There had been a worrying trend to Akin Gazi’s screen appearances to date. In his first major role, the Edmonton-raised actor starred alongside Harvey Keitel in American mini-series The Path to 9/11, playing the real-life terrorist responsible for blowing up the American embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

“This man was responsible for the murder of 300 people,“ he explains. “The night before the shoot I did get really worked up, to get into the zone, to be a killer. But I stopped myself – I said you’ve got to save this energy for tomorrow. It caused me a lot of heartache.“

It was something he’d have to get used to. Next came a part in 10 Days To War: Blowback, a BBC series about radical Islamists recruiting young men for jihad, and then he played Mohammed Asha, the doctor initially arrested for the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007 in Glasgow Terror. Last year he appeared in BBC MI5 drama Spooks as a sniper with his cross-hairs set on the President.

“They’ve all been quite negative characters – your one-dimensional villains and terrorists,“ explains the 29-year-old, whose swarthy good looks are more Dr Zhivago than Dr Evil. “Being from a Turkish background, I’ve found myself playing a lot of these characters.“

“Typical,“ says Mazin Qumsiyeh, author of 100 Years of Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim Stereotyping. Another case of ’the three-B syndrome’, he argues: “Arabs in TV and movies are always portrayed as either bombers, belly dancers, or billionaires.“

“In the last 30 some years,“ argues Mazin, “the predominant stereotype by far has been the ’Arab bombers’.“

But the sand could be shifting on mainstream cinema’s stereotype thanks to two major releases, both starring Akin, released this year.

“I hope these films are going to change all that,“ says Akin. “Arabs and Muslims, they’re good and bad and everything in between. There’s more to them than just the bad guys.“

Starring Dominic Cooper in both lead roles, The Devil’s Double tells the true story one really bad guy, sadistic party-boy Uday Hussein, son of Sadam, and Latif Yahia, the Iraqi soldier press-ganged into being his body double. Akin’s character in the film (already being dubbed ’The Middle Eastern Scarface’) has more depth than audiences might be expecting.

He plays a groom whose bride is brutally raped by Uday on their wedding day. The bride, consumed with shame, commits suicide in front of the gathered guests with Akin’s character vowing to wreak revenge.

“He loses the plot, as you can understand,“ explains Akin. “I did my research. This guy is a real person. After his wife was killed he went insane.

“Now he sits alone in a room in Holland, the walls covered with pictures of his wife. I used that image of him sitting there, it kept spinning round my head the whole time. It was hard. I was depressed for two months thinking about it. It seeps into your personal life – you can’t help that.“

The epic Black Gold, widely thought to be the biggest Arab-backed production of all-time, is set in the Arab states during the 1930s oil boom and stars Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto and Tahar Rahim.

The huge-scale battle scenes were filmed in Tunisia at the height of the revolution that ousted longtime President Ben Ali.

“The production crew did their best to keep it from us,“ recalls Akin, “but when there’s tanks on the streets you know something’s up. There was an element of having to stay in your hotel. We ran out of food, and ran out of cigarettes.

“We were there to make a movie, that was most important to us. But when something like that happens it’s difficult to ignore.“

Despite the tough working conditions, it appears from early production stills that this is an epic set to rival Lawrence of Arabia. If successful, the big-budget releases could lead a cinematic revolution of their own, and mean no more terrorist roles for Akin.

“The public are tired of that subject, the threat is out there still but there’s more to the Middle East than bombers and baddies, the culture is really rich. I’m glad to be a part of it.“

The Devil’s Double is released on August 12. Black Gold is due for release later this year.

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