Exclusive Interview : Oded Fehr


Star of Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell”

Much like seeing a man of Middle-Eastern appearance on an aircraft, Oded Fehr was someone who a few believed would be a ‘could-be’ or ‘would-be’ terrorist. It’s for that reason that the Israeli-born actor initially turned down the lead role In Showtime’s superb series “Sleeper Cell”.

Fehr, recognizable for his role in the “Deuce Bigalow” and “Mummy” movies, soon realised he was being offered a lot more than a passé eradicator role in a Seagal-esque effort – “I was pleasantly surprised. It was a really great show, and, well, it was paying well”, says the actor – so quickly put biro to contract.

Still, all his qualms weren’t eased; there was one he was never going to shake. “Here (in America), you become closely associated with your character”, he explains. “Thankfully though, people that approach me are congratulating me on a great series, and not recognizing me as a terrorist, so that’s a bonus”.

There are other times, says the actor, that people recognize him from one of his films – which he usually is a lot more at ease with, because they’ve mostly being good guys.

“It’s usually The Mummy, or Sleeper Cell, or a show I did before this one called UC Undercover…and surprisingly enough, I get recognized for Charmed. That was something I never imagined. I took that role because I had an opening between the time I shot the pilot (of Sleeper Cell), Dreamer (his film with Kurt Russell) and the start of the series, and it literally fit in what was four months of straight work. It was an amazing experience – I was approached by all these closet Charmed lovers”.

Being recognized for his role as Prince Sadir, a kindly horse backer, in the family hit “Dreamer” wouldn’t be such a bad thing, either? “It was really lovely”, he says, adding that he adores his young co-star Dakota Fanning. “She’s lovely, absolutely lovely. A very smart girl. She’s got the makings of a great actress!”

“Sleeper Cell” is the brainchild of writers Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris. Knowing their real-life personas, they’re the last people you’d think would know this world, says Fehr. “The creators are these, I don’t want to say nerdy, but they’re like these two Catholic and Jewish kids. They’ve got families and all, but you’d never think they’d be so well versed in the terrorism world. They know so much about Muslims and Islam, and all of that.”

What’s rather unsettling about Fehr’s character in the series is that he, Frank, could be anyone – the next-door neighbour, the guy that serves you coffee everyday, or the chap you just purchased overpriced house and contents insurance from. It was a facet of the character that he insisted on. “These guys, if they are out there, they would be someone that you’d never imagine to be a terrorist – somebody who is a part of society, that people trust with their children”, says Fehr, adding that he also wanted to remain “culturally true to the character. Whatever it is that makes him different when he’s not undercover, when he’s himself.”

In addition, Fehr believes the show’s depiction of the “Sleeper Cell” is a picture of what it’s going to be like in a few years. “People said ‘This is an international terrorist unit [though], because we’ve got the French guy, the Bosnian guy, the Berkeley kid…’ but my feeling is that that’s where we’re heading. I hate to say it, but that’s my feeling. It’s getting more and more dangerous, they’re getting more smarter, and that’s what we’re going to see next”.

In terms of what’s next for Fehr though, there’s a couple of things – a third “Resident Evil” movie, which will film in Mexico, and a second season of “Sleeper Cell”. And though there is a third film in the popular “Mummy” franchise on the way, he’s just found out that he won’t be involved.

“I’m not involved. The person that wrote it, created it, tells me they’re doing a third one. They were writing it [when I spoke to him], so I don’t know where it is now. I believe it’s only going to involve Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz’s characters, of the old movies, and everyone else [in it] is going to be new.

In some ways, Fehr’s glad he’s not returning. It’d mean having to grow his hair long for the part if Ardeth Bay was required back. “That was a lot of work – a lot of hair product, effort, and shower time. It’s a lot quicker now [that it’s short]”, he says.

After her Oscar Win, Fehr admits “they’re probably” going to have trouble getting Weisz now. Not that he’s seen the film that she won her Oscar for – “The Constant Gardener”. “I haven’t seen it because I’ve got a three year old and a two-and-half-week-old now. I haven’t seen anything really, in the last two years”, he laughs. “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard wonderful things. I’ve always said that she’s an incredible actress, she’s so natural, it’s unbelievable”.

And with that, the head of the “Sleeper Cell” returns to the kitchen to warm a bottle of milk for his youngest. Something Oded Fehr’s character…would probably do too.

SLEEPER CELL Premieres Wednesday 12th April, 8:30PM, Showtime.