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29 July 2011

A special thanks for all my friends around the world

My Dear Friends, today is the day! The Devil's Double is released in the US! I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this movie happen, especially Michael Thomas for writing a brilliant screenplay, and Dominic who really put his heart and soul or should I say nearly lost his soul playing me and Uday. A special thanks for all my friends around the world for all their support for the past twenty years but especially for the past seven since we started this project.
Best regards,
Latif Yahia.

26 July 2011

HuffPost Review: The Devil's Double

By: Marshall Fine

Author and film critic,

Reality is what you say it is when you're the dictator tyrant who runs a country like Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

That's a lesson that's quickly learned by Latif Yahia, who is a near-twin for Hussein's viciously rabbity son, Uday. As played by Dominic Cooper (An Education), Latif is a conscientious soldier in Hussein's army with no interest in either politics or serving the Hussein government anymore than he is forced to.

But in The Devil's Double, based on a true story, Latif is, in fact, coerced - nay, required, mandated, forced - to become Uday Hussein's double. The alternatives are dire - torture for him and, if he still refuses, torture and/or death for his parents. What can he do except agree?

Which becomes the moral crux of Lee Tamahori's viciously compelling film: Is there a point at which you become culpable for acts you are forced to witness, to participate in? If there is no escape other than death - or if even your death holds the promise of torture and death for your family and loved ones - can you be considered guilty for anything you do?

Looking smart: Cooper slipped into a trendy tuxedo suit teamed with silvery grey shoes and a quiffed hairstyle.

Even if the answer to that question is no, is there any way you can live with yourself if you are complicit in atrocities and murder? What is the toll on your soul just from being a witness to the horrifying treatment of others without offering protest?

These are issues that are never discussed in the course of Tamahori's film - but they will undoubtedly lodge in the mind of the viewer. The situation Latif faces in "The Devil's Double" is a nightmare, from which there seemingly is no escape. Yet he does attempt to escape, often with harsh consequences for himself.

The backdrop of the film is the period between the Iran-Iraq war, in which Latif fights heroically, and the first Gulf War. Latif is an eyewitness to the excess of Uday, who drinks and drugs to excess, cuts a sexual swath through the palace faithful, even as he kills enemies and perceived enemies with relish and on impulse. Latif is on hand to make public appearances for Uday when Uday needs to be in two places at once, or when he's too hung-over - or when there's a plausible threat against his life.

Latif becomes a believable double, learning to mimic Uday's speaking style, his idioms, his cocky posture and shoot-first mentality. But Latif is constantly looking for his way out - not to kill Uday and take his place but to simply escape from his servitude and status as wingman to a monster, to flee the country and have a life of his own.

The action in this film is bloody and unnerving, whether it is Uday gigglingly torturing and raping young women or shooting and stabbing his perceived enemies. He cackles like some Semitic version of Woody Woodpecker as he commits one horror after another.

Amazingly, Dominic Cooper plays both roles here, something I didn't realize until I looked at the press notes halfway through the film. He's so convincingly different as Latif - quiet, dignified, reserved, simmering - that, at first, you're convinced that you're watching two different actors. It's the kind of performance that can be showy and inauthentic; Cooper, instead, makes each character singular, even when Latif is consciously trying to imitate Uday.

Ice T and his wife Coco also came along to the premiere

Indeed, Cooper's work here is absolutely Oscar-worthy, a tour de force that should be remembered at year's end. Chilling, thrilling and hard to take at times, The Devil's Double" offers one of the great performances of this or any year - or is it two performances?

25 July 2011

The Bigger they are…..

By: Latif Yahia

It may take decades or even a lifetime to build an empire, but it seems relatively easy to tear one down. Or at least that appears to be the case with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. ranked number 13 on Forbes most powerful people in the world list, it looks as the days go by that more and more high ranking politicians and policemen will be dragged into Murdoch’s phone hacking scandal, both in the UK and America, there are now calls to see if any of the victims of 9/11’s phones were hacked. Are we surprised?

Rupert Murdoch??

