Benedict is the cover of the newest issue (27 March) of TV & Satellite Week magazine, which features a short interview with the main cast of The Mauritanian! Check it out below:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster star in a powerful true story about a tortured Guantánamo Bay prisoner
A shocking true story comesto the screen this week in Amazon Prime Video film The Mauritanian, starring The Serpent’s Tahar Rahim as a wrongly accused terrorist suspect imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay for 14 years without charge.
Directed by Oscar-winning film-makerKevin Macdonald,the drama –which has been nominated for Best Film atthe upcoming BAFTAs – opens two months after the tragic deaths of almost 3,000 people in the 9/11 terror attacks.
As the US seeks justice against those involved, engineer Mohamedou Ould
Slahi (played by Rahim) is seized by authoritiesin his home country of Mauritania, in West Africa. Accused of being a key recruiter for the deadly al-Qaeda attack, he is taken to Guantánamo Bay, the US’military detention centre in Cuba, and subjected to brutal interrogation and torture as investigators try to force him into making a confession.
When hissituation comes to the attention of US criminal defence lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), she volunteersto represent Mohamedou in court and prove the US government lacks evidence to detain him. ‘Nancy feels like it’s her mission and her duty to uphold the Constitution and that everybody deserves a defence,’ explains Foster, 58, who has already won a Golden Globe for her performance as Hollander.
‘I read the script in one sitting and couldn’t believe it. We all know a little bit about Guantánamo – the fact that it’s still up and running and it shouldn’t be. I think we were all so shaken up by the events of 9/11 that we didn’t think very much about who was being interned.’
The case brings Hollander up against patriotic former pilot Lt Colonel Stuart Couch, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the US government’s military prosecutor who lost a close personal friend when hijacked planes flew into New York’s World Trade Center.
‘Stuart is a great character,’ says Cumberbatch, 44. ‘He’s a military lawyer who has every reason to want to persecute the perpetrator of that unforgivable act of terrorism. However, he has doubts when he discovers Mohamedou’s confession has been extracted by torture.’
Cumberbatch’s production company co-made the film and before filming he met the real Stuart Couch and worked with two dialect coaches to help him master his character’s Deep South accent. ‘I was pleased when Stuart finally said I was spot on,’ says Cumberbatch, who borrowed Couch’s Marine Corps gold wings to wear while filming and spent hours in make-up each day to create his clean-cut military look.
‘I’d just signed up for a film that required me to grow my hair long. So for me to play Stuart, the prosthetics team came up with a bald cap with a crew cut on top. So under all of that is this huge lump of my own hair.’
As Couch has a crisis of conscience about his role in the prosecution, Hollander and her associate Teri Duncan (Big Little Lies’ Shailene Woodley) face the almost impossible task of getting access to Mohamedou’s files and gaining his trust during visits. Mohamedou’s harrowing experiences during his detainment are gradually revealed in flashbacks, as he is waterboarded, sexually assaulted, deprived of sleep and put in stress positions for hours. ‘What Mohamedou went through, I think so many of us couldn’t ever survive it,’ says Foster. ‘Tahar is an extraordinary actor. He transforms completely and you don’t really see any acting at all.’
‘One of the most heartbreaking moments in the film is when you feel that they have broken his spirit,’ adds Cumberbatch.‘I want audiences to be enthralled by his story, to fall under Mohamedou’s spell and care about his predicament. ‘You’re watching a man who is the personification of the human spirit, triumphing over all that he endures. He is a phenomenal man. He managed, through all of that abuse, to maintain love and empathy and understanding. Those are powerful things.’
Q&A – TAHAR RAHIM
It’s already been quite a year for French actor TaharRahim, 39. After critical acclaim for his performance as serial killer Charles Sobhraj in BBC1 drama The Serpent, he’s now up for a BAFTA for portraying Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
Why did you take on the role?
I read the script and cried twice.
I couldn’t believe that this guy had been through hell and didn’t hold a grudge against anyone. He’s a hero – an innocent man imprisoned and tortured. It’s an amazing story that has to be told.
How did you prepare for filming?
I wanted to get as close as possible to the real conditions, so I asked the production team to make me real shackles and make the cell as cold as possible. I also put myself on a drastic diet and lost 10-12kg in a short amount of time. It was a very tough shoot but I wanted to experience what it felt like to be treated this way.
Did you meet with Mohamedou?
Yes, and I hugged him. This guy in front of you is talking about what he’s been through, with a big smile.
His forgiveness is what makes him so special. He has the right to be angry, but he’s not.