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EP Peter Horton and actor Yousef Sweid Talk American Odyssey [+ “Figmo” Preview] 

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC
Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Shakir is dead. Diallo has been left for dead in the desert. Odelle and Aslam are once again in danger. The only reason Peter’s alive is because he’s got a valuable piece of information on SOC, but he’s had to send his family away in an attempt to keep them safe. Harrison almost got suspected terrorist Yousef Qasim arrested and he still doesn’t realize how much of a threat Ruby poses. And, as EP Peter Horton tells us below, we know there will be a few more deaths before the end of the season.

TV Goodness participated in a press call with EP Peter Horton and actor Yousef Sweid this week. We talked about putting the American military in a very unflattering light, the importance of a character like Shakir and what to expect in the next few episodes.

Do you think you were crossing the line by showing the US military as the bad guy?

Peter Horton: “Our intention from the beginning of this project was never to pin any one group as bad or good. There certainly are individuals who have their point of view that creates all sorts of trouble.

What we’ve always tried to do is give each character a point of view. So even though they may be doing things that seem rather bad at the time, they’ve got a reason for it.

The idea is that there’s a seam within the military industrial complex that join hands over the years – over the last couple of decades with private industry so that there’s a grey zone in between those two. It’s Dick Cheney being the head of Haliburton and then becoming the Vice President and us going to war.

It’s a seam within that’s got an agenda. It has a theology that they’re implementing, from their point of view for good, for the good. So that’s always our intention. It never was to really say by any means that the whole American military is bad at all.”

Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC
Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC

Why was it important for you to take this role and play this character?

Yousef Sweid: “I remember the first time I went to do makeup and hair. Another actor came in and he said, ‘Wow, it’s like the dream of every male actor to play a woman.’ I think it’s one of the biggest dreams. It’s a lot of freedom inside.

I love all the fun. The character’s very complex and has a very interesting story, very deep. So of course, in every aspect, it was one of the most interesting parts I ever read. I really, really wanted to do it.”

Peter: “We really searched far and wide to find the right actor for this part. It’s a very difficult, narrow path to walk playing this role because as Yousef said, it’s not only complex, it’s very, very delicate. There’s just the right calm for this character to be genuine and honest and true, but at the same time have a flair and have a presentation and a show.

We finally found Yousef, who auditioned for us a number of times remotely, and kept nailing that narrow path between overdoing the show or over emphasizing the earnestness of it. That’s the big reason why you have a character you’re responding to, is we just found the right guy for it.”

American TV doesn’t have a lot of drag queen characters or as many Arab characters as we should. Do you feel any special responsibility playing both?

Yousef: “Yes. Of course. But not just because it’s American TV. I feel responsibility as an Arab doing these kind of characters, which are very dangerous. I know there are a lot of transgenders and drag queens which are Arabs and they live in danger. Like they can live their lives maybe more if it’s more in the western world.

In my life as an actor in my work, I always wish to do characters [who have] a message, not only for the American, but also for me or for the Arab world. There’s a lot of Arabs in the US, so for me it’s for myself also to do this for other people.

What kept me going or what I think one of the features of this character is that she’s always in danger. She’s having fun. She’s happy. But she’s always in danger that something bad will happen to her. Like at any moment, can go out with a gun and kill her. To see this world is special and different and interesting.”

Do you know when you’ll find out if we get a second season or not?

Peter: “I’m sitting on pins and needles. [We’re] obviously hoping against hope that we’ll get that. Everyone at NBC really loves the show and really, really wants it to go. We just need some more people to watch it.

We’re all hoping that over the next few weeks, we’ll get a bit of an uptick and give everyone a reason to say, ‘Yes.’ We’ve pitched a second season to them and everyone is really onboard with that. So it’s just a matter of what’ll unfold over the next couple of weeks.”

Can you tell us about what’s coming up in the next few episodes without giving too much away?

Peter: “It’s really great stuff.”

Yousef: “Everybody must die.” [Laughs.]

Peter: “Yes. There’s a few more people dying. The main thing to know is that each season of this show is going to have a beginning, middle and end. It isn’t one of those things where you’ll be left not understanding things and having to wait until next season to understand them. They’ll be a sense of completion this year.

But the journey just starts getting more and more poignant as the stakes build towards a climax and towards a conclusion. The story becomes a little more emotional and meaningful as we go. It still has – the feel of our show has always been tension. But I think the mixture starts leaning a little bit more towards emotion as we go.”

I really enjoyed your story line so much. I was a little bit devastated after last week’s episode. Can you talk about your favorite scene or a great experience from working on this show?

Yousef: “Wow. Let me think.”

Peter: “I’ve got to say one of the things I so love that just happened on the show between the two of them is, Yousef is your relationship with Diallo.”

Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC
Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC

Yousef: “Ah, yes.”

Peter: “You guys really had this beautiful chemistry with each other. It really was the two actors, both of them.”

Yousef: “It’s amazing this relationship because they’re really, really in love. You feel the danger because Diallo doesn’t want to say anything about his relationship, of course.

[There’s] manipulation, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no love. Because the situation is very so difficult and delicate, it has to be there, the using each other but with love.

Each one knows the other’s points, where to push. She wants to be very famous and loved and he wants to be a general. Both of the characters bring a lot of fun to the show and at the same time, drama and sadness. But both colors, I mean.

I remember one scene when she tries to convince him to save Odelle and he doesn’t want to. But then you see the love between them. She manipulates to say, ‘Oh, if you save her, you’re going to be a famous man in the world. You’re going to be a great famous person.’ She knows where to touch him. I remember the scene because it was very complex.”

We’ve seen Aslam’s immediate reaction to the death of Shakir. But how did this particular death effect Aslam in the long run, in moving forward?

Peter: “It’s such an interesting journey for him because the degree to which he is in need of family. His family gets pretty well wiped out in the pilot. The only family he has is this uncle he’s never really met who he just goes to because it’s his only option.

Then to discover his uncle is a cross dresser which at first is offensive to him. But then as you see, falls in love with him, just gets so connected to him. Then when his uncle’s dead, the only family he has left, as a possibility is Odelle. Yet he’s trying to get Odelle home, which means out of Africa and into the United States.

So there’s a great conflict for them both as to what are we going to do with Aslam? Does he go home with her? Does he stay in Africa? Does she stay in Africa? It’s a very rich and emotional dilemma for them both as they kind of form their own sense of bond and family.”

Edited for space and content.

Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC
Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/NBC

“Figmo” synopsis, from NBC:

Luc comes to Odelle and Aslam’s rescue, and Odelle learns about the mysterious Frenchman’s past. Back in New York, Sophia Tsaldari helps Peter get closer to Yusuf Qasim and further exacerbates the rift with his family. Bob tells Harrison the truth about Ruby, which has unintended consequences. Suzanne and Julia continue to bond, raising questions for both Ron and Col. Glen.

Sneak Peek 1:

Sneak Peek 2:

American Odyssey airs Sundays at 10/9c on NBC.

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