Not really, to do business on the scale that Rupert Murdoch was doing it, there had to be people “on the take”, but do not be fooled into believing that he was handing them the brown envelopes personally, well, maybe a few, but the rest were passed on from those who were sanctioned to do so or saw it as a way of doing their job to the fullness of their ability. Yes Murdoch is corrupt, but he would not be the first or the last to use money to his advantage.

There are several ways of attaining information, it can be given freely, it can be bought or it can be stolen. Thankfully we have not yet come across the fourth, torture, but that’s not to say that any newspaper, magazine etc. has not used information that came from a torture subject, known or unknown.

At the moment the world may be vilifying Murdoch but he is not alone and not the first of his kind, if he ran a country we would call him a Dictator but because he runs a company we call him (until very recently) a Success.

He very possibly never wrote a Manifesto like Saddam or stood and gave a rousing speech to his workers about the strength of the country (News corp. operates on three continents) but with so many assets he has as many workers as a medium sized country and they all want to keep their leader happy, sorry, I mean keep their jobs.

Like all good dictators he has passed the crown onto his son and heir, the next natural successor, after all he didn’t work this hard for it to go to some elected fool! And his devoted workers all know what is expected of them, which is why all of his newspapers, magazines and TV stations take the same line, not necessarily because he told them to, but because they know what pleases him and again they want to keep their jobs and prove how good they are. That reminds me of someone else I once knew.

Don’t think that Rupert Murdoch is the exception to the rule, he is the rule.

Take Tony O’Reilly for example, once maligned by the likes of Conrad Black (who has also fallen off his pedestal) and Murdoch, he has an uncomfortable monopoly on the Irish media as he has a large stake in all but two of the National papers, a fact that rarely sees him criticized but famously helped him to swing the general election in 1997 from the prevailing party (Fianna Gael) to the opposition with the headline “ Payback time” and why? Because O’Reilly had personally demanded reform of the libel laws, a ban on below cost selling by British newspapers and exclusive MMDS licenses (a wireless cable TV system) and his demands were rejected. Tony O’Reilly in Ireland??

The government report of the meeting with his representatives said they were told “We will mount a full frontal assault on you, as a government, in the elections”, O’Reilly’s representatives’ version of the same meeting simply says “We said that they would lose INP (Independent Newspaper Group, now International News and Media) as friends and would mean any future administration would have a large bill to pay”.

Fianna Fail the opposing party who had a more sympathetic ear to O’Reilly won that election and stayed in power for another 12 years.

Sir Anthony (Tony) O’Reilly, has stakes in newspapers on three continents, not to mention the controversial oil and gas deals with Exxon for the licenses to blocks in the Porcupine Basin some 200Km of the West Coast of Ireland, which have now been portioned off to Chrysaor to develop, but still leaving his company Providence Resources formerly Atlantic Resources with a 30% share in whatever gets pumped out.

O’Reilly campaigned between 1987 and 1992 to have the tax rate, royalties and licensing with regard to oil and gas exploration and production lowered, although they were already substantially lower than those prevalent across much of the world.

Mike Cunningham former director of Statoil Exploration Ireland has said “No other country in the world has given such favorable terms as Ireland”, it is projected that if any of the blocks are produced, that the Irish State may receive as little or less than 7% of the estimated 20 Billion that the blocks are potentially worth.

But why share when you are of the belief that it is a “simplistic public notion that Irish oil and minerals belonged to the Irish people at large.”

Sir Anthony, as he has insisted that he is called, is known for his support of Irish Charities, Opera and the Arts and has acquired an art collection that he is obviously very proud of, since he has had a catalogue printed at a reported cost of 125,000 euros for 500 copies one of which has been reportedly sent to the Queen of England another to the President of Ireland.

Sir Anthony did indeed consult the Irish Government before accepting his Knighthood / Knight Bachelor in 2001 for “services to Northern Ireland’, as an Irishman cannot constitutionally accept any award or title bestowed upon him by a foreign country without getting their consent, but after 1997, who is going to say NO to Tony?

