8:24 pm - 06/23/2014

‘Tyrant’: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

The new FX series Tyrant centers around Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed: American family man, pediatrician, and son of a ruthless Middle Eastern dictator. He returns to his home country with his family in tow for the first time since his self-imposed exile 20 years ago.

Behind the scenes, the family and political drama has faced numerous difficulties including the loss of its creator, changes in filming location, and not landing its first choice for director.

Here’s what you need to know about the high-stakes, Godfather-inspired series.

1. ’24′ Creator & ‘Homeland’ Producer Howard Gordon Runs the Show

Howard Gordon centers his new drama around the characters usually causing headaches for 24‘s Jack Bauer and Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison. Tyrant revolves around the ruling family of a fictional Middle Eastern country, and one man’s struggle to keep from getting pulled back into the chaos and turmoil.

Gordon told USA Today about the challenge of representing the events in the Middle East that make up “the most volcanic story of our time”. To set a story, however fictionally, in that part of the world, is a challenge, maybe an insane one, but (one) I couldn’t resist."

The show runner faced challenges off-screen as well when bringing Tyrant to production. The series lost its original creator, Gideon Raff, who felt his vision wasn’t being heard. He and Gordon previously worked together on the series Homeland, which was based on Raff’s Israeli series Prisoners of War (Hatufim).

Raff got the idea for Tyrant watching a news story on Syria’s President Bashar al Assad, he told reporters at the show’s Television Critics Association panel in January. The leader’s journey from earning a Western education and marrying a British woman to becoming a “mass killer” interested Raff. Raff told The Hollywood Reporter he still reads the scripts and remains in communication with the actors, despite handing over the series to Gordon. "I just felt at a certain point that my creative input wasn’t being heard. I had the option of either staying and arguing, arguing, arguing about the vision, or leaving the show in the very capable hands of Howard Gordon."

2. ‘Tyrant’ Attempts to Humanize & Not Demonize Middle Eastern Culture

Tyrant seeks to humanize a part of the world that the news features daily, but rarely beyond the constant conflict and turmoil of dictatorial leaders and faceless rebel fighters. FX CEO John Landgraf told The Hollywood Reporter how the show will attract an audience but still remain true to the real dangers plaguing the region. "It’s not that you can never show something that looks like a street riot a la Tahrir Square. It’s that, generally speaking, all of it has to have this kind of formalistic exotic beauty to it, because if we can’t seduce people into this world, then we fail."

Tyrant sets its story in the fictional country of Abbudin, which represents several Middle Eastern locations including Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The action remains inside the gorgeous palace walls of the Al-Fayeed family, until they can no longer ignore the outside world.

3. British Actor Adam Rayner Plays the Lead Role

The producers set out to cast a Middle Eastern actor in the lead role of Bassam/Barry but instead chose British thespian Adam Rayner. The actor, who starred in TNT’s Hawthorne and the U.K.’s Mistresses, prepared for his role by reading up on past and present Middle Eastern regimes and their families, Rayner told The New York Times. "Being the son of the ruling family in the Middle East, he would have a grasp of the history and religion and politics, which I don’t, so I read as much as I could to fill that gap. I read books on the Hussein family, the Assad family, the Arab Spring and Islam."

Similar to Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Bassam/Barry returns to a family and a life he’s tried to escape for the last 20 years, but the loss of his father will weigh heavily on his decision to stay or return to America. Rayner told The New York Times that his character is the titular tyrant, but he will encounter many more throughout the show. The pull to that dark side may be too much for Bassam/Barry to resist. When his father falls ill, Bassam/Barry helps his brother Jamal Al-Fayeed (played by Israeli-Arab Ashraf Barhom) secure the family’s rule, but he’ll struggle giving up his own acquired power.

4. Filming Shifted to Israel After the Pilot Shot in Morocco

Gordon, Raff and Fox 21 studio chief Bert Salke first discussed the idea of Tyrant at the Tel Aviv Hilton in 2012. The pilot was originally slated to shoot in Israel, but was relocated in 2013 due to “awkward political optics,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Filming moved to Morocco, which possessed a “production community and an Arab population from which to cast extras.”

Unfortunately, Morocco didn’t have an adequate infrastructure necessary to build a working soundstage, and filming was allowed to move to Kfar Saba, Israel, about 10 miles outside of Tel Aviv. Gordon knows an Arab-focused drama shot in Israel could cause backlash, but the series had simply run out of location options, he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Somebody’s going to find some reason, they always do, to be offended, but we’re still in the Middle East, and this place has the architecture, the faces, the music, the colors and the light that we need."

5. Muslim Representative Groups Split on Support

One Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has already voiced concern over the controversial FX series after screening the pilot in Washington, D.C. CAIR’s National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper released this statement after the June 18 screening: "In the pilot of FX’s Tyrant, Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims. … In Tyrant, even the ‘good’ Arab Muslim are bad. … Unfortunately, Tyrant will be seen by many viewers as an indictment of an entire culture."

According to CAIR, the group reached out to network executives “to discuss potential stereotypes in the series,” but no meeting reportedly took place. Gordon has been working with the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslims on Screen and Television, and he hired a Palestinian filmmaker to consult on the Israeli set, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Gordon has faced similar criticism on his past shows, but he stressed to reporters at Tyrant‘s TCA panel that the show is a “family drama against this very tough political situation”. "People will see what they want to see in it. I’ve been called an Islamaphobe and a torture mongerer. So what else can they call me?"

