The Washington Post

‘Homeland’s’ Abu Nazir: Actor Navid Negahban on playing terrorists, getting recognized in airports

Navid Negahban as Abu Nazir in Season Two of “Homeland” (Ronen Akerman/Showtime)

Navid Negahban was passing through the Atlanta airport on his way to Washington when the ticket agent saw his face and did a double-take.

“He says, ‘Oohh, oohh, oohh! Aren’t you the terrorist from TV?’” Negahban recalled.

Yikes. Not really what you want to hear in an airport these days, is it? Happily, the agent turned out to be just another fan of the actor’s work on “Homeland” as Abu Nazir, the enigmatic al-Qaeda commander whose machinations propelled the tense storyline of the hit Showtime series through its first two seasons.

“Everyone gathered around and took pictures,” he told us. “It was cool.”

Negahban in real life, at a Golden Globes party in L.A. last month. (Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images)

If not “Homeland,” though, there are plenty of other places you might recognize the 40-something Iranian-born actor from: “Lost,” where he played an officer with the Iraqi Republican Guard; “24,” where he was an envoy from the fractious made-up nation of “Kamistan”; “The West Wing,” where he played a Palestinian messenger; roles in “Charlie Wilson’s War” or “Sleeper Cell” or TV movies about Sept. 11 and Jessica Lynch. The past dozen years of terrorist threats and Middle East strife seem to have been very good for Negahban’s career. Or does he worry about typecasting?

When he first got into acting in Germany, directors didn’t cast him because of his swarthy looks but “because I was able to create an illusion,” he told us. In fact, “I’ve been to auditions where the director tells me I don’t look Persian enough” for a role. And these days, if directors are inclined to look at him as a terrorist, that’s not a drawback: “The projects are getting better. It’s not the stereotypical characters anymore. It’s okay to go to the other side now.” And viewers appreciate the nuanced view of these characters, he said. After all, “nobody is born a terrorist.”

Next up? He’s got a role on on “CSI: New York” this week. Playing. . . a terrorist?

“I’m playing a . . . vicious man,” he said, after searching for the right word. “But he’s not a terrorist.”

Earlier: ‘Homeland’: Does it get Washington right?, 11/15/11

A thrilling return for ‘Homeland’ in season two, 9/27/12

Showtime’s gripping ‘Homeland’: A Marine comes home, but is he now a terrorist?, 9/30/11

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Farewell party for convicted CIA agent John Kiriakou

Hey, isn’t that . . . ?: Evgeni Malkin

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