As one of Ireland’s six Billionaires, (although his status may have fallen over the years) he is in the majority of the five that do not pay tax to Ireland. Having said that there are wonderful comments made in the Irish press about him, how “ if you cut him, his blood runs green”. Tony is now in his 70’s and has done as all Emperor’s/dictator’s do, handed everything over to his son Gavin.

If you want to control a country or should I say countries, then you must have control of the media. We may elect our politicians but it is the media men who control what is and is not said about them, they are the puppet-masters. We only see and hear what they want us to, or at least that was the case.

With the birth of the internet the game changed, people like Murdoch, O’Reilly and Berlusconi were slow to recognize the power that the internet has, the fact that less and less people are buying newspapers and more and more are not only getting their news from the internet but from the blogosphere, where articles like this are unhindered by the journalistic need to please. Here, on the internet we are free enough to write without editor-ship, I don’t know how many times I have been interviewed by journalists who at the time of the interview are understanding of my position and clear on my views only to read the story in the paper or magazine and find that I have been “Screwed royally” because their Editor didn’t like the first draft or it didn’t fall in line with their “paper’s policy” meaning their owner’s policy.

Will there be a “phone hacking scandal” in Ireland? Maybe, but probably not, not because there was, or is no corruption in the system, but because if they were to openly investigate it would mean a revolution “French Style” because 80% of all the police and politicians would have to go.

When one man has enough power to have his newspaper, even a local one, write against the Shell to Sea campaign in County Mayo, Ireland, as opined by a columnist

“Shell has been scandalously remiss in not employing someone to bump off a few of these fellows” as “The rule of law has to be enforced, by apparently harsh measures if need be.”

This also tracks back to Tony’s own interests in Oil and Gas exploration.

If you are interested in Shell to Sea they have a website and are organizing a large protest on Friday 29th July 2011 as Shell are starting to build their on land phase.

22 July 2011

Dominic Cooper does double duty in 'Devil's Double'
The actor gets to portray Uday Hussein and his body double thanks to high- and low-tech methods.


Dominic Cooper stars as Latif Yahia (left) and Uday Hussein (right) in
"The Devil's Double." (Lionsgate, Lionsgate / July 24, 2011)

In "The Devil's Double," which opens in Los Angeles on Friday, actor Dominic Cooper does double duty. Not only does he play Uday Hussein, the notorious sadistic playboy son of Saddam Hussein, he also plays Latif Yahia — a man whose resemblance to Uday earned him the unwelcome job of his body double.

Audiences have long loved a twin-type story — and given the economics of modern Hollywood, getting two performances out of one star must seem like a good deal. Although making it appear as if the same person is doubled on-screen is one of the oldest camera tricks around, digital technology has given filmmakers more options than ever to work their sleight-of-hand.

In last year's "The Social Network," for instance, two actors were used to portray the bodies of the Winklevoss twins — but digital head-replacement effects gave them identical faces. Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar is set to make her return to series television this fall with "Ringer," playing a woman on the run who assumes the life of her twin sister. Comedian Adam Sandler will play male-female twins in November's "Jack and Jill."

In making "The Devil's Double," director Lee Tamahori found that constraints of time, money and story meant that rather than strictly going for the shiniest new tools available, crafting Cooper's on-screen double would require a mix of old and new techniques and figuring things out as the production moved along.

The film is loosely based on the real-life story of Yahia and creates a garish portrait of late-1980s Baghdad that is equal parts seductive and repulsive. Cooper's dual performance becomes a vivid exploration of identity, as an innocent man loses himself inside the disorientingly glamorous and dangerous world of a depraved monster.

Michael Thomas' script specified that Uday and Latif be played by the same actor, making the casting especially important, while also pointing toward the visual effects problem-solving that would be needed to put the two characters on-screen together.

"That was going to be the big challenge of the film," Tamahori said. "Everything else was kind of a no-brainer, but there's really no road map for doing these twin-shot movies. You can talk to the technical people about how to do it and we looked at what other people had done, but I was adamant that really the most important thing was to separate the two characters so completely that people would believe they are watching two characters, not one actor playing two parts."

