Mistaken For A Terrorist: ‘Homeland’ Star Only Plays One On TV

Navid Negahban

(CNN) — It’s hard to say that looking like a terrorist would be a good thing, but it hasn’t gone so badly for Navid Negahban.

The Iranian-born actor, who has played a range of bad guys during his career, currently plays terrorist Abu Nazir on the Showtime hit series “Homeland,” and the success of the series has made him one of the world’s best-known non-terrorists.

That may be a good thing for his acting career. Turns out it’s not so good at airports.

“What happens is that I’m playing all of these different characters and my facial hair changes and I have different looks,” said Negahban on a recent cell phone call from Los Angeles. “When I’m at the airport, the agents look at my passport and they look at me and there is something in their eyes, and you can see them thinking, ‘I know this guy. Where have I seen him before?’”

That’s usually when the questions begin, said Negahban, who now almost relishes the experience as he travels the world to promote and work on the show.

“I went to shoot a project in Toronto last year and I still had a full beard and my hair was a little bit longer, and I was scruffy — I mean, I was afraid of getting on a plane with myself,” joked Negahban, who had to go through a customs line in New York’s LaGuardia Airport. “I was going through the line and the agent locked eyes with me and I thought ‘Oh, here we go again.’”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Where are you going?”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I was so tired and I said, ‘Well, lately I’ve been playing a most-wanted terrorist on TV’ — and the minute the word ‘terrorist’ came out of my mouth, even the other people standing in line began looking,” Negahban said.

It was only then, he said, that the Customs and Border Protection officer realized who he really was.

“He looks at me and he says, ‘Oh, my God! I just saw the season finale and I love the show.” Then he turns around and tells the other agents, “Look, Abu Nazir is here!”

Negahban has also played roles on Fox’s pulse-pounding television series “24″ as well as USA Network’s spy thriller “Covert Affairs.” But this time, he knows that his audience reaches a little higher up the official lines of power, with President Barack Obama reportedly a fan of the show.

“The president is watching,” Negahban said. “It is fantastic that he is a big fan. If you know who is watching, you are obviously trying to be your best. But at the same time I think I will be nervous when he sends me an invitation to the White House.”

Let’s just hope the Marine guard who has to clear him is also a fan of the show.
   
By Suzanne Kelly

CNN Intelligence Correspondent

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