Bahrain-born, London-based actor Khalid Laith stars in Tobe Hooper’s Djinn, the UAE-set horror film which had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi this week.

The story follows an Emirati couple who return to their homeland after living in New York, only to discover malevolent forces in their apartment building. Laith, who is repped by Curtis Brown, has credits including The Devil’s Double and TV show Spooks. He was unable to attend ADFF this week so he answered Screen’s questions via email.

What was it like working with Tobe Hooper?

Filming with Tobe was a great experience. He’s very well versed in the genre and has some amazing stories to tell. We’d met at casting session in Dubai shared a few thoughts about the character and concept of film. On set, he was very helpful in keeping me and my character on track amongst all the mayhem. I also think there’s a wider symbolism at play in the story. I believe Tobe managed to subtly draw it out.

Are you a fan of horror films and how did that influence your work on Djinn?

I’m quite a fan of horror films, especially the more subtle and psychological ones in the genre. I’d read a bit of Stephen King and a few other horror novelists as a teenager and my tastes are heavily influences by their style. I also have a particular fascination with Japanese horror films. Although I wouldn’t class it as strict horror, I quite like the macabre visual poetry of NBC’s Hannibal
TV series. In terms of influencing my work on Djinn it’s hard to say. I’d done a fair amount of research on the subject of Djinn, both from an Arabic folklore point of view and had read more modern western esoteric writings. I watched Polanski’s horror films specifically Rosemary’s Baby is one I’d gone through a few times as a reference.

Apart from that, there is a wealth of desert campfire stories from my arabic heritage and fears I’d held as a child regarding the djinn. It wasn’t too hard to find fear to draw on.

Do you think this film represents a big step forward for feature films in the UAE?

I think the region has a very healthy filmmaking community these days. It’s still a young community trying to find its feet. Our film Djinn is definitely a step forward in getting more locally made films in the cinemas. I’d like to see more films of many other genres and tones being produced in the UAE and the Gulf. There’s definitely a market for them locally and perhaps internationally as well. Hopefully our film can prove that.

What was it like shooting in the UAE?
Overall it was a good experience, as much as the compacted experience of shooting a film can be. The schedule was very tight with long shooting hours so my perception of the shoot is coloured by how tired I was. I grew up in the Gulf to a certain extent, but have lived in the UK for a long time now. It was a pleasure to be filming back in the region and working in a mixed crew of local UAE and western
talent. We shot the film in Dubai mostly and that’s a great city to be in. Amazing food!

What films are you making next?
I can’t really talk about what’s coming up next just yet, but I do have some personal projects that’s I’m working on, some involving film and others satisfying my second creative interest, music. I’m also preparing to do a Masters in directing soon.