"The Devil's Double" returns Tamahori to the international indie roots of his 1994 film "Once Were Warriors," after excursions into Hollywood filmmaking on titles such as the James Bond movie "Die Another Day." The fast 52-day shooting schedule on "Devil" and relatively low budget (less than $15 million, according to Tamahori) meant that some obvious solutions for putting Cooper (whose films include "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "Mamma Mia!") on-screen with himself wouldn't work.

"I thought going in that it was going to be a full-blown VFX picture with head replacements and motion-control everywhere," said Tamahori, referring to a kind of computerized camera control. "We had a very tight schedule, and I was trying to throw the entire bag of tricks at it. I wanted a motion-control rig hired for the entire movie, and that was just too expensive. So we went on a kind of two- or three-track approach of trickery combined with good old-fashioned acting."

Foremost was to make strong distinctions between Cooper's portrayal of the two characters. For Uday, he used a higher, slightly wheezier voice, which an on-set voice coach monitored to ensure he didn't slip into while talking as Latif. False teeth, makeup and some prosthetics were also used to change Cooper's appearance between Latif and Uday.

"I had the feeling I was working with two actors," said actress Ludivine Sagnier, who plays a girlfriend of Uday's who becomes involved with Latif.

For scenes in which Cooper was to appear in both roles, Tamahori would shoot him with another actor filling the opposite role. Then Cooper, and sometimes the double, would change costumes and do the scene again for the other role. Shooting digitally meant that Tamahori could immediately get an idea of how the sides matched up.

Tamahori was surprised to discover that the sound recording was often as important and difficult to match as the image. So that Cooper could properly seem to be exchanging dialogue with himself in the finished version, Tamahori and his technical team decided to record a handful of takes of the first side of a scene, then stop to decide upon the best one right on the set.

A sound edit would then immediately be made of the dialogue so that Cooper — sometimes wearing an earpiece to hear his recorded voice — could go ahead with the second take knowing how to respond to the timing of the lines, heightening the reality of his interactions with himself. (A similar on-the-spot technique was used for some scenes in "Moon" when Sam Rockwell played a man trapped in a space station with a clone of himself.)

"The technicalities of it for me were unlike anything I've ever known," Cooper said. "One of the things I find most enjoyable about acting is that ability to react and respond with another actor, to develop and unravel and make a scene progress. And here I would do it as one character and that would be set in stone. The most helpful thing was I knew all the thoughts going through my head as I was acting it the first time and I could kind of respond to the memory of that."

David Cronenberg's 1988 film "Dead Ringers," in which Jeremy Irons played twin gynecologists, was among the first to use computer technology to exactingly replicate camera moves when shooting both halves of twin-effect shots. In "Devil's Double," a full motion-control setup — where the entire camera body can without human contact physically move and pan or tilt and then the sequence can be repeated — was used for the most complicated shots, such as when Uday brings Latif to a full-length mirror to admire their likenesses.

More frequently, though, Tamahori and cinematographer Sam McCurdy used what they came to think of as a half motion-control set-up, whereby the camera could be moved on a dolly or tracks by grips and then brought to a stop, with the camera operator executing a pan or tilt once the camera had come to a fixed position. A computerized mount known as a memory head was then used to perfectly re-execute the operator's move on a second pass. This technique was faster — and cheaper.

Among the most complicated shots to achieve in any "twin" film is to have the two characters appear to touch. In "Dead Ringers," the twins touch only once, and they are not moving in the shot. In "The Devil's Double," the two characters touch several times, one being a scene in which Uday places a gun into Latif's hand. That was one of only three instances in which a digital head-replacement effect was used in the film.

As the production progressed, Cooper and the filmmakers modulated their approach to each shot.

"I was always learning," Cooper said. "It would change, sometimes I'd have another actor, sometimes I wouldn't, sometimes I had an earpiece, it was all how I felt at that time and what was most useful for that shot and that moment.

"There were moments where we were all shouting at each other, 'Maybe this would work,' 'No, this,' and it was just a fantastic, vibrant, very un-technical environment," he added. "I had no idea really what I was getting myself involved in, this technology that no one knew a huge amount about. I think we were all kind of amazed it worked at all."

