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'Tyrant' the new Middle East-based show from producers behind 'Homeland'

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It seems as if Howard Gordon is always at war. The executive producer was part of the team behind "24" when it launched shortly after the World Trade Center attacks. He went on to help create "Homeland," a series about a marine returning home after captivity in Iraq.

Gordon is now the executive producer of "Tyrant," a new summer-run series about an American family drawn into a turbulent Middle East conflict. The drama premieres June 24 on FX and FX Canada.

"Tyrant" was created by Gordon's "Homeland" partner, Israeli writer/director Gideon Raff. The series focuses on a pediatrician living in the United States, Barry Al Fayeed. He's played by Adam Rayner, a British/American actor who has appeared in "Mistresses." Al Fayeed is drawn back to his Middle East homeland after 20 years to attend his brother's wedding. Complications ensue.

Raff told reporters attending the most recent network press tour in Pasadena, Calif., that he's fascinated by events in the Middle East. He pointed to the Arab Spring as well as civil wars and revolutions.

He was watching a TV report in his apartment in Tel Aviv when he hit upon the idea for the series. The news report was about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and executions in Daraa.

"Everybody was hating on him and saying how horrible he is and a mass killer," said Raff. "And I was thinking that, just a few years earlier, everybody was so happy that he, educated in the West, married to a British woman, is coming to replace his father."

Raff thought al-Assad must miss his life in London. He also thought his journey would make for a compelling TV series.

The series launches, of course, just as Baghdad calls for the United States to send military aid as Sunni militants battle security forces in Iraq.

Gordon, attending the same press tour, admitted he is drawn to these kinds of "ripped from the headlines" stories.

"I think if you look at the New York Times, or any paper for that matter, 50 per cent of the ink is about what's happening in Egypt, what's happened in Libya, what's happening in Syria," he says. "That part of the world is experiencing a seismic shift. And to have the opportunity to tell a story about people and put faces on the things that are merely headlines felt just too good to ignore."

Also on location in Tel Aviv for the series is Montreal native Jennifer Finnigan. Finnigan, who plays Al Fayeed's wife Molly, joked with reporters that her first question heading over to Tel Aviv was, "what do I do about a cell phone?"

She was actually thrilled to be in a strange land for this project.

"There's nothing better for an actor than to be completely immersed in a location where they, themselves, feel out of place and especially when it's reflected in their character as well."

Beats the heck out of trying to summon up a country from "a soundstage in Burbank," she added.

Finnigan was the last main cast member signed on to the series. The pilot was shot in Morocco, where Gordon and Raff had previously shot scenes for "Homeland." Finnigan says the Moroccan shoot "was an experience in itself," she says, adding she felt, "very blond."

Her character comes to discover — after 20 years of marriage — that her husband is basically part of a royal family in the Middle East. The series is set in the fictional nation of Baladi, which means "my country" in Arabic. Raff says he mixed elements from a few countries "to attack them dramatically" and was careful not to be specific about any one region.

Finnigan was curious to play a woman kept "at arm's length by her husband their entire life." Once in the loop, the character becomes a bit like Lady Macbeth, pushing her husband to embrace his royal roots.

Moran Atias and Ashraf Barhom play members of the Baladi side of the family. More known for comedy, Justin Kirk ("Weeds") plays U.S. diplomat John Tucker.

"I was told a laughter track would be added to the pilot after it was shot in Morocco," joked Kirk.

The series is called "Tyrant," and while Gordon loves the title, he says the series really boils down to this one question: "What does it mean to be a good man?"

Gordon sees the main character as a man who recognized that the price of admission for being an Al Fayeed in his homeland was so steep that he left.

"He so desperately wanted to be a good man," says Gordon, "he turned his back on it and replanted himself in America where, in some ways, many ways, it's easier to be a good man, treating strep throat and coaching Little League."

How tyranny manifests itself — in a family as well as a nation — is really what Gordon and Raff have set out to explore.

___

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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