each night on his father’s Persian carpets, and saw the horrors of war all around them.

‘“Seeing death’ is the best way to describe it,” he says. “I remember very specifically that there was a family who didn’t have time to bury a child who’d died from dehydration, so it just looked like they threw a dead baby out of their car. It was horrifying to the point where you wonder if it was an illusion. I really lost my innocence then.”

The story is remarkable enough on its own, but the situation in which Zuaiter tells it today makes it all the more so. Now a chiselled and silvering 49-year-old, he sits in a crisp grey suit in a central London hotel, where he’s promoting Baghdad Central, a new six-part Channel 4 detective drama set in Iraq, in which he plays the heroic lead.

Described as ‘Morse of the Middle East’ and co-starring Doctor Foster’s Bertie Carvel, Zuaiter steps into the role of Muhsin Kadr al-Khafaji, a world-weary, demoralised ex-policeman supporting his daughters after the fall of Saddam in 2003.

Zuaiter has been an actor in the US for decades, with credits including HomelandPrison Break and House of Cards among dozens of other credits, but Baghdad Central marks his first time leading a series.

“I figured I could bring some detail and authenticity to the role,” he says, with a smile of understatement. “The setting is foreign but the show really doesn’t feel it, because so much of what goes on is familiar. This is the kind of role I’ve always wanted to play, and I’ve always wondered why there weren’t more of these opportunities.”

But he almost didn’t take it. When the role was pitched to him two years ago, Zuaiter’s father had recently died, sending him into “a hole of depression” which he couldn’t shake.

“I was in a weird state of mind, with a very negative filter. I heard about it and just thought, ‘ugh, another accented Middle Eastern role’ – which I’d been trying to break out of because in the States they’re a little narrow-minded when it comes to casting those. But I read it a second time and just thought, ‘wow’. It really resonated.”

As an American actor of Middle Eastern descent, for several years Zuaiter struggled to find parts that didn’t involve a negative, stereotypical portrayal of people from the region. After 9/11, he was made to promise his father – who was never particularly approving of his decision to go into acting, especially as Zuaiter’s brothers went into finance, working for George Soros – that he’d never play a terrorist. It wasn’t easy, he says, “when all the roles involved something like being the leader of Isis in the US.”

“My first TV gig was an episode of Law and Order, where I played a guy in a sleeper cell who literally grabs a box cutter when the police come for him. I remember turning down a few things because I was so angry.”

Around the same time Zuaiter was in Kuwait in 1990, Joana – who has Lebanese, Scottish and Fijian ancestry – was in the region too, with her mother and grandmother. Unable to get out, the three women were eventually taken to Baghdad and held in a hotel with more than a dozen mainly British families. It was from there that Hussein made an infamous television appearance, explaining that they were being kept in order to prevent war.

Footage of the dictator ruffling one terrified-looking child’s hair went around the world. Joana, who was eventually released and made it to the UK as the last group of foreigners out of Iraq, was one of the hostages standing behind him.

“Yeah that’s funny – well, now it seems it, but at the time they were all worried about worst-case scenarios. Her mother even cut Joana’s hair really short and put a pillow under her shirt, to disguise the fact she was a girl, as she feared what might happen to her. They were terrified.”

Given recent global events, Zuaiter worries for the immediate future of the Middle East. “I fear things could get worse again, unfortunately. We say it in the show, but this is the cradle of civilisation, Iraq, Syria, Iran. Civilisation then spread to the rest of the world but the irony is that conflict is always coming back to that region, which I find so sad,” he says.

“People in the US are confused by what’s going on. But as somebody who’s been in the States for a while, it seems like it’s a war machine. Like every 10 years or so there has to be a war.”

He intends to play his part in an image change. Now that television executives have seemingly investigated every crime in Scandinavia, Baghdad Central, which is based on a novel of the same name by US author Elliot Cola, is arguably the first ‘Middle Eastern noir’. It was part of the appeal for Zuaiter: telling a universal whodunnit story that just so happens to be set in Iraq, and shows how similar, rather than different, the Middle East is from the West. After enough drama in his own life, TV’s newest detective can’t wait to tell it.