A New Kind Of Evil
The Serpent is a new BBC drama which started last night and here’s an interview with one of its stars Tahar Rahim…
Who do you play?
I’m playing Charles Sobhraj, who is known to be a killer but also a conman – a very manipulative man, a narcissistic, and as sadistic as he is evil. Charles was born in Saigon, before moving to France when he was a kid with his mum, where he started his petty criminal career. At some point he decided to go back to his roots and move back to South East Asia to the ‘hippie trail’, where he started to con people and the murders began.
What attracted you to the role?
When I was 16 my brother was reading a book – this big thick book by his bed, and he was so into it. It was The Life And Crimes Of Charles Sobhraj – so I read it too, and I became fascinated by it. I think as human beings we’re fascinated by – in this case – killers, but also by evil in general. It’s fascination and repulsion.
I was a young guy who wanted to be an actor and after reading this book I thought, I’d like to play this guy. There’s so much mystery. Fast forward to a few years ago, when I had an email from my agent saying Tom Shankland and Richard Warlow wanted to meet with me about playing a murderer called… Charles Sobhraj. I then went to a meeting with Tom and Richard, and I told them about the book and wanting to play Charles Sobhraj. When I talked with Tom more recently he said that day he didn’t know if I was lying or not, but that he said to himself “this guy is our Charles – because we never know whether he’s lying or not, but we believe him.” But I was not lying!
What preparation did you do to play Sobhraj?
I needed to understand in a way what makes a murderer, I wanted to start from there. I read a lot of books on the subject, plus I spoke with some experts. I did my homework.
When you’re playing someone who’s alive and not especially famous, the key thing to do is to catch the soul. From there you can create everything else… but it’s the soul, that’s a hard thing to catch. Especially with Charles – it’s not easy.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
It wasn’t easy to be seductive and mysterious enough to draw people in, but at the same time be scary enough for the audience. You have to be aware that there’s an audience watching you, but at the same time you have the characters who are in front of you, who in most cases can’t be scared of Charles – otherwise he doesn’t con them. It’s a thin line to find. You can’t hide behind the words, in this case. It’s all about what’s inside and about the way you look.