“Tyrant,” the new FX drama debuting Tuesday, features white actor Adam Rayner in the lead role of Barry Al-Fayeed, the son of a Middle Eastern despot who returns to his home country.
After decades of Hollywood “whitewashing,” most people no longer look very favorably on the practice of letting white actors play people of other ethnicities. But Rayner and “Tyrant” creator Gideon Raff say the show is an unusual case.
We talked to them at a Television Critics Association panel earlier this year, and here’s what they told us.
TheWrap: There’s an impression [that you are] hiring a white actor to play a Middle Eastern character. I don’t even know what your ethnicity is. But if that’s the case, why not give this role to a person of Middle East descent?
Executive producer Howard Gordon: Was that to Adam or to us or all of us?
TheWrap: I’m asking Adam if he is a white male.
Rayner: I am. I am. I am. (Laughter.) Well, I think we can all agree that if you are having to radically, physically transform someone to play a different race or ethnicity, that doesn’t fly anymore. But we’re not changing my appearance in any way. My mother in the show is English if you want some kind of explanation for what I look like. And, of course, as was mentioned before, you know, people like the Alawites and communities like that could easily look how I do. But basically, I would agree that it’s completely unacceptable to radically transform someone along racial and ethnic lines, but we’re not having to do that. So it seems like it’s okay.
TheWrap: Did you also look at actors of Middle Eastern descent and just choose the best person for the role?
Raff: Yeah. That’s exactly what we did.
“Tyrant” premieres tonight on FX at 10/9c.