The Devil's Double

The Devil's Double

Ludivine Sagnier stars with Dominic Cooper in THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE. Photo credit: Sofie Van Mieghem.

The Devil's Double

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  • Sophie Van Mieghem
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* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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The Devil's Double (2011)

Opened: 07/29/2011 Limited

Arclight/Holly...07/29/2011 - 09/01/201135 days
AMC Empire 2507/29/2011 - 09/01/201135 days
The Landmark07/29/2011 - 08/25/201128 days
Kendall Square...08/05/2011 - 08/18/201114 days
Claremont 508/12/2011 - 08/25/201114 days
Fallbrook 708/19/2011 - 08/25/20117 days
Embassy Cinema08/19/2011 - 08/25/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Facebook

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rated: R for strong brutal bloody violence and torture, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and pervasive language.


Based on a gripping, unbelievable true story of money, power and opulent decadence, Lionsgate's THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE takes a white-knuckle ride deep into the lawless playground of excess and violence known as Baghdad, 1987. Summoned from the frontline to Saddam Hussein's palace, Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) is thrust into the highest echelons of the "royal family" when he's ordered to become the 'fiday' -- or body double -- to Saddam's son, the notorious "Black Prince" Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), a reckless, sadistic party-boy with a rabid hunger for sex and brutality. With his and his family's lives at stake, Latif must surrender his former self forever as he learns to walk, talk and act like Uday. But nothing could have prepared him for the horror of the Black Prince's psychotic, drug-addled life of fast cars, easy women and impulsive violence. With one wrong move costing him his life, Latif forges an intimate bond with Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), Uday's seductive mistress who's haunted by her own secrets. But as war looms with Kuwait and Uday's depraved gangster regime threatens to destroy them all, Latif realizes that escape from the devil's den will only come at the highest possible cost.

Featuring a riveting double performance by Dominic Cooper (AN EDUCATION, MAMA MIA) in the roles of Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein, THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE is a dynamic, chilling adaptation of Latif Yahia's autobiographical novel, charting one man's defiant struggle to survive a viper's pit of corruption and brutality. The film is directed by Lee Tamahori (DIE ANOTHER DAY, XXX: STATE OF THE UNION) and written by Michael Thomas (BACKBEAT, SCANDAL). A Lionsgate and Herrick Entertainment presentation a Corsan presentation a Corsan, Corrino, Staccato production in association with FIP Malta Ltd., Film Finance VI, Tulchin Entertainment and Foreign Media.

About the Production

THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE began as an astonishing autobiographical tale of the same name. Written by Latif Yahia, who was ripped from his family and forced to become the fiday (which translates roughly as "bullet catcher") to Saddam's lunatic son Uday Hussein, the book was a glimpse into the deeply depraved web of fast cars, endless money, easy women, pure corruption, and wanton violence in which Yahia was captive for years.

The outrageous antics and appalling incidents he witnessed during his time as the indentured doppelganger to Iraq's notorious "Black Prince" begged to be committed to film. But beyond the shocking substance, the story left ample room for style translated onto the big screen. It presented a prime opportunity to capture the over the top sights and textures of the Iraqi palace in the late 1980's, in all of its gilded gangster-style glory. As star Dominic Cooper marvels, "it's just an incredible world in which to set a film."

THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE was made into a motion picture by Belgian producers Paul Breuls and Catherine Vandeleene of Corsan and Dutch producers Michael John Fedun of Corrino and Emjay Rechsteiner of Staccato. Executive producers are Harris Tulchin and Arjen Terpstra.

The producers first secured screen rights to Yahia's story, conducted extensive interviews with Yahia and wrote a treatment. But the real fun began when the producers enlisted screenwriter Michael Thomas (SCANDAL, BACKBEAT) to craft the adaptation. Thomas connected with Yahia, an international man of mystery who currently lives in an undisclosed European country and drives a Mercedes that was allegedly given to him by the Queen of England, and so began the ride of his life.

Preparing to write the film, Thomas traveled to Syria where Yahia was located at the time, and was welcomed into an Arab world that was "like something out of The Sopranos." What was most key to his research from the experience was seeing the Iraqi ex-patriots' "sense of responsibility to family, their wish to die a good death, and their conviction that it didn't matter when it came. There was a fatalism there that was essential for me to understand, one that Westerners just don't share."

Although this understanding certainly colored his adaptation, for the most part everything he needed to write the screenplay was right there in Yahia's life story. "Actually I reluctantly had to give up certain things that the movie couldn't fit. There's a lot more, and a lot worse on the record than what I was even able to touch upon in the screenplay."

