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Lee Tamahori Brings 'The Devil's Double' to Life

Lee Tamahori Brings 'The Devil's Double' to Life
In the film "The Devil's Double," based on a true story, Dominic Cooper plays two characters: Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday, and Latif Yahia, the man who was forced to become his double. Director Lee Tamahori talked to Back Stage about guiding Cooper as he tackled these extremely difficult roles and delivered two astonishing performances, and why Tamahori—who previously directed big-budget films "Die Another Day," "Along Came a Spider," "XXX: State of the Union," and "Next"—wanted to make this independent film.

Back Stage: How did you work with Dominic Cooper to help him give his best performance as both characters?

Lee Tamahori: To me, the best example of a twin movie was always David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers." The reason for that was Jeremy Irons always gave a terribly convincing performance of two separate characters. I always felt I was watching two different people. I then realized Dominic Cooper and I had to separate these two characters very closely so there would be no confusion and no one would stop to think that Dominic was playing two roles. The way we did that was through plain, old-fashioned technique. We made Uday walk differently from Latif. One character had a higher pitch than the other; one character had slang English versus precise English. Changed all mannerisms, body language, for each character. For the special effects, we would put the two together in one frame. The key to keeping Dominic in two characters was a combination of three people: Dominic, myself, and a voice coach. I would concentrate on character, Dominic would concentrate on character and mannerisms, the voice coach would concentrate on voice and would correct Dominic's voice every time he slipped up. You don't really know if it's going to work until you get into the editing room. You can check by watching playback, but nothing is for sure until you start the editing process.

Back Stage: What is your best advice for actors if they ever have to play dual roles in one film like Dominic did?

Tamahori: You've got to play both characters yourself in your own time and space. You have to create these characters separately yourself in front of a mirror, while looking at yourself. Perhaps also working with a voice coach—always [be] character driven. Once you inhabit the skin of one character, it will easily fall in line to adopt the other characters. It's really acting 101, first days of drama school. Concentrate on what's real: how they drink, how they sleep, manners, drinking a cup of tea. After that it's technical. For those actors who are up for it, it's a wonderful challenge. You are acting against a cross on the wall, talking to thin air, and occasionally you are delivering lines to a body double. You have to trust your director, as you can easily get lost.

Back Stage: What was the experience of directing this film like for you?

Tamahori: I had a really good experience making this film because it was a return to independent film for me. I hadn't shot an independent film since "Once Were Warriors" in 1994. I was worried that I may have to relearn the disciplines of independent film, which are fiscal responsibility and having to make do with what you got. I'm happy to report that having made studio movies for 15 years in between, I hadn't lost the ability to do that, which means you always have less money than you want and you always have to make you resources go further than you normally would on a standard studio production.

Back Stage: What inspired you to direct it?

Tamahori: It wasn't really much of an inspiration, but the fascination of despots and dictators. They always have rotten children who get away with murder, especially Uday Hussein. When a script came up that allowed a peek inside one of these rotten regimes, I jumped at the chance to do it. I relearned a bunch of old habits, which are getting the film shot on time, tight budget, and to lose some battles but overall win the war.

Back Stage: What is your best overall advice for actors?

Tamahori: Always be original. Never duplicate what you've seen another actor do. Be true to the character that you've been given and the rest will come easy. It's about as simple as that.

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