Tyrant airs Tuesday, June 24 at 10 p.m. on FX

Video won't embed, so click here to watch!

Hmm, I was really excited for this show when I first heard about it, but now I don't know how to feel. I'm really hoping this turns out well.


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julietislimited 24th-Jun-2014 12:32 am (UTC)
The only bits I originally knew about this is the son is gay & they are going to explore what its like to be gay there. But it does seem like its has potential yet at the same time I think this show is going to bring a lot of controversy.
evett 24th-Jun-2014 12:32 am (UTC)
I'll watch the pilot.
milfordacademy 24th-Jun-2014 12:37 am (UTC)
best "younger" actress?
hilarylohan 24th-Jun-2014 12:34 am (UTC)
I really want Bridget to finally have a hit show. I really think she would be better off on a primetime soap or she should just go back to Bold and the beautiful.
elementalranger 24th-Jun-2014 12:34 am (UTC)
’24′ Creator & ‘Homeland’ Producer Howard Gordon Runs the Show

That says everything I need to know right there
milfordacademy 24th-Jun-2014 12:38 am (UTC)
violue 24th-Jun-2014 12:41 am (UTC)

Except I mean it in a positive way (I love 24) and I suspect you mean it in a negative way xD
elementalranger 24th-Jun-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
lol yeah. his track record in regards to portrayals of Arabic people is piss poor imo.
sadisticsidhe 24th-Jun-2014 12:35 am (UTC)
I think I'll see what reactions are after like the second episode because pilots can be a little uneven.
deathbytamarind 24th-Jun-2014 12:37 am (UTC)
I saw an ad for this before Jersey Boys at the movie theatre last night. Looks good, imo
ljok_0 24th-Jun-2014 12:46 am (UTC)
how was jersey boys? i'm debating if i want to spend money to go see it or just stream it from somewhere.
silentsymphonie 24th-Jun-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
i thought it was a really sweet movie, idk if i'd pay for it if you're not chomping at the bit to see it though
deathbytamarind 24th-Jun-2014 03:20 am (UTC)
I liked it a lot, but I'm a big fan of Frankie Valli and musicals so I knew I'd enjoy it. The cast can really sing so all the musical moments were great.
false_hate 24th-Jun-2014 12:39 am (UTC)
I'll definitely give this show a chance, even though I'm more excited for The Strain.
mammary_glands 24th-Jun-2014 12:41 am (UTC)
"The producers set out to cast a Middle Eastern actor in the lead role of Bassam/Barry but instead chose British thespian Adam Rayner."

fucking why tho
milfordacademy 24th-Jun-2014 12:46 am (UTC)
I'm sure he was the best actor for the part
bienegold 24th-Jun-2014 12:46 am (UTC)
It sounds like he's kind of bland, too. Not that casting someone really amazing would make it OK, but it makes me skeptical that they did their due diligence to find somebody.
imnotasquirrel 24th-Jun-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
Yeah, it wouldn't be okay regardless, but it just adds insult to injury when the whitewashed actor is bad.
bienegold 24th-Jun-2014 12:42 am (UTC)
I was sort of interested in this when I first heard about it, but there's been some behinds the scenes drama and it sounds like Gordon's been left to his own devices. I might check it out, but it sounds like the pilot is kind of meh.
ih3artmusic 24th-Jun-2014 01:03 am (UTC)
Yeah I read in a different article that Raff wanted more of a ~soap opera feel to the show, which Gordon was against.

Every review I've read says that the pilot was very promising, but needs another episode or two to really get the right feel as to which direction the series is headed in.
bienegold 24th-Jun-2014 01:12 am (UTC)
Wow, neither of those options sounds appealing to me. It's too bad because the overall concept sounds like a great idea.

I also think not using any Arabic is an incredibly stupid choice. FX already has two shows that use non-English extensively.
imnotasquirrel 24th-Jun-2014 12:43 am (UTC)
The producers set out to cast a Middle Eastern actor in the lead role of Bassam/Barry but instead chose British thespian Adam Rayner.

gypsy_leerose 24th-Jun-2014 12:49 am (UTC)
gypsy_leerose 24th-Jun-2014 12:48 am (UTC)
Ooh I want to see this
ohshiny 24th-Jun-2014 12:50 am (UTC)
the premise sounds intr. i'll watch.
cosmic_starz 24th-Jun-2014 12:53 am (UTC)
The 90s really are back. Floral skirt with combat boots. LET'S DO THIS.
a_grumble_cakee 24th-Jun-2014 12:54 am (UTC)
I was just going to say, apparently teen girls in fictional middle eastern countries dress like it's the 90s.
laurshel 24th-Jun-2014 12:56 am (UTC)
She stole that outfit from Kelly Taylor.
bienegold 24th-Jun-2014 01:13 am (UTC)
I saw a girl with a flannel shirt tied around her waist the other day and it was like I was in elementary school all over again.
josh_the_k 24th-Jun-2014 12:58 am (UTC)
Alan Sepinwall over at HitFix said this show was a mess. With all the drama surrounding the production, I'm not surprised. I'll watch the pilot, though.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to "The Strain," even though I don't know much about it.
redheadbynight 24th-Jun-2014 03:48 am (UTC)
I always trust Sepinwall dammit :( I wanted this to be good
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