21 July 2011

A Poet of On-Screen Violence

Lee Tamahori insists that his scripts are already dripping with violence when he gets them.

It wasn't his choice to torture James Bond for 14 months in a North Korean prison, having him water-boarded, beaten while dangling from handcuffs and bitten by scorpions—all within the opening credits—in "Die Another Day," the Bond movie he directed in 2002. It was already in the script, he says.

The episode of 'The Sopranos" that he directed begins with Richie Aprile, one of the show's most gleefully twisted characters, getting out of prison and immediately smashing a glass coffee pot (filled with hot coffee) over the head of a pizzeria owner whom he feels has not paid him proper respect. In the last scene, the gangster runs down the same hapless victim, repeatedly backing over his prone body. Blame it on David Chase, the show's creator.

His latest movie, 'The Devil's Double," is no ode to pacifism, either. The film tells the story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi military officer who is forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein's depraved son, Uday. (Actor Dominic Cooper deftly takes both roles.) Mr. Tamahori says he actually toned down the script to make it more palatable to viewers.

The 61-year old New Zealand director first made a name for himself in 1994 with "Once Were Warriors," a grim depiction of Maori poverty and domestic violence. The indie film attracted widespread critical acclaim and brought offers from Hollywood. Since then, Mr. Tamahori has worked on a checkered assortment of films, ranging from the Nicolas Cage bomb, "Next," to a taut thriller, "The Edge," starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, with a screenplay by David Mamet.

The Wall Street Journal: What attracted you to "The Devil's Double"?

Mr. Tamahori: I've always been perversely fascinated by the rotten sons of dictators. Now you have Gadhafi and his ragtag brood in Libya. They always seem to breed these contemptuous children. They have unlimited funds and they can literally get away with murder.

You've said you used gangster movies as a model for "The Devil's Double."

It kind of screamed out for the gangster genre. It was kind of a mafia family. There was nothing that can take this guy down. The Hussein family almost mirrored the Corleones and that's how I framed it in the film. You've got Saddam as Don Corleone. You've got an out-of-control Sonny who is never going to get the power (in Uday) and Qusay, the younger son, is the Michael of the piece.

It's a pretty dark, violent movie.

We modified some aspects of it. It was a pretty relentless script. This guy was 50 times worse than anything we've done in the film. We couldn't do end-to-end horror stories.

One of the most disturbing scenes is when, as a warning to stay in line, Latif is shown very realistic homemade torture tapes from Uday's private collection. They weren't actual found tapes; they were created for the movie, right?

I wanted that scene to be horrific. I wanted it to come out of nowhere, while Latif was lying around in the lap of luxury, having his feet massaged. Uday used to film everything. I decided that the best person to shoot all the torture video stuff was me because I'm a bad cameraman. We didn't even light it. It was just me and the actors. I had a Handycam as if I was a voyeuristic camera operator. For a lot of people, that scene is the worst in the movie. There is a cut-down version of those torture scenes, (to get an R-rated version for the U.S.)

What did you cut from the scene?

A rape at the beginning, a woman getting gang raped. A man being blow-torched. And a guy having his head drilled. I'm not saying that more is better. It was almost too much for some people.

How did violence become such a big part of your movies?

I grew up in New Zealand and became a great fan of the hard-edged American film directors of the '60s, Bob Aldrich ["The Dirty Dozen"], Sam Peckinpah ["The Wild Bunch"]. When you hadn't seen stuff like that before, it was quite shocking. I started to see that there was a different way of approaching violence in pictures. I'd seen barroom brawls. I've seen quite a bit of it. It was always around me. Fights and brawls between men are usually very vicious and over very fast. The fake American fight scenes, where they would slug it out and people would go through windows, I never really believed it.

What about the violence in "Once Were Warriors"?

