Get to Know Tahar Rahim, the French Actor About to Terrify You on Netflix's The Serpent
While known to French audiences for over a decade now, Tahar Rahim is now gaining traction in Hollywood. This year, he stars in two biopic projects, portraying serial killer Charles Sobhraj in Netflix's The Serpent and Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi in The Mauritanian. Calling these breakout parts wouldn't quite be accurate, though — the seasoned 39-year-old actor started his career with the Oscar-nominated French film A Prophet back in 2009. However, he's definitely getting buzz for these leading roles and now has a Golden Globe nomination under his belt for his harrowing portrayal of Slahi. Keep reading to learn more about Rahim, who's bound to secure more leading roles in future projects to come.
His breakout role was in a critically acclaimed 2009 French film called A Prophet.
In the Oscar-nominated film, he plays Malik, a 19-year-old French-Algerian man who is imprisoned for attacking police officers. While in jail, he learns about the prison's factions and hierarchies, forced to engage in dicey tasks while incarcerated.
He's a married man and a father of two.
Rahim met his wife, actress Leïla Bekhti, while shooting A Prophet. The couple have two children, a three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. (Bekhti actually played his onscreen wife in Damien Chazelle's The Eddy, too).
He credits "boredom" for drawing him to acting.
In an interview with Variety, Rahim revealed that he would sneak into movie theaters when he was a teenager. "So when I was around 13 or 14, I used to hang around and go to the movies. But, I couldn't really afford it. So I found a way to get in from the back door. And I would go there five times a week. And over the course of watching movies, I started to feel something in that place — the movie theater itself. It was something like being in an unconscious dream space," Rahim explained.
Before deciding to act, he actually studied sports and computer science.
"I originally studied sports in Strasbourg and then went to Marseille to study, erm, some computer things…but it was absolutely not my cup of tea. I said to myself, 'If you want to be an actor, the only way to start is to learn.' So that's what I did, I went to Montpellier and studied cinema, script production, lighting," Rahim told GQ Middle East.
Rahim comes from a big French-Algerian family.
Born to parents who immigrated from Algeria to France, he's the youngest of ten siblings. He and his family grew up in Belfort in the north-eastern region of France.
Rahim actually met Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the man he played in the Mauritanian.
Slahi was held at Guantánamo Bay without charge for 14 years, and The Mauritanian is based on his book, Guantánamo Diary. Rahim almost considered meeting up with Charles Sobhraj but decided not to out of respect for the serial killer's victims.
He worked various odd jobs before his acting career took off.
Rahim first studied drama at the Paul Valery University of Montpellier. He then studied it in Paris at the Laboratoire de l'Acteur — he was also working at a factory and nightclub in the meanwhile.
Rahim took a nearly decade-long hiatus from English movies before working on The Looming Tower.
"I know I wasn't ready. You know, when I worked with Kevin [Macdonald] on The Eagle, I could barely speak English. So it would have been hard to work in America or England before, but also the parts that I got offered are not convincing, and I had to turn them down," Rahim told Slash Film. Eventually, however, he would go on to star in 2018's The Looming Tower and Mary Magdalene. In The Looming Tower, he worked with a coach for four hours a day to nail down an American accent.
He has an appreciation for Hollywood in the '70s.
"These actors are timeless icons, like John Cazale, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Meryl Streep," Rahim told Vogue Arabia. He was interested in how these '70s actors would play characters from real life.