Feeling like a stranger in your own land can be isolating, but find like-minded souls can ease that burden. In Amira & Sam, now in theaters and VOD, Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) plays Sam, a returning veteran who strikes up an unlikely friendship (and possibly more) with Amira, an Iraqi illegally staying in the country and played by Dina Shihabi. Mr. Starr took the time to speak with us about his preparation for the role, what drew him to the script, and summoning charm to bring Sam to life.
Martin Starr: How did you become involved with Amira & Sam?
FreakSugar: I sat down with Sean Mullin, the writer/director [of Amira and Sam] and we talked it out. And, to be honest, I didn’t feel like I was the best guy to help tell this story at first. Sean was adamant about me playing this part. He predetermined that this was going to happen. And through our conversations, I learned about his experiences and had the opportunity to see the story through his eyes to really fall in love with it and fall in love with [Sam]. It made me feel the need to tell this story.
FS: What drew you to the script to make you fall in love with it?
MS: It’s basically a love story about two characters who are outcasts and don’t really have a place where they belong in American culture and society. It’s interesting to tell this story. It was interesting for me to learn about the life of veterans, just through Sean. He’s a very unassuming guy. He’s 6’4” and all muscle, but you wouldn’t assume he’s a vet until you talk to him for a bit and he tells you about his experiences. So it was interesting to play someone who wasn’t suffering from PTSD and is finding his footing in society.
On the opposite side is Amira, who’s going through the same thing, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, through a different perspective, suffering the same difficulties, trying to acclimate in America.
FS: You said it helped talking to Sean in preparation for the role. Did you talk to other veterans in preparation for the film?
MS: Yeah, Sean set me up with a number of his friends, some of who were investing in the movie. They were war veterans and friends of Sean’s and so they had personal stake in this, that this story represented them in some way. So I was able to tap into those resources in gearing up for the movie. And I also got to visit Westpoint and talk to the cadets.
FS: How did you approach the romantic aspect of the story? Given that it’s downplayed at first, it feels true and not contrived at all like we see in a lot of movies.
MS: The difference between this and anything else I’ve done is to tap into some level of charm and make it believable that this beautiful woman would be interested in me. [laughs] If that succeeded, then I’ve done my job. If I have any charm, I had to put it all into that. That was something new to me, trying to woo this girl. Hopefully it came across as charming and not weird. [laughs]
FS: The bedroom scene and discussion was beautiful and maybe one of the best, authentic scenes I’ve seen in a romantic film. How did you approach that and what was the process like working with Dina on the scene? Did Mr. Mullin give you the opportunity for improv some of the scenes?
MS: I think we did something like 14 takes and that was take nine. That was the big thing we were shooting that day. We just found it. Most of it was on the page, but Dina and I found small beats that helped guide the rest of it into its place.
FS: What’s next for you coming down the pike?
MS: I’m working on the second season of Silicon Valley at the moment. And then I did a movie called I’ll See You in My Dreams with Blythe Danner. I’m really proud of that. It’s at Sundance right now. Hopefully it’ll find distribution and make it to theaters as well. And I did a movie called Shut In where I get to play a total crazy person.
FS: Oh, and I’d kick myself if I didn’t tell you that I loved your role on the third season of Community.
MS: Awesome! Yes, I played Professor Cligoris! [laughs]
FS: Thanks so much for your time.
MS: Thanks, man.
Be sure to check out our review of the film here on FreakSugar.