Having been cast as a September 11 hijacker in his inaugural feature film role in Paul Greengrass' United 93, he has subsequently played an Afghan immigrant and is now preparing for a stint as an Iraqi translator living in the Green Zone after the Allied invasion. "I've done September 11, then Afghanistan and now I'm doing Iraq. It's the War on Terror trilogy, the box set," he jokes.
The Working Title film is an adaptation of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the bestselling book by The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran about the bungled American effort to reconstruct Iraq, based on meticulous research and eyewitness statements. The Green Zone, which begins filming in Spain this week and stars Damon as a disillusioned American captain opposite Abdalla as his Iraqi translator, provides a first-hand view of life inside Baghdad's fortified zone, with all its iniquities and excesses.
Abdalla found out that he had won a part in The Green Zone just after returning from the Dubai Film Festival before Christmas last year. He had met his famous co-star a few months earlier, when he popped in to see Greengrass and the film crew as they filmed the spectacular scene from The Bourne Ultimatum that takes place at Waterloo Station. "I wanted to say hello, so I went to Waterloo and that's where I met Matt Damon, who I think is a brilliant actor whose collaboration with Greengrass has worked really well. This is the first time I'll be starring with a Hollywood cast and I feel excited," Abdalla says.
He is currently growing stubble ("it's my last day to shave today" ) to play the thirty-something Iraqi who has a "penchant for Bryan Adams" and who was injured during the Iran-Iraq war.
"After The Kite Runner, I was anticipating a project that had nothing to do with my ethnicity, and in every way it is incidental to this role in The Green Zone. My part is so brilliantly written, it has a richness of character and it's different from anything I've played before. The kind of typecasting I was more worried about is being cast in roles where the characters are 'still waters' and very intense, such as in my other films."