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Shazad Latif on the Voyage From ‘Star Trek’ to the World of Online Jihadism

Back from his maiden voyage as Starfleet officer Ash Tyler on “Star Trek: Discovery,” British actor Shazad Latif has boldly gone into the strange new world of online jihadist recruitment in Timur Bekmambetov’s “Profile.”

The film, which screens in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, is based on French journalist Anna Erelle’s book “In the Skin of a Jihadist,” about her investigation into the recruitment of young women by Isis. It chronicles the online relationship between a British reporter, played by Valene Kane, and Latif’s character, a charismatic Londoner-turned-terrorist in Syria.

“Profile” is the latest in a growing number of “screenshare films” that Bekmambetov has championed, including this year’s thriller “Search,” which present vérité storytelling set entirely on the screens of digital devices.

For Latif, it was an opportunity to work with Bekmambetov, whom he describes as “visionary” and “very good at creating mini-genres.” It was also a chance to explore a “very weird love story” and the world of the internet and social media.

“When the journalist goes online, she’s suddenly in this world, and it’s very real,” Latif said. “The same for the jihadi. They fall in love, but they’re both conning each other at the same time. When they’re back in their real lives it’s suddenly turned off.

“That was what was very interesting to play. It was like a two-hander…and for an actor, that’s a dream.”

The film also examines how young women can fall prey to terrorists they perceive to be cool and attractive warrior-fighters. “There’s something seductive about my character,” Latif said, comparing his charismatic jihadist to Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “You end up liking bits of this guy. Then you realize in the end he’s a horrible murderer and snap out of it.”

Another selling point for Latif was the verbatim script taken from Erelle’s actual Skype conversations with the jihadi.

But Latif, a London native who is part Pakistani, was initially apprehensive about the project. “I don’t want to play random terrorists. Of course I don’t want to be typecast,” he said. “The only reason I did it is because we spoke to Timur about it and the fact that I could see what these conversations were. For me it was about this relationship between those two people.”

Latif’s credits include hipster Clem Fandango in “Toast of London,” Dr. Jekyll in Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” and an appearance in “The Commuter,” with Liam Neeson. He’s on tap to return for the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” the hit series that has brought more opportunities, such as “Profile,” his way. “I can only be grateful for that,” he said.

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