Last year, actor Sayed Badreya told us what it felt like, as an Egyptian-American, to always be cast as the terrorist. “Why not for one day I can be a hero?” he said. “Why not for one day I can have the girl?” Well, there’s always tomorrow.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In the minds of many Americans, anti-Muslim sentiment is all of a piece with anti-Arab sentiment, especially after 9/11. Last year, we spoke with actor Sayed Badreya, who bemoaned getting only villainous roles, and he told us he felt this frustration most keenly when he was working at his craft. SAYED BADREYA: I used to sit on the set and look at the movie star and the hero and everything, and I said, why not for one day I can be a hero? Why not for one day I can have the girl? BROOKE GLADSTONE: Badreya was a kid growing up in Egypt in the time of the Six-Day War, when he was seduced by American movies. When he said he was goin' Hollywood, his friends said he was crazy. But he did. He was a handsome Arab actor. In America, there were no parts for handsome Arab actors, so he grew a beard, put on some weight. SAYED BADREYA: And when I went to the audition I was angry, and they said, ah yeah, this is what we're looking for, this is the real thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you tell me about some of the bad guy roles that you played in the eighties and nineties? SAYED BADREYA: Well, I hijack an airplane in Executive Decision. I blew up places in True Lies. I, I kidnapped people. I done everything – bad. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, he worked, though his parts found little favor in the Arab-American community. Then, not long ago, his friend Peter Farrelly – yes, of the infamous Farrelly brothers – told him it was time to produce something from his heart.
So Badreya made American East, a film about an Arab-American family man who opens up a restaurant with his best friend who's Jewish. The friend is played by Tony Shalhoub. The goal, the depiction of ordinary men. SAYED BADREYA: For my kids - I don't want my kid to change his name from Muhammad to Michael because the Arab image is bad. No. I want him to have his name, Muhammad, and Muhammad doesn't mean terrorist. Hollywood has to learn that we are American. It happens to be Arab. We are American because we choose to come to this country.
What is America? I grew up in a ghetto and I end up in Hollywood doing movie with movie star George Clooney and all this stuff. That's America. It gives you the dream, but you have to work for it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here’s the kicker. Come Friday, you can see Sayed Badreya in a new part. He appears in Oliver Stone’s much-anticipated presidential biopic, W. He’s playing – you guessed it – Saddam Hussein. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips and Nazanin Rafsanjani, and edited – by Brooke. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh and Bill Bowen. We also had help from Michael Bernstein. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcast at Onthemedia.org. You can also post comments there and email us at Onthemedia@wnyc.org. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And, I'm Bob Garfield. Brooke, say W. again. BROOKE GLADSTONE: W. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Aw!