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Calculated risks: worth the payoff?

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Say you’re a British actor—a Muslim— and you get a chance for a big role in a major motion picture. It would be your first crack at a Hollywood feature film.

Now say the role you’re offered is one of four Sept. 11 hijackers in the docudrama United 93. An opportunity like that could make your career. Or kill it. Who knows?

That’s what happened to Jamie Harding. Now 27, the young man faced a dilemma exclusive to Middle Eastern actors trying to find good roles in theater, movies and television: They usually have to play the bad guys and they usually get typecast, which is a kind of limbo for actors.

But Harding took the risk and for him, it worked.

After United 93, he was deluged with offers to play terrorists. But he also found he could choose from wider roles. This spring Harding came to U.S. movie screens again in O Jerusalem, in which he plays the brother of the Arab protagonist who befriends a Jew during the founding of Israel.

“There are a lot of projects getting made, and if you associate with the right one, good can come from it,” he says, adding that cutting a path gives you a chance “to find your voice.”

Harding’s case is proof that risk can pay off handsomely.

Another example: After his dazzling performance as an Iranian shopkeeper in Crash, ABC offered Shaun Toub a big role as a terrorist in a miniseries, but he managed to talk his way into a good-guy role.

—Adapted from “Want to Play a Terrorist? Actors Face a Dilemma,” Nick Timiraos, The Wall Street Journal.

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