By Iman Sadri
Midway through the film American Sniper audiences are introduced to the calamities faced by a father in war torn Iraq, vividly brought to life by Navid Negahban. Negahban, the 48 year old Iranian-American actor plays the role of Sheikh Al-Obodi, an Iraqi informant used to help track down the Butcher, one of the film’s central characters. The realism and desperation that Negahban portrays in his character makes him the center of attention in several poignant scenes opposite Bradley Cooper, a challenge to say the least. Especially, considering the fact that Cooper was given an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his titular role of Chris Kyle in the Clint Eastwood directed film nominated for six Oscars. Audiences find themselves fearing for the outcome of his character’s fate, due to the urgency that Negahban brings to the role.
Despite Negahban’s noteworthy performance in American Sniper, he is most widely recognized for his role of Abu Nazir in the critically acclaimed Showtime series Homeland. During the first two seasons of the award winning drama Negahban took audiences deep into the soul of a terrorist. His portrayal of Abu Nazir showed the humanity and clemency of a high ranking al-Qaeda official. His thought provoking enactment blurred the traditional line of hero and villain as his friendship with Damian Lewis’ character Nicholas Brody evolved. Audiences question their pre-conceived notions of good versus evil due to the authenticity of character that Negahban brings onscreen to Homeland. For Negahban, it’s not about humanizing a terrorist but allowing the viewer an inside look into the thought and decision making process that an Abu Nazir has to endure.
Navid Negahban had a starring role as the titiluar character in the critically acclaimed film, Baba Joon. It won for Best Film at the 2015 Ophir Awards and became Israel ‘s entry for Best Foriegn Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
Scene stealing performances opposite several of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors, similar to the scenes with Cooper in American Sniper, have become commonplace for Navid Negahban. In Charlie Wilson’s War, Negahban plays a refugee camp translator that commands the audience’s attention, despite sharing the screen opposite Tom Hanks. In Brothers, his role of Murad is indelible opposite megawatt actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman.
It’s not just typical terrorist roles typecast for Middle Easterners either that Negahban has taken on. In Words and Pictures, he played the role of a headmaster opposite Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche in the multifarious story. On ABC ‘s Mistresses Negahban stars as Persian businessman Jonathan Amadi – No explosions, just combustible relationships.
Negahban was born in Mashad and realized as early as the age of 8 that he enjoyed theater. Leaving Iran at the age of 20 he then spent almost nine years in Germany before emigrating to the U.S. Negahban is fluent in English, Farsi, Dari and German, an extensive list much like his television credits. Some of these include roles on TV’s best shows of this millennium. He has appeared on The Shield, The West Wing, Lost, Las Vegas, Criminal Minds, Alias, Law & Order, NCIS, CSI, The Mentalist, Fringe, and 24 to name a few. In 2008, Negahban was memorable in The Stoning of Soraya M. In 2009, Negahban won the Best Actor Award at the Noor Iranian Film Festival for the short film Liberation.
Even though many of Negahban’s roles have been of ethnic minorities, it’s the humanity in his portrayals that become vivid on screen. This thespian talent has him searching for the honesty in each character, seeing past the opprobrium of public opinion. Unfolding the complex layers in characters that on the surface seem one-dimensional is what makes Navid Negahban meritorious. In Farsi, Negahaban means guard. In Hollywood, Navid Negahban means exemplary.
Iman Sadri blogs for Persian Media Outlets and can be reached at ImanSadri22@Gmail.com
(Parts of this blog first appeared on another Persian Media site, no longer online. The same author wrote the aforementioned blog.)