Movies + TV

Actor Adam Rayner on His New FX Show Tyrant, Skinny Jeans, and Why British Audiences Are Annoying


You're going to be hearing a lot about Adam Rayner in the coming days for good reason: The British actor takes on his most buzzed-about role yet in Tyrant, the new FX series from Homeland's Gideon Raff and Howard Gordon, and Craig Wright (Lost and Six Feet Under).

"The whole thing happened very, very fast," says the 36-year-old of the less than two months that transpired between receiving the script and hearing "Action" on the set. Rayner stars as Bassam "Barry" Al Fayeed, the pediatrician son of a Middle Eastern dictator who returns home for a family wedding after exiling himself to America for the past two decades, where he has married and raised a family. Though it shares a general topography with Homeland, comparisons to The Godfather are more apropos for this family-driven story.

Rayner spoke with us from Tel Aviv, where he's finishing up filming on Tyrant's first season.

DETAILS: When did you begin talking with the creators about the show?

ADAM RAYNER: Very late on in the process. It was about this time last year—in fact, it was even later, in July—that I first got the script, which is what tends to happen. When they can't find anyone else, they eventually send it to me. I thought it was a wonderful script, but highly unlikely that I would get the part given that it was for a forty-something Arab family man. But through an extraordinary series of events I was indeed the man that they chose.

DETAILS: What attracted you to the project?

ADAM RAYNER: The honest answer to that is that anyone in my position—or any actor out there who gets a script from the people who were involved—is just going to be over the moon to be considered. Beyond that though, it was a wonderful premise for a show and a fantastically executed pilot. It's just a great part with all of the conflict, turmoil, and juicy stuff that you wait and wait to come along in a role.

DETAILS: What sort of research did you do for the role?

ADAM RAYNER: My main gap, preparation-wise, was that this was a character who would have a far greater understanding of the region and the history and the politics and the culture than I do or certainly did. So I immediately started reading books about the region and some of the rulers who have come and gone, the more recent political history, and some of the history as well.

DETAILS: You play a character born in the Middle East but living in America, and you yourself have dual citizenship in the U.K. and America. Did that help you in relating to the character and getting inside his head?

ADAM RAYNER: I wonder. . . It's hard to sort of analyze yourself in that way, but I suppose I have a slight sense of having two different sides or two homelands. So yes, I would say that— probably without even realizing it—it was helpful.

DETAILS: Considering that the show was created by Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff, comparisons to Homeland are inevitable. But how is Tyrant different?

ADAM RAYNER: Homeland is a thriller with a lot of cloak and dagger spy stuff, which is one of the things that makes it so much fun. There isn't really any of that in Tyrant. It's more a straight political drama with family and relationship dynamics as well.

DETAILS: Who is its target audience?

ADAM RAYNER: The target audience is someone who is prepared to stick with a story that's based in a subject that they may not know much about. They're going to have to do a little bit of work and invest in a world and learn a bit about it before it becomes familiar to them.

DETAILS: Which aspect of it do you think will connect most with audiences?

ADAM RAYNER: People have to respond to the characters and respond to the situations that they're in. That said, it still has to be a compelling narrative that drives along and keeps people coming back week after week. So really, with any successful show you could name, there has to be a mysterious blend of both of those. We have to find that magic balance.

DETAILS: Were you a fan of Homeland before this script came along?

ADAM RAYNER: I was. I thought it was fantastic. And if we can have half of their success, we'll be very happy.

DETAILS: Do you get the chance to keep up with new movies and TV much?

ADAM RAYNER: I do my best. It is tough so I pick and choose the most relevant shows and perhaps the most seminal shows that come along. Obviously Homeland and Breaking Bad are the most recent shows that spring to mind. But I don't devour huge amounts of television. I'm more naturally inclined to watch movies but, given my job, I need to have an understanding of what's on TV.

DETAILS: What's the biggest difference between acting in Hollywood versus in the U.K.?

ADAM RAYNER: Mostly the money. There's a lot more money in Hollywood, so things tend to be on a slightly grander scale. It's a bit more of a cottage industry in the U.K., which is nice because there's a sense that everybody could be making more money doing something else, but they really love doing this so that's why they're doing it. In terms of the actual day's work, it's pretty similar.

DETAILS: Is there a noticeable difference in what American audiences want versus English audiences?

ADAM RAYNER: Yes—and this is one of the things that sort of annoys me about British audiences. British audiences tend to want to see their own lives reflected on TV, whereas American audiences are quite aspirational and enjoy high-concept shows that show them lives that are perhaps slightly more exciting than they aspire to. I think that's one of the fun things about working in America; that there is an appetite for that kind of show where the world can be slick and exciting and sexy. In the U.K. there is a relatively limited market for that; it makes people uncomfortable. And in fact when they do see those worlds, they want to see the people have American accents; then they buy it more.

DETAILS: You've been shooting the series in Tel Aviv. What has that experience been like?

ADAM RAYNER: A very, very good one, actually. I had never been here before and it's been a bit of a revelation. It's a combination of various other cities—there are elements of L.A., a southern Mediterranean city, and obviously the Middle East. It's very easy to live here, everyone speaks perfect English, and the weather is great. It's a very vibrant, young, 24-hour city where you can sit and have a cup of coffee at any time of the night or day. Which is ideal given our strange schedule. As a place to be suddenly launched off to for work, I have to say, it's pretty fantastic.

DETAILS: The series is about a very wealthy and powerful family, which means that you have the benefit of some gorgeous costumes and locations. What's your typical style off the set?

ADAM RAYNER: I would say I'm a sort of casual-classic jeans and T-shirt kind of fellow.

DETAILS: Are there any men's fashion trends you wish would go away?

ADAM RAYNER: I'm not very good at skinny jeans; my shape doesn't respond well to that look. I've tried it and the results were, frankly, embarrassing.

DETAILS: How difficult is it to maintain a normal routine—particularly when it comes to eating and exercise—while you're shooting a series like this?

ADAM RAYNER: When you're as busy as I am at the moment, it's really, really difficult. Right now I'm at work all day every day and it becomes a bit of a problem. I guess the trick is to get yourself as fit as possible at the start and then let it all go!

DETAILS: Do you have a regular exercise routine?

ADAM RAYNER: I'm into the cross-fit style of exercise, where you're doing a bit of everything. Just keeping it sort of high intensity in short, intensive durations suits me fine.

DETAILS: In addition to Tyrant you have a new film, Tracers, coming out later this year that's set in the Parkour world. Did you get to play around with that?

ADAM RAYNER: I did it as much as I could, but I was obviously limited. [American actor] Taylor Lautner is fantastic at that stuff and he does more. I did it as much as my slightly aging body would allow, and I still managed to break an ankle. So, yeah, shouldn't have bothered.

• • •


Also on Details.com:
Meet Gideon Raff, TV's Newest Hitmaker
Actor Jesse Eisenberg on His Career-Defining Role—and No, It's Not the Social Network
The Surprisingly Superstitious Jessica Chastain on Her Biggest Fears, and Why Failure Isn't One of Them

Photo courtesy Matthias Clamer/FX
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