Last week, in celebration of the Golden Globes, Tahar Rahim found himself going through the usual pre-awards show motions—slipping into his bespoke suit for the occasion, checking in with his team, having a pre-drink to calm the nerves. There was a notable difference, however: Rahim, like every other nominee this year, was attending the show remotely over video link. “Of course, I would have loved to be there in person,” Rahim says. “But at the same time, being with my loved ones in the same room celebrating was great, too.”
Rahim had plenty to celebrate. Nominated for the Best Actor gong in a Motion Picture Drama (Chadwick Boseman posthumously won the award for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), his film, The Mauritanian, ended up taking home a prize thanks to Jodie Foster, who won for her performance opposite Rahim. “I was so happy,” Rahim adds. “She’s amazing in the movie, but she also deserves all the awards for just being Jodie.” For the big night, Rahim wore a sleek, indigo blue double-breasted suit by Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton and an eye-catching Tambour Street Driver watch from the house’s timepieces line.
“I really love Virgil’s art, and we’re now becoming friends,” Rahim adds. It will certainly come in handy to have Abloh on speed dial going forward, given that Rahim has ended up becoming one of this awards season’s strongest contenders. Before this year, filmgoers might remember him best from Jacques Audiard’s extraordinary A Prophet, the 2009 film that won the Cannes Grand Prix, charting the torn allegiances of a French-Algerian prisoner in a jail in southern France between Corsican mobsters, Italian mafia, and his Muslim faith. But despite his leading-man looks and chameleonic on-screen presence, the past decade has seen Rahim avoid Hollywood pretty much altogether.
“I turned down a lot of offers from America and Europe back then,” Rahim says. “It was always the same, stereotypical parts, depicted in the same way. I don’t think it helps people to question themselves.” It was his excitement at seeing a story centering a Muslim character on more considered, nuanced terms—as well as his prior relationship with director Kevin Macdonald, with whom he worked on the 2011 historical war epic The Eagle—that saw him leap at the opportunity of appearing in The Mauritanian. “This was the first time I read a script where there’s a sympathetic Muslim character at the heart of the movie, and that feels particularly relevant now,” Rahim adds.
The film tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a Mauritanian man who was detained without charge at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years over suspected links to Al-Qaeda—and who hit world headlines after a redacted version of his memoir, Guantanamo Diary, was published in 2015 charting his experiences of torture and extreme isolation. (The following year, Salahi was finally released and was able to return to Mauritania.) One of the most powerful features of Salahi’s biography is the extraordinary lack of judgment or resentment with which he addresses the perpetrators of his horrifying experiences at Guantanamo, and the moments of levity and humor he was able to find throughout the ordeal.
“It shows that even if you’re in the darkest of places, there’s always hope,” says Rahim. “Knowing about Mohamedou is knowing about his philosophy, which is all about forgiveness and peace.” In the process of preparing for the film, Rahim was able to spend time with Salahi, and despite familiarity with his story, he still expresses disbelief at the former prisoner’s radical empathy. “When I asked him that question, you know, ‘How did you get through that?’ He said, ‘I was angry, of course, I didn’t understand why I was there, or why they were doing this to me? But at some point, I came to realize that when you forgive the people who have done bad things to you, it’s a gift you give to yourself.’ It’s about not being guided solely by your fears, and about forgiveness over anger.”