• Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2021: Tahar Rahim, “The Mauritanian”

We probably should thank our lucky stars that Tahar Rahim got bored studying sports and computer science in Strasbourg and Marseille and decided to pursue his passion instead: film.
Born in Belfort, France – Rahim, whose family had immigrated from Oran, Algeria – pursued his first love at the Paul Valery University of Montpellier. He didn’t stop there. He studied drama when he moved to Paris at the Laboratoire de I’Acteur while working as a factory worker during the week and at a nightclub on weekends.
Rahim, whose gripping portrayal of the abused Mauritanian Guantanamo detainee, Mohamedou Ould Salahi in the legal drama The Mauritanian, earned him a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama category.
The 39-year-old French actor explained how he approached his role: “Of course, you are faithful to what is written because there is a script, but when you have to portray someone, a real person, you have to go to what’s beyond written. You have to be able to say, and tell, what’s between the lines. I do my research. I read the book. I watch documentaries.
“I listened to Mohamedou’s recordings that he’s done with (director) Kevin (Macdonald) and I met him. It’s the most important thing to meet the person you are going to play. With Mohamedou, it was such an experience, because at some point I was talking to him, and I came to realize that, I was a lucky man to meet someone like him, with such a beautiful soul.”
By portraying Salahi and talking to him, Rahim found that he was a simple man, full of charm, life, and warmth, that it was absolutely impressive and almost magical. “So I tried my best to take it out of him and make it mine,” he said.
Rahim was so much into the role that he was even trying to convince director MacDonald to let him go through some of the torture that Mohamedou experienced in Guantanamo Bay to get his emotional and physical relationship to that.
He revealed, “You feel something and you want to keep going. You feel alive – wearing real cuffs, being in a very cold cell, being waterboarded for real and force-fed. I needed to live it so I can convey genuine feelings and emotions to the audience. It’s bizarre as it is. The more you experience it as an actor, the more you want to experience it. You want to live the moment for real. And when you start to touch it, you want it to last. It’s a bit strange but that’s our job.”
Rahim admitted that for the first time in his acting career, it took him three weeks to shake off the character. He confessed that it was very hard for him and he couldn’t explain why. He would walk like him, talk like him, and feel like him. “It was a real experience. It was tough,” he confessed.
Rahim, who is fluent in three languages and has an ear for accents, made his debut in the drama film, The 9/11 Commission Report (2006), as a Taliban Interrogator. Then he appeared in the drama mini-series La Commune (2007) where he portrayed Yazid Fikry and landed his breakthrough role when the crime film A Prophet catapulted him to international acclaim. In that Jacques Audiard-helmed film, Rahim played Malik El-Djebena, a Middle Eastern man who becomes a crime lord while he is imprisoned in France.
Then he starred in the epic historical drama The Eagle (2011) where he portrayed the Prince of the Seal People, the Lou Ye-directed French/Chinese drama, Love and Bruises (2011) as Mathieu, and the biblical drama Mary Magdalene where he was Judas.
In the US, he had a starring role as FBI agent Ali Soufan in the television mini-series, The Looming Tower. This year, Rahim also portrayed the infamous serial killer Charles Sobhraj, a murderer, thief and seductive master of disguise in the mid-70s in the crime-drama-thriller The Serpent. He also appeared as Farid in the drama-musical TV mini-series set in Paris, The Eddy.
Who would have known that a film student named Tahar Rahim whose life was chronicled on French 5, a popular French TV channel, in 2006 would turn out to be the acclaimed actor Tahar Rahim of today?