Rahim joins Benedict Cumberbatch, Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley in the stark drama about the legal battle to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, based on the memoir by Mohamedou Ould Salahi.
One of the banned interrogation practises used at Guantanamo – in spite of international outcries – was waterboarding, which has been classified as a form of torture by the United Nations.
In discussing his BAFTA Film Award-nominated role, Rahim revealed that he'd actually undergone waterboarding to understand what Mohamedou went through.
"Out of respect to Mohamedou and the people still living this and my director [Kevin Macdonald] and the audience I needed to get as close as possible to his actual conditions so I could convey authenticity," he explained during BAFTA Film: The Sessions 2021.
"I didn’t, I couldn’t and didn’t want to sell something so I asked them to turn the cells as cold as possible, I wore real shackles, I got waterboarded, but it was intense really.
"I had to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time and I only had three weeks to match physically with Mohamedou. The last six days of shooting were very intense because it was all the interrogation scenes and the torture scenes.
"So you know, when you fast that hard and get so exhausted, it becomes more of an experience than a performance and your spirit flies to some emotional places that are unexpected. I don’t know, I couldn’t do it otherwise and at some point I really felt it, I felt it, but it has nothing to do with Mohamedou because I knew in the back of my mind I would go back to my hotel room when we wrapped."
He continued: "But there was one moment very strange because, of course, I happened to have some tools to portray Mohamedou, culturally wise. He lost his mum while he was there, I did too and when we had to play that scene it was the last day of shooting when he hallucinates and he sees his mum in his cell. I almost saw my own mum, it was so strange. I said to Kevin I can only do it once, just one take. I collapsed. Yeah, I needed it, I couldn’t do it otherwise. Some actors are gifted enough to live it inside of their head, I just couldn’t."
The Mauritanian is a powerful testament to how the post-9/11 xenophobia in America impacted innocent lives around the world — so much so that Rahim heard from someone who's eyed had been opened by the movie.
"I had some messages and especially one a guy had sent me texts or a DM or something and he said: 'I was part of these people who hated everything that was connected with 9/11'," he recalled. "'I was so stubborn that I even stopped a relationship with a very good friend of mine because he was Middle Eastern' and when he watched the movie, he called him back to ask for forgiveness.
"You understand why I’m saying that sometimes movies are beyond cinema because sometimes it can help people with preconceived ideas to change their minds and maybe look at the world in another direction."
The Mauritanian will stream on Amazon Prime Video from April 1 in the UK. The EE BAFTA Film Awards will take place over a weekend of celebration on April 10 and 11 on the BBC.
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