The producers set about finding the right director who would rise to the challenge of such a brutally uncompromising story of unbridled lust, absolute power and unqualified corruption. After considering several names, the producers set their minds on Lee Tamahori, whose ONCE WERE WARRIORS had the exact visceral qualities they were looking for in bringing THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE to screen. It was his interpretation of THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE as a next SCARFACE that "blew them away".

The producers on their choice for Tamahori: "We've always admired Lee's work -- ONCE WERE WARRIORS especially where we loved the way he's dealt with violence, because it's not traditional choreographed violence. It's really true grit. And this is a film that has everything to do with violence in its purest form."

The very premise of the film had Lee invested immediately, "I've always been fascinated by despots and dictators, their families and their children, the world they grow up in, how they live and how they die." He goes on to explain "I think we all secretly quite like criminals. We want to see them get their comeuppance, but there's something strangely attractive about them."

The style of the script, though, also worked for Tamahori the instant he read it. He describes how "Michael writes in a rock and roll fashion, which I like. It's quite unusual in that it allows you to be interpretive of what's written, but has an utmost authenticity."

The question of authenticity was one to grapple with for a team of filmmakers making a movie based on an autobiography. Although the premise of the film was directly based in the circumstances of Yahia, and many of the horrific individual events depicted in the film were indeed experienced by him, the filmmakers decided early on to "embark on this as a work of fiction, and use the book as an inspiration for a gangster film, which to me is in its purest form a great genre of movies," director Tamahori observes.

He further explains that "Biopics are not my favorite movies because they always try to steer too close to the facts. But the truth doesn't set you free in movies. Truth layered with fiction sets you free."

Even though the film wasn't meant to be of the documentary or biopic oeuvres, Yahia himself was on set to consult during the making of the film. For him, the experience was cathartic and overwhelming. He describes how "in a way, something was relieved out of me, the sadness that I had before. My story is being told and it's a release." He goes on to explain how when you're living through an intense experience, "You can't see yourself until somebody shows you what you are. And it wasn't until I watched this movie being made that I was seeing for the first time really clearly and objectively the kind of life I'd had. I had to take some valium to be able to watch some of the scenes, especially the shootings."

It was clear from the start that both roles of Uday Hussein, sadistic son of a crazed ruler, and Latif Yahia, the upstanding citizen soldier, would be played by one actor. The entire film hinges on this central performance, which is in fact not one but three: the actor as Latif, as Uday, and as Latif impersonating Uday and becoming more and more like him.

It was a tall order to find someone for the role who had both the discipline to handle the demanding production and the range to make both characters credible. The filmmakers also set out to find someone who was relatively unknown, and would be able to fully disappear into the roles.

Dominic Cooper was, in Lee's eyes, the perfect fit. "Dominic is stunning. We found a young, versatile, clever, talented actor, who knocked our socks off as both Latif and Uday," says the director.

The part marks Dominic Cooper's feature film lead debut, having played supporting roles in the hugely successful MAMMA MIA! and the critically acclaimed AN EDUCATION, and starred with Helen Mirren in the London National Theater's staging of Shakespearean tragedy Phedre. Cooper himself was gripped by the dual roles as soon as he'd finished reading the script. "For an actor," comments Cooper, "you can't ask for more in terms of the range it asks of you to play two lead characters who are so utterly different, who sort of meet in the middle and then merge. I loved the exploration of how we can disguise ourselves and become something that we're not, and how we are forever haunted by that thing we'd temporarily become."

The actor wasn't immediately able to sink his teeth into the role of Uday, however. It's common wisdom among actors that one can't play a part unless a core to the character is found to be relatable, or at least understandable. This was a hurdle for Cooper when it came to Uday, for obvious reasons. "I just despised the man. There was nothing that I could see in him that I could latch on to and like. It was beyond my capabilities to get into the mindset of a man who did the things he did." Ultimately though, it was the presumed father/son relationship between Saddam and Uday that was the route Dominic took to feel empathy towards Uday. "I read all about him and his family, what he wanted to achieve and where he saw himself. I imagined the rejection he must have felt knowing that even as the eldest son, his father didn't want to give him any power whatsoever because he didn't trust him. Uday was brought up in such a brutal environment, and he met his need to make an impression, to make a name for himself, in very sick ways after he couldn't accomplish it politically."

During the fifty-two days of filming Dominic would find himself working virtually every day in every scene. It was an arduous shoot but a challenge he relished. "Because of the nature of the piece and its time constraints, there's no time to sit back and think about your next scene. Decisions have to be made spontaneously, which is a good thing. I would be very quickly changed into my next costume and told to be the other guy. I had to really know each one, so I could suddenly inhabit their mindset on demand. It's been a really interesting process," says Dominic.

