“I didn’t know anything about the story or the character,” Navid Negahban (pictured above right) told LifeZette in an exclusive interview about “12 Strong,” the upcoming military drama focused on the first days of the War on Terror.
The Iranian-American actor plays Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the current vice president of Afghanistan, who once fought hand-in-hand with U.S. Special Forces soldiers following the Sept. 11 terror attacks as the general of the Northern Alliance.
The film, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, also stars Chris Hemsworth, Michael Peña and Michael Shannon as some of the first American soldiers to fight in Afghanistan — who were so low on supplies they were forced to ride on horseback into battle.
To research his role, Negahban was given the book “The Last Warlord” by Brian Williams, which covered Dostum’s relationship with the U.S. military.
“I just hope that I did justice to the man,” Negahban said about playing Dostum in the harrowing story.
The actor, born in Mashhad, Iran, said the director of “12 Strong,” Nicolai Fugslig, was who originally drew him to the project, as he has seen some of Fugslig’s music videos.
What appealed to him after reading the script: The story “doesn’t take sides. It shows how similar we all are, how we are all fighting or we are all reaching for a mutual goal, which is having a peaceful future and a better future for our children. That’s what really got me excited.”
Negahban said he’s been lucky in his career, as his roles have been far less stereotypical than many would have guessed. In recent years, he’s been able to play fully realized characters. His past credits include Showtime’s “Homeland” and Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper.”
“I was able to portray the man, not just the label,” the actor said of “12 Strong” and other recent roles. He was “a real person, not just a caricature.”
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Before landing major Hollywood roles, Negahban spent eight years acting in Germany. He grew up on American cinema, he said, and the films he saw shaped his idea of the country where he would eventually become a successful actor.
“When I was a kid, I grew up with American movies, so that was the image I had,” Negahban said fondly.
Besides “12 Strong,” Negahban has a handful of other major roles in his future. He recently wrapped filming on the much-anticipated live-action “Aladdin” remake from director Guy Ritchie. There’s been some criticism of the film for “whitewashing” its cast — other folks expressed hesitation about the retelling of such a classic story.
“I had an amazing experience just working with him [Ritchie] and the rest of the cast … The story is very engaging,” said Negahban. “Guy [Ritchie] was very cautious about how he is portraying each of these characters. He wants to stay away from caricatures. He wants to stay as close as possible to the core of the characters and what the characters are representing.”
Though he couldn’t say much about the upcoming Disney feature, Negahban promised fans: “You’re in for a surprise.”
The actor will also soon be joining the second season of the popular FX program “Legion.”
For now, though, he’s excited to see how people respond to “12 Strong,” a patriotic military drama that could be more culturally unifying than many people expect — and it will do so simply by being honest to its core story.
Negahban revealed the “Afghan community” was hesitant at first to participate in the movie. But he convinced many to join as background actors by explaining the story was staying true to the original; it also showed those in Afghanistan who wanted freedom as they fought alongside the men who were brave enough to be landed there first from America. The film ended up with more than 400 Middle Eastern extras.
“They wanted to help us to help the story,” said Negahban. “I’m truly, truly grateful to all of them.”
“12 Strong” hits theaters this Friday.
PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].