With the cowboy hat, the shades and the massive smile, he looks like the kind of guy you’d meet in a bar. You might buy him a drink, laugh at him stumbling over his words, and think him a bit of an idiot. He might be the life and soul of the party. You’d be forgiven if it never crossed your mind that he might be the son of a tyrannical dictator.
But that’s exactly who he is, for this is Uday Hussein, as brought to life by Dominic Cooper on the set of new film The Devil’s Double. The film is the tale of Hussein’s son and his enslaved body double, Latif Yahia (also played by Cooper) and it’s a decidedly different twist on the Iraq movie we’ve come to expect over the last couple of years.
Set in 1980s Baghdad, it’s awash with bright neons, expensive clothes and chintzy jewelry. It’s a picture of the hidden excesses of the Hussein regime — a sight few in Iraq ever witnessed – and a harsh contrast between the Husseins and their poverty-stricken populous.
For Cooper, it was Latif Yahia’s story that proved so fascinating. Forced to undergo plastic surgery and put himself at risk as Uday’s body double, Yahia’s scars may not be as physical as many who came across the Husseins, but they’re no doubt just as deep.
“It’s an incredible journey about how the man had to lose his own identity, really, and change,” Cooper tells RT. “For him it was life threatening. Not just for himself but also for his family, which is what, I suppose, gave him a reason to take on the role — to become the double.”
But trying to get to grips with the depths Uday Hussein plumbed has been a challenge for the actor. “It was certainly a worry for me from the very beginning to play somebody for whom I could find absolutely no moral grounding or qualities that I liked about him,” says Cooper. “And that’s always difficult because you’ve got to inhabit who they are and find something that’s, not necessarily charming, but that gives you an understanding of why that person behaved in a certain way. But there’s no justification for any of his actions.”
The film co-stars Ludivine Sagnier and is being directed by Once Were Warriors helmer Lee Tamahori. And it is, he says, an Iraqi Scarface. “It’s a real bandit movie, a real gangster movie. I’ve always been fascinated by the sons of dictators and despots. They usually die in a hail of blood. They’re guys with an immense amount of power and an enormous amount of money. They can do anything they like and Uday was exactly that. We’re telling a soft story compared to what I’ve heard about this guy.”
The Devil’s Double will be released next year.