On the FX series Tyrant, the fictional nation of Abbudin is a fascinating place. Now in its second season, the show follows the ruling Al-Fayeed family—including Bassam, a son who sought asylum in the U.S., and Jamal, his dictator brother—as its members horde and lose power and fight against one another for what might be the soul of their country.
Israeli-born actress Moran Atias plays one of the series’ most compelling characters, Leila Al-Fayeed, Jamal’s wife and an undeniable behind-the-scenes political force. Here, Atlas explains how the show portrays real world-inspired events, and what it is about Leila that keeps her on her toes.
The second season of the series just started—and you’re still filming. How’s that treating you so far?
It’s great. Excuse my French, but it’s really fucking epic, because now we get to explore different perspectives on the situation with new characters who are being introduced. You know, everybody is looking at leadership with different eyes and different interests, so it’s very interesting.
At the end of the first season, your character’s husband had just taken over his country. There’s so much that can go wrong now!
I read every episode, and I’m like, what? I can’t believe she has to go through this. So, it’s really great that they managed to put the characters in the position to face some devastating choices, and that really defines who they are. In those extreme circumstances, I read the scripts and think that I myself wouldn’t know how to react to such conflict, and it’s a wonderful place to be able to explore the many different alternatives.
During the first season, you filmed all over the world. This time you’re staying put in Budapest, right?
We started in Morocco for the pilot, and then we shot in Israel, but the war started at the end of the season so they transferred us to Turkey. This season we started filming in Morocco and then we moved to Budapest.
Do you get to stay put for a little while?
Yeah, we’ve been in Budapest for two months now. It’s a beautiful, charming city.
On a series like this, where some characters are so volatile and hard to watch, what’s it like for you when the cameras are off?
There’s a mystery to that world that is exotic and alluring, but it hides so many wrongdoings and so many horrifying circumstances, especially for women. So, immediately when I read this part I felt so connected to my character, I felt like I needed to guide her, I needed to give this character a voice. You know, in some capacity she’s extremely privileged, she’s surrounded by incredible wealth, but the price she has to pay to be—to be the First Lady, to be next to a husband like she has—is so horrifying and heartbreaking and challenging.
What have you learned from playing her?
It was hard for me to not play her as a victim; it was her choice to stay when others might have left. In the first season, her husband finds out that his father is dead, and he does not want to rise to the occasion, he wants to run away. This woman stays, and I thought it’s the opposite of weakness, this is strength, you stay despite of all the obstacles, despite of the incredible sacrifice, and price you have to pay, humiliation after humiliation. If she can through this path, create a better future for her country and herself, she’s willing to do so. So, that’s how I wanted to play her.
How much do you pay attention to the current events in the world around you? The show is not based on any particular regime, but I feel like it does pay close attention to global events.
I think that’s what drew the writers to develop this show, because it’s so relevant, and because it’s happening right now. We are definitely informed by what’s happened, and they’re inspired as writers to write it, and as an actor, I feel a responsibility to find the complexity within that world. I grew up in Israel, and I’ve always been sensitive to criticism that is so easily given to that part of the world. Only until you live there, only until you are living under threat, are you capable of understanding how challenging and how complex it truly is.