Exclusive Interview with Alexander Siddig
Alexander Siddig was a young man, new to America and going by the name Siddig el Fadil when he first stepped through the gates at Paramount Pictures to play Dr. Julian Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He’s older now, a respected, veteran talent in Hollywood and abroad, and calls himself Alexander Siddig, the moniker he adopted during DS9’s seven-year run. Since bidding adieu to DS9, he’s appeared in such films and television shows as Reign of Fire, Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana, 24, Doomsday and Clash of the Titans. Right now, he’s got two films on the way, the acclaimed indie drama Cairo Time, in which he co-stars with Patricia Clarkson, and Miral, a drama directed by Julian Schnabel, with Siddig cast as the father of Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto. Startrek.com recently caught up with the always-engaging Siddig for an informative conversation about DS9, his life and career.
Back when DS9 ended, were you excited about the future or concerned about what might – or might not – come next for you?
I was actually really excited. I felt like I’d been through a wonderful post-graduate course in acting and I was ready now to have a go. I was a little bit scared that maybe nothing would happen and I might be rubbish. I’m always still a bit scared. That doesn’t change. It was a long time for an actor to do one thing. Seven years. On the one hand it’s the most amazing privilege in the world to do a job where you know what’s going to happen next year. On the other hand, actors are itinerant. We go from place to place. We sell our wares in a nomadic way, not to sound too pompous. I was missing that element. I missed the gypsy side of the business and so I was really looking forward to that. And I was lucky to get some little breaks in a couple of feature films, and it went from there.
What, to your thinking worked best about Bashir as a character, and how much does that whole genetic engineering storyline still bug you?
You know where I’m going to go with that, and part of the reason I go to that is because… In fairness, I can’t complain about anything that happened to Bashir. Writers and producers work so hard and they came up with ideas, and some work and some don’t. That’s all there is to it. That’s what it boils down to. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think that the humanity of Bashir is the thing that I really love about that guy. I feel that he’s just a very human, human, an archetypal human being with faults and problems.
You and Nana Visitor were a couple for a while (married from 1997 to 2001) and had your son, Django, together. Who else from the old days are you still in touch with?
Nana is really the only person I’m in touch with, sadly. I see her at least twice a year. I’d love to be in touch with more people, but we’ve all gone off and done different stuff. Everyone’s gone off in different directions. I did see Armin (Shimerman) the other day at a convention, and I was so happy to see him and hear him speak and to catch up with him. I don’t do many conventions, so it was just a real pleasure to go, “Oh my God, Armin, how are you?” I wish I’d see more of Andy Robinson, who was such a good friend to me while I was in L.A. I’d love to see more of everybody.
Of course, you could see everybody again if there’s ever a DS9 reunion movie or show. How open would you be to reprising Dr. Bashir in something like that?
Star Trek is my home. That’s where I was brought up as an actor. Yeah. I think they’d be smart to do it on the small screen. If they had the chutzpah to do that, I’d definitely be excited about it.
Ruba Nadda, the writer-director of Cairo Time, wrote the role of Tareq with you in mind. How often has that happened before, and how big an honor is that for an actor?
It’s happened two or three times now, which is amazing. Bizarrely, Neil Marshall, the director of Doomsday, told me that he wrote the role of the Prime Minister, this crazy little role in this crazy little movie, for me. So that was the first time. Cairo Time is the second time and Julian Schnabel said he wrote a part for me with Rula Jabreal in Rula’s script for Miral. It’s just so jazzy. And, really, Cairo Time is just such a tailor-made part.
Cairo Time stars Patricia Clarkson as a married American woman who arrives in Cairo, only to meet and fall for your character, a longtime friend of her husband’s. What intrigued you most about these two characters and their forbidden attraction?
I think there’s a pure honesty and if anybody is willing to just listen they will see what I mean. There’s no conceit. There’s no trick. There’s nothing up our sleeves. There’s a big old town and there are basically four characters. Two of them just hang out and a slow understanding of each other occurs and, in spite of their differences, their many differences, they both go, “I recognize you. I see you.” Actually, it’s more than listening that you have to do. You have to commit to the movie. You have to do what old-fashioned audiences had to do, which is get involved. You can’t just sit back and get taken off on a trip to wherever it is without any work at all. You have to do a little work, and that’s an old-fashioned contract that used to happen when people used to see plays or when they saw older movies. They were slower-paced and you had to pay attention and invest, and that’s a really healthy thing.
Talk about creating heat and empathy with Patricia Clarkson…
That’s really easy to do. Patricia is such a divine creature. I didn’t know her. I hadn’t really seen her work. If I had, I might have had some kind of pre-conception. I knew of her, but I didn’t have any kind of relationship with her until I came to Cairo and we started work immediately, without rehearsal. I just fancied the pants off her, to use an English colloquialism. There’s so much intelligence in that face that I was forever reading stuff in her face, in her expressions, in her eyes, even when she wasn’t talking. So there was no real need to manufacture chemistry. It was there, at least from my point of view. I don’t know what she thought.
What do you play in Miral?
I play a character that’s one of the only men in the movie. It’s a movie about women. There are three main women, and it’s about what happens to them in 1948 and on as Israel develops and as two peoples struggle to hold on to, to dominate the same piece of territory without any formal invasion. It was quite a peculiar situation, the birth of this country. My character is the glue that holds these three women together in the narrative. He’s not the protagonist, the lead, on any level. He’s there to make sure everything is anchored and that these women have someone to bounce things off. He’s the best friend of one, the father of another and the uncle of the third.