"A fusion of cultures"
by Bénédicte Prot
Cineuropa: Tell us about your work before Welcome Home. What is your background?
Abdi Gouhad: My personal background is a fusion of cultures. I was born in Somali, grew up in Aden (in Yemen) and then moved to London, where I still live and work. As an actor, I was trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Welcome Home is my fourth feature film. Just before that, I appeared in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things. I was also in Norman Jewison's Rollerball and Mike Hodges' I’ll Sleep when I’m dead.
How did this particular adventure start?
The initial audition with Andreas took place in London. We talked about the film, politics, personal experiences, etc. I liked very much what I saw of Andreas. With him, it is difficult to distinguish the man from the director. He has clear ideas and objectives, listens to the actors and rehearses thoroughly, allowing the camera to work around the actors. A few days later, I went to Vienna, met the producers of Wega films and the lead actors, and after observing the general dynamics, Andreas offered me the role. Later on, I panicked a little when I realised that I would have to speak in German, but I was mostly delighted.
Being at the custom office, you are at a meeting point between two different worlds. Was the subsequent cultural shock and difficulty to communicate hard to play?
The custom office is where cultures collide, in our case. These scenes were complex, a mix of racism, brutality and abuse of power. Ampofo’s standpoint is simple but unshakable: when you are in a foreign country, remember you are the foreigner. Despite the constant provocation of the Austrian cops, Ampofo pursues his objective with quiet authority, firmness and a touch of humour. To the question 'how do you educate a mule?', his answer is 'first you have to grab its attention'. Ampofo does not want to discriminate against the cops so much as fool them at their own game, because, as Mark Twain says, 'They can make it illegal but they will never make it unpopular'. This applies to immigration. It is a natural human phenomenon.
By preventing the Austrian cops from going back home, you actually are the one who initiates the reversal of values (and lesson for these cops) the movie is based on... You also seem amused by the situation. Did you enjoy acting this part?
I am glad this came across in the film. I did enjoy that part. After all, all my life I have been concerned by theissue of immigration. After all these years in Britain, I do not remember a single parliamentary election where immigration was not a major issue. As W.H. Auden says in Refugee Blues,
'Stood on a great plain in the falling snow
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.'
What's changed, I'm asking you!