British actor Adam Rayner steps into the role of Barry, FX’s newest leading man, on Tuesday night, with the premiere of one of summer’s most intriguing new shows — “Tyrant.”
Adam (an alum of Cinemax’s “Hunted” and the original, British version of “Mistresses”) had just a short window to prepare to play Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed. The second son of a controversial Middle Eastern dictator, Barry moved to America on a self-imposed exile as a teen, and in the pilot returns (with his Western family) to his birthplace, for his nephew’s wedding.
Despite being short on time, Adam hit the books to inform his performance.
“I didn’t have a lot of time. I’m never the first person they think of and I came into the project very, very late,” the actor said, speaking to AccessHollywood.com via phone from the set in Tel Aviv. “My priority was to know a little bit more about the regions.
“The most important way of informing him and informing him in scenes was, for me, to have an understanding of the [context] and the background to the area. Also, obviously, there are kind of similarities with other ruling families, particularly in Syria — the Assad, so I read a biography of the current president, Bashar al-Assad… and that was very interesting to see how that regime developed. And that gave me an insight into the previous patriarchs of one of these regimes and that, for me, was important,” Adam continued. “Barry’s head would be full of his father. So it was important for me to understand that kind of figure, because that was the thing that was sort of looming largest in his life.”
Adding to the character’s complexity is Barry’s English-born mother. And while it would have been an easy plot twist to have made her background an influence for Barry’s move to the West, Adam said she serves as a counterpoint to the culture her son ran to.
“I think it’s more of an ideological split for him,” Adam said of Barry’s world view. “He is definitely split between the two worlds, but not because he has an Arab parent and a non-Arab parent, if you see what I mean. … I think his mother is very influential, but not because she brought to him sort of Western values and sort of shoved that down his throat. [It’s] almost the reverse, in fact, because she’s a very stoical, very loyal figure, and in a way, she represented to him the importance of loyalty to his father and loyalty to the family.”
While Barry’s past is hinted at in the pilot through flashbacks to his youth in Abbudin (the fictional nation he comes from), his American family knows very little about his past, and he doesn’t seize opportunities to fill them in.
Freshly back from a run in one of the series’ opening scenes, Barry walks in as his family is discussing their impending trip. His son Sammy (Noah Silver) is excited at the prospect of being treated like royalty, while his daughter Emma (Anne Winters) shares that she’s hesitant to go because she knows her dad doesn’t want to. Barry listens to their exchange, but doesn’t chime in to say or explain anything. But that’s one of the ways this drama from showrunner/Executive Producer Howard Gordon draws its audience in – introducing a lead character, who, in the first episode – from America to Abbudin — is surprisingly economical, and at times even sparse, with his words.
“That was the interesting thing about the pilot was that it was having a hero character in a sense, who was the least engaged,” Adam said. “You’ve got an hour of TV where the main guy doesn’t really want to be there, and is a bit monosyllabic, which is kind strange and great, but you can’t base a whole a show on that. … Obviously then it has to go somewhere and eventually, the guy has to engage, otherwise the audience would get bored of him pretty quickly. They’d just be like, ‘Well just go home then.’”
He might be right, but it’s worth noting how fascinating the character of Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed is, even without lengthy premiere episode speeches. Pilot flashbacks to his youth in Abbudin reveal a blue-eyed youngster who is intelligent, quiet, quite stoic and keenly observant of everything going on around him, including the verbal abuse (by their dictator father) of his older brother, Jamal.
The flashbacks start to help fill in why Barry hasn’t been open with his family, and the trip to Abbudin deepens their – and the audience’s – understanding of why.
“I think it becomes clear pretty soon that he was keeping this secret because he wanted to put it in a box and put it away and not go back to it,” Adam said. “The show is about the opening of that box. You’ve got to start getting into that. … He has to start admitting why he’s been running away and he has to start facing that and he has to start finding reasons to stay and engage, because that is the show. … It’s not ‘Breaking Bad,’ where I’m running around desperately trying to keep this house of cards, of millions of lies together.
“Once you unlock that part of his life, then the show begins,” Adam added.
“Tyrant” premieres Tuesday night at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.
-- Jolie Lash