There were also many challenging technicalities inherent in the shoot. Cooper was acting against himself in most scenes, or rather "against a cross on the wall" as he describes it. "That's really tough because you never know how your performance is going to change, because you haven't worked out your scene as the other character."

"It's a really complicated role," agrees Tamahori. "But Dominic's really fit and mentally agile. He was able to switch characters very easily."

Dominic was understandably worried about how to separate the two characters on film, and in extensive pre-production rehearsals and conversations, the actor and Lee agreed that his portrayal of Latif and Uday should be distinguished by completely different sets of physical, verbal and psychological characteristics. Explains Tamahori, "Latif is a soldier, a decent man, a straight guy. He's not a madman, he doesn't talk fast. He has a lower voice. He's almost like a character out of a Western movie. On the other hand, Uday bounces off the walls with manic energy."

Creating this delineation physically was fairly subtle, and hinged on Dominic using different vocal pitch levels for each character, in tandem with facial prosthetics. He worked closely with voice coach Clifford Despenser to find two distinctive voices for Uday and Latif, while Lee collaborated with BAFTA award-winning makeup and hair designer Jan Sewell to create two subtly different looks for the two characters. Because of the constraints on the schedule, it was crucial that Dominic's transition from Latif to Uday was not too time consuming, so Lee and Jan created very simple prosthetic changes.

"We went for cheek bones, nose, contact lenses, teeth, things that could have been done in the cosmetic surgery Latif undergoes, but that are also easy for the make-up team to achieve on a daily basis without hours in the chair," explains Lee. "The teeth were key to it. We used a carefully crafted overbite prosthetic that didn't affect Dominic's speech pattern, and made it easy to slip in and out. I actually wanted the audience to be able to see him doing this, so they can track him changing character as the film unfolded."

For Latif's character, a slightly hooked nose prosthetic was used, and Cooper's cheek bones were widened using prosthetics and make-up that changed the shape of his face in a subtle but discernable way. For Uday they crafted a prosthetic that leveled out Dominic's nose, lending a new strength and severity to his face.

Dominic has nothing but praise for the film's creative team. "I have complete trust in the designers," says the actor. "I don't know anything about how to create a character's look, but I can immediately feel it if it's wrong. The moment I slipped into that outfit, put the teeth on, and Jan [Sewell] did the make-up, I felt how right the finished look was for the character of Uday."

Dominic was also able to call on the assistance of Latif Yahia himself for help honing the final details of the characters. "It was very helpful," says the actor. "I could ask sneaky little questions about things that no one would ever have any idea about apart from Latif. He would slip me little gestures and movements that I could incorporate into the characters."

Finding the right actress to play Sarrab, the notorious concubine to Uday and forbidden love interest to Latif, also proved a challenge. Sarrab means "mirage" or "illusion" in Arabic, and the part required an actress who could combine intense sexual mystique and a tender vulnerability. Rising French star Ludivine Sagnier turned out to have exactly those qualities.

Ludivine gained international fame in 2003 for her role in SWIMMING POOL. Her more recent credits include LILY SOMETIMES alongside Diane Kruger which screened in Director's Fortnight at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, and the violent gangster thrillers MESRINE I and II.

"I was overjoyed to get Ludivine for the role," says Lee. "I wanted to find someone truly refreshing. And she really transforms on film. She loves film and film loves her."

Producer Paul Breuls adds, "The role is very demanding sexually and it's difficult to find actresses who are willing to take that leap into the sexual unknown, especially in the States or in England. Ludivine Sagnier is someone who made our first short list because she's done some of the most sensual work in French film. She's uninhibited, and she's an excellent actress to boot."

Ludivine was thrilled to become a part of the film and was instantly drawn to the story and its hyper-reality. "I was really amazed by the script because it is such a great story," she explains. "The violence was so overwhelming, I thought, 'This can't be real!' But after meeting Lee, I understood both that the reality was in many ways far worse than the film, and that the movie was playing with both fiction and reality." Furthermore, the character Sarrab intrigued her because "there's beauty, there's danger, there's love and there's drama. And that's the recipe for a perfect character."

With the cast in place, Lee and the producers scouted various countries including Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Spain, before deciding on Malta, where THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE filmed for nine weeks almost entirely on location. From the streets of Valetta to the desert regions and the various hotels which doubled for the Iraqi palaces, Malta provided all the locations the producers needed.

"We were surprised to discover how flexible and adaptable Malta is," says Breuls. "It was a really good place to shoot. The fact that English is spoken there, that it's in the Eurozone and that it's small and manageable all really made a difference."

