Baghdad’s double: devilish locations
The Devil’s Double was filmed entirely in Malta, apart from few establishing shots that were done in Jordan, and over 70 per cent of the crew hired were Maltese.
Oliver Mallia, who served as the film’s unit production manager, explained that, “Malta was considered only after the producers had spent almost a year trying to make the picture in places like Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco that had the better locations, but didn’t offer any incentives and were offering little support,”
Mallia goes on to explain that in Malta, the producers found a perfect solution – an EU country with good crews, incentives, the same currency and the possibility to create something that could look realistically Iraqi out of the island’s architecture.
Due to the numerous scenes that make up the film and their various settings, the crew was rarely in one location for more than a few days, meaning the art department had a hectic schedule getting the next set ready for filming.
Mallia looked back on that rather hectic time. “Recreating 1980s Iraq in Malta wasn’t an easy task,” he said. “However, despite the numerous locations that we had to visit during the nine-week shoot, we managed to film everything in time and in line with the budget we had.”
In the film’s production notes, The Devil’s Double production designer Paul Kirby commented that the colour and design of the buildings in Malta was a perfect match for the Iraqi capital.
“The sandstone that Malta is built upon was perfect for asand-blown Iraqi palette,” he said. In the meantime, with so many different backdrops such as the streets of Valetta, the island’s rocky countryside, and various hotels which doubled for the Iraqi palaces, Malta provided all the other locations needed.
The Maltese crew, exhaustively listed in the film’s closing credits, came in for some high praise.
“There’s a great production infrastructure there,” said producer Michael John Fedun. “The Maltese crews are used to working on medium-to-large-scale films such as Munich, Troy andGladiator and they really rose to the challenge of making this film.”
I mentioned this to Mallia, who replied that “it is very satisfying to hear producers speaking highly of Malta and local film crew members. I can only look back and say that it is only thanks to the commitment and professionalism of the cast and crew that the challenging schedule that we had felt much easier than what it looked like on paper.”
The Devil’s Double also utilised a number of Maltese actors that eagle-eyed audience members will definitely spot. Elektra Anastasi features quite prominently in some pivotal moments, as does Pierre Stafrace, who appears in a couple of scenes as Uday’s doctor.
Stafrace said that he really enjoyed watching director Lee Tamahori’s on-the-spot inventiveness. “Although he obviously had the scenes worked out in his head, you could see that he was improvising at times as the scenes developed,” Stafrace remembered.
“In the bit I was in, it was fascinating to see St Dorothy’s school transformed into a chaotic hospital dealing with ‘hundreds’ of bomb victims. Dominic Cooper (who plays the two key roles in the film) was quite relaxed and down to earth. He had no difficulty repeating a scene as many times as necessary until the director was happy – even when the actor playing Saddam was squashing his private parts!”
Mallia concurred. “This wasn’t an easy show for Dominic as he was on set almost every day playing not one but two different roles. Luckily we managed to schedule the film in a way that allowed him to have a few rest days throughout the nine-week period. Working with him was a very pleasant experience as he was very committed and dedicated to the job and a true gentleman with the crew.”
Mallia has equally fulsome praise for Tamahori. “Lee was quite easygoing throughout the different stages of production and I think his positive attitude even in the most challenging situations made a huge difference. Despite the fact that he has worked on numerous Hollywood productions, his roots as an indie film-maker stood out as he was very comprehensible of the limitations that the production had and always presented solutions that didn’t affect the quality of the picture and the budget.”
In summing up the Malta experience, Mallia concluded by saying: “I think the end result is pretty convincing and undoubtedly The Devil’s Double will be looked at by neighbouring competitors as yet another feather in Malta’s cap.”