by Ryan Rigley
Mark Strong is a man of many talents; chief among those talents being his uncanny ability to portray larger than life movie villains. He’s already played dozens of memorable antagonists (in such films as “Green Lantern,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Kick-Ass” and “Body of Lies”) but never before has the British-born actor taken on a role quite as challenging as Sultan Amar in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s latest film, “Day of the Falcon.”
“I think it was just a fantastic story,” Strong tells MTV News of reading the “Day of the Falcon” script for the first time. “I remember reading it on a beautiful sunny day looking out over the sea at Cannes and it was an incredibly atmospheric place to sit down and read a script. The script itself was just this beautiful, epic story. I just got carried away with it really.”
“The funny thing is, I’ve played a couple of Arabs,” muses Strong. “I don’t really know why I was cast but I was. I played a U.S. educated Lebanese character in a film called ‘Syriana’ and I’d also played the head of the Mukhabarat, the Jordanian secret service, in a film called ‘Body of Lies.’ The third time it came along, I felt a real responsibility to get it right. So I made damn sure that I talked to Arabic actors that I know and just made sure that the accent that I was delivering was how Arabic people that I knew spoke.”
In the film, Strong plays a Sultan who chooses to fight a war for oil over his own son’s happiness. After years of conflict, Sultan Amar decides to make a peace treaty with the leader of the opposing tribe, Emir Nesib (played by Antonio Banderas), effectively creating “the Yellow Belt”; a large chunk of unowned land separating the two tribes. But when a massive amount of oil is discovered beneath “the Yellow Belt,” the two tribes are tossed right back into the ring.
“I think Antonio’s character is what you might term perhaps a forward thinking Arab,” Strong explains. “An Arab who looks at what oil money can do for him in terms of advancing his people. Antonio’s character looks at advancement in terms of schools, hospitals, and military might; perhaps the traditional view of how you make a country strong. Whereas Amar, is rooted very much in tradition and religion and spirituality and the Quran. He believes that that is the way you advance your people. So they’re diametrically opposed really.”
Solidifying their agreement, Nesib demands the sons of Amar, Saleh and Auda, to be given to him to be raised alongside his own children, Tarik and Leyla. Auda almost instantly falls for Leyla and fifteen years later, the two are married. Seeking the approval of his father, Auda travels to Salma in order to speak with Sultan Amar about his love outweighing his responsibility to his family. Amar, of course, completely dismisses his son’s feelings.
“I think Amar’s particular journey is that he comes to realize that his son isn’t a child anymore,” reveals Strong on his character’s development throughout the film. “I think he’s become incredibly impressed at his bravery and, like all parents, I suppose that moment comes when they suddenly look at their children and realize that they’re talking sense and that they’re talking as adults.”
“Day of the Falcon” proved to be both emotionally and physically challenging for Mark Strong, shooting on location in the deserts of Tunisia. Not only did he have to constantly put himself back into the mindset of Amar, but he also had a very difficult time getting in and out of character between takes.
“When the camera isn’t rolling and you’re just chatting with everyone, it’s very hard to stay in character when you’re playing a character like that,” Strong confesses. “When you’re galloping on, barking orders at somebody and you’re having to control your horse, make sure it’s not going too far or too slow for the camera car that’s riding next to you. Moments like that are quite difficult when you have to make it look like it’s something you’ve done every day of your life but actually there are very few instances in modern life where you wear clothes like that, let alone a ceremonial sword.”
“Day of the Falcon” hits home video on March 29, 2013.