Thaer Al-Shayei is Cardiff’s up and coming actor, who was cast in a first of its kind Arabic Hollywood movie, Mosul. He is currently best known for his role on Channel 4’s Baghdad Central, which aired on Monday 3rd of February 2020.
Born in Basra, Iraq, Thaer Al-Shayei moved to Wales with his family at three-years-old, where he spent his childhood in St Mellons. The rising star continues to give back to his community by being an ambassador for a local charity that aims to support the youth of our city.
Thaer has worked with the National Theatre of Wales, and he has written and produced a series of short films. He’s continuously recognised for his talent, and won the Rising Star award at Cardiff’s International Film Festival in 2019.
Down to earth and exuding positive energy, Thaer Al- Shayei’s charisma was palpable as I interviewed him at the Style of the City office. It was clear that acting is his one true passion and his sense of authenticity makes his star quality shine that much brighter.
Thaer Al-Shayei talks exclusively to Style of the City on breaking boundaries, Hollywood recognition and his new role on Channel 4’s Baghdad Central.
Tell us about some of your earliest memories of growing up in Iraq?
Well, my earliest memories are of living here (in Wales), as I was born in Iraq in 1981 and moved to Wales in 1983 and I’ve been here ever since.
Have you always been interested in acting?
Always, I think I had the energy when I was younger and I knew I had to channel my energy into something where there had to be a stage.
What was it about acting that inspired you to peruse it as a career?
Once I tasted being on set about 20 years ago, when I was in a film called Mind-blowing, I played a street thug called Jewels. Once I saw the attention you get from playing a character with lines and a name, I was like this is me, this is my job.
Tell us about your time on set in the Hollywood directed film Mosul?
Mosul was based on an article by The New Yorker in 2014. I did a self-tape and a week later I went to meet the award-winning writer Matthew Michael Carnahan, who wrote and directed Mosul, as well as Deep Water Horizon and World War Z. Twelve days later he gave me the role, and then I moved to Morocco for three months to train with Tiger Swan. This was the first Hollywood film in Arabic with English subtitles. Off the back of this film, I then had an audition for Baghdad Central.
Tell us about Baghdad Central?
Baghdad Central is a six-part thriller series on Channel 4, set during the Iraq war in 2003. The series tells the story of an Iraqi ex-policeman named Muhsin al-Khafaji, who is desperately trying to keep his daughter safe. My role is Omar, who is the bodyguard for Professor Zubeida Rashid.
Working on Baghdad Central was an amazing feeling, as I’m originally from Iraq and got to speak the language. I loved working with the lead director and executive producer Alice Troughton. Alice had unbelievable vision and energy on set, it was like she lived and understood Iraq and she was able to bring the best out of the actors.
Do you feel a responsibility to give back to your Iraqi community now that you’re on this platform?
Yes, I’m representing my people, and I’m on this platform because I’m Iraqi. I can’t represent them in any Olympic games or international sport, but I am able to represent my country in a film.
Does being a father help you with your acting career?
Being a father definitely helps me in some of my roles. My son is Autistic, so I always use my son as my drive in my acting career. When I got offered the role of Omar in Baghdad Central, I related to it because the plot of the series is a love story between a father and daughter. It related to me personally because of the relationship I have with my son.
As an ambassador of The Gloves Are On charity, what message do you try to convey to the youth of Cardiff?
Being an ambassador for The Gloves Are On is to help younger people to achieve their dreams. Young people are full of self-doubt and need encouragement to be able to go for what they want to achieve. However, I find that a lot of youngsters don’t know what they want to do as a career when you ask them; whereas, my generation had more of a plan, e.g. Joey (Joseph Cordina) wanted to be a boxer, I wanted to be an actor, etc, but I understand the world is changing with social media, which plays a big part. I want to inspire the younger generation and my role as an ambassador will hopefully allow me to do this.
What actor would you ideally like to work with in the future?
I would like to work with Leonardo DiCaprio because of all the different roles he’s played and I would love to work with Meryl Streep.
What would you say to a young Thaer?
I would tell him to believe in yourself, dedicate yourself and never give up. Don’t take no for an answer, knock doors, and if you fall get up and keep moving forward.
Within this industry and community, mental health is a concern. Did you come across any mental health issues, and if so, how did you overcome them?
It’s defiantly hard with constant rejection from auditions, you start to think to yourself, ‘what are you doing? You’re wasting your time and money’. It came to a point where I didn’t want to look at my reflection whilst travelling on the train to auditions. But, the only person in your way is you. You’ve got to keep pushing through the barriers and keep believing in yourself.
Quick Fire Questions
How would you describe your style?
Funky, my style is definitely out there. I always wear a Fedora Hat if I’m going somewhere special.
What are you currently reading?
Build and Become, they are a series of books that highlight topical life issues
What are you currently listening to?
Old classics, like Queen
What’s your philosophy to live by?
Never give up!