In fight scenes, the more that you cut, the more edits you use, the more the audience becomes aware that there is trickery going on. In "Once Were Warriors," we used very few cuts. One shot. I had an ex-bouncer from Glasgow as the stunt coordinator. Glasgow breeds the toughest streetfighters in all of Scotland. The brawling in pubs is almost legendary. I told him I wanted that style of fighting. In a barroom brawl, you hit him before he hits you and you hit him with everything you've got and when he's down, you make sure he's unconscious. That's the simple basic rule of all street fighting. When the movie was released, people would come up to me, boxers, wrestlers, people who had training in hand-to-hand combat, and say, "that is the most realistic film I've ever seen."

How did you get involved in "The Sopranos"?

I watched the first episodes and said, "this is the best television I've ever seen. This is brilliant. I want to do one of these." They got me a meeting with David Chase, who was in town casting season two, and I said "David, just let me do one.''

What was it like to work on the show?

I was a very happy cog in the machine. It came from David and his writing crew. They imposed themselves brilliantly on the show, as they should. It was so tight. Even if I'd tried to change one word in the script, all the writers would go into a huddle and they'd say, "Yeah that's OK," or "Just leave it as it is." It was wonderful to have that level of concentration on the script.

What did you bring to your Bond film?

It was my idea to do all these little homages to Bond history. It's chock full of little tiny set pieces, with echoes of things that have been seen before. Only hard-core Bond fans will notice them. Nobody has picked up all of them.

The Devil's Double Official Trailer 2011

18 July 2011

My Life as the Devil’s Double

They forced me to stand in for Saddam’s son. I escaped—but never got my revenge.

by Latif Yahia
July 17, 2011
During the late 1980s, I was working as an officer in the Iraqi Army when my commanding general received a letter that demanded I report to a palace in Baghdad within 72 hours. When I went to the palace, I was brought to see Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son. “I want you to be my fiday,” he said. In Arabic, fiday means body double or bullet catcher. I didn’t understand. “Do you want me to be your bodyguard?” I asked. “No,” he said. “Our intelligence service says we look like each other, and I want you to work as my double.”
Left: Uday Hussein.; Right: Latif Yahia.
I felt like somebody had hit me in the head with a hammer. “Do I have a choice?” I asked, thinking this was somehow a joke. “If you refuse,” Uday said, “you can go back to the Army. We don’t have a problem with you.” It was a lie. As soon as I left the palace, his guards threw me in the trunk of a car and took me to jail. Everything was painted red inside the cell to make you stressed and remind you of blood. A completely red room is also disorienting.
They kept me in this jail for a week before Uday asked to see me again; he was trying to torture me psychologically. This time he threatened to rape my sisters, who were only little girls at the time. “I’ll do it, but leave my family alone,” I told him. And that’s when it all started.
After that, I often saw rape, torture, killings. The torture was really sick when Uday was doing it. One time I was sitting in the Iraqi Olympic Committee office, and the father of a girl Uday had raped was brought in. She was a beauty queen—Miss Baghdad. The father had tried to complain to Saddam, so Uday wanted to take revenge. He asked me to shoot the guy in the head, but I refused. He said, “I’m ordering you—shoot him!” I went crazy. I grabbed a knife and cut my wrists in front of him. He was shocked. I was taken to the hospital, and Uday never asked me to shoot anyone again after that.
I escaped Iraq in the early 1990s. But I spent five years afterward in counseling and psychological treatment, dealing with the things I saw: torture and kidnapping of girls, rape, and all these things. Once I tried to commit suicide by taking tablets; another time I tried to hang myself. I was so depressed. I was taking a lot of Valium to calm down. Even now I don’t get to sleep until 5 or 6 in the morning. I always have nightmares. When you live in the West, you don’t see things like torture.
In 2003 I was watching the news in my office in Manchester, England, when I heard that Uday had been killed by American soldiers. I had a cup of coffee in my hand, and I smashed it straight into the TV. I was very angry. I didn’t want to see Uday get killed. I wanted him to be tried in court, to be tried for his crimes. I wanted to be in court to be able to say, “Look at what this guy did to me.” I wanted justice. But it never happened.
A movie based on Yahia’s Life, The Devil’s Double, opens in the U.S. this month.