Another big draw was the local crew. "There's a great production infrastructure there," says producer Michael John Fedun. "The Maltese crews are used to working on medium- to large-scale films such as MUNICH, TROY and GLADIATOR and they really rose to the challenge of making this film."

The man entrusted with the look of the film was production designer Paul Kirby, who had just completed work on Paul Greengrass's GREEN ZONE, also set in Baghdad. For Kirby, the color and design of the buildings in Malta was a perfect match for the Iraqi capital.

"The sandstone that Malta is built upon was perfect for a sand blown Iraqi palette," says the production designer. "We kept all the colors very muted at the beginning which contrasted very well with the opulent and palatial surroundings that we end up with in Baghdad."

The production was rarely in one location for more than a few days so the art department had a hectic schedule getting the next set ready for filming. One of Paul's greatest challenges was creating the set for the Palace interiors. He met it by creating a modular set which could be moved around to re-create environments for the various interiors. Each set featured a different color palette and marble finish as well--red marble for Uday's bedroom, cream for his office and green for Saddam's office.

The film is set in the 1980s, and for all desire to be completely faithful to the setting, Paul discovered that he actually had to tone down the colors and decor to make them believable to a modern audience, for fear no moviegoer would ever believe something so over the top and gaudy would ever be authentic. He remembers that "we needed a cake in one of the scenes and I found a picture of one of Uday's birthday cakes which was eighteen or twenty tiers high. If we had put that in the movie, it would have just looked ridiculous. So sometimes it's about pushing the reality and sometimes it's about reining it in."

Another challenge for his team was to create an exterior Baghdad market street scene complete with a gas station, barbershop, market stalls, stores and cafes. They were lucky enough to find the site of an abandoned trade fair which allowed the production team to have complete control over the set, a much easier option than using a bustling Maltese street. However, with only four days to build and dress the set, a military level operation was required to get the scene ready and approved for filming.

The effort involved in this scene, and the overall final look were worth it. Paul relished the collaboration with Lee: "He has such a great eye and an enormous amount of experience. It's lovely to work with a director who's not afraid of big set-ups and complicated action pieces. It seems to come naturally to him."

Costume designer Anna Sheppard, who has received Academy Award® nominations for her work on THE PIANIST and SCHINDLER'S LIST, was responsible for the wardrobe of THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE. That the film is set in the 1980s, an era of famously uninhibited fashion, was an immediate draw, as well as that the film was about one person impersonating another.

"The fun started when I did research into Uday's character, and found original photos of him," says Anna. "I realized the sense of fashion this guy had. It was amazing, so over the top! He was aware of fashion and he was wearing the most outrageous clothes. Almost all of Uday's outfits in the film are based on these original photographs."

It was important to establish the difference between Uday and Latif not only to help the audience distinguish between the two on the screen but also to help Dominic as he shifted between characters. For Uday, Anna created a wardrobe of dark, shiny suits with outrageous ties, pink and blue silk shirts, ostentatious diamond-encrusted watches, bright signet rings and gold-buckled alligator shoes. For Latif, she made classic suits in simple colors with white shirts and plain ties. The contrast between Uday's sartorial vulgarity and the conservative, subdued Latif is stark.

For Sarrab, Anna used a lot of original 1980s pieces that were provided by the London costumer Angels. "We used a lot of leopard prints, jewels and embroidery in the tops and dresses," says the designer. "Sarrab is larger than life, so her costumes had to reflect that with big hair, lots of makeup, colored wigs and high heels. It was a lot of fun!"

Ludivine also greatly enjoyed the process. "When I was in London, Anna showed me some dresses and I thought, 'This is so outrageous, how is it going to look credible?' It was very difficult for me to see myself in this period, because it's a time I don't really know much about. But Anna researched it very thoroughly, and when I was on location with the make-up and wigs on, I realized how all that preparation had helped create the drama of the film."

Working with Lee proved an invaluable experience for Anna. "Lee gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted. I admire the fact he met any challenges and changes with amazing energy. He always came up with new ideas and his energy gave the film a special momentum."

Dominic equally valued his time working with Tamahori. He no doubt speaks for the entire cast and crew when he gushes of his director, "The man's energy is outstanding. He really pulled everyone together. It was so exciting to watch him, to see how he creates everything around him. He's so hands-on. He's next to the camera the whole time, listening to it all, involved in every facet- the accents, the language, everything. He's this force that's with you every step of the way. He was really inspiring and incredibly helpful, and the film has a very distinctive and special look, feel, and power to it because of those efforts."