American actor Jeff Fahey has been in over 110 feature films and TV shows, usually in a starring role. Nearly all of his films have been thrillers, action or sci-fi, and he is on location now shooting a new ROBERT RODRIGUEZ action movie, EL DORADO, with legendary actor Robert DeNiro. And this seems only natural as the actor’s own life has been a series of adventures that he has discovered himself and taken his friends on. Jeff was born in Olean, New York State, and grew up and finished school in Buffalo where he was later to return to after travelling the world. And it was there, too, he first started work at the Studio Arena Theatre before moving to New York and studying acting. He made his big screen debut in Lawrence Kasdan’s “Silverado” (1985) along with several other future stars (Kevin Kline, Kevin Costner).
Next came a succession of acclaimed television and cinema parts including lead roles in the drama “White Hunter, Black Heart” directed by Clint Eastwood, and the sci-fi film “The Lawnmower Man”. In 1994, Jeff Fahey again worked with Lawrence Kasdan on the biopic Western “Wyatt Earp”, playing Ike Clanton alongside Pierce Brosnan (and Kevin Costner in the lead role). But his life has not only been about cinema roles: for many years now he has also devoted tremendous enthusiasm and energy to his charitable work.
Could you tell me about your career? You are an actor who can also sing and dance, aren’t you?
I have sung on stage and studied dance for a while, yeah... Well, as you can see, I jump into a lot of different things just to see what the world is about. I grew up in a place in New York called Buffalo. In a large family – eight boys and five girls. I was the sixth born. I left home at 17 and hitchhiked across America, up to Alaska to find work on the oil pipeline up there. I travelled round the world and worked at odd jobs. So, life has been an experiment! And I eventually fell into theatre. That’s how dance came out of the study of theatre. It was more about expanding the concept of exploration than wanting to be a dancer. So, I studied for a few years and also was studying acting at the time. And I have a funny song in a new film I was doing july in England with actors Patrick Bergin, Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen, where I play a wild and crazy dentist.
You’ve had many acclaimed roles – particularly in Tarantino’s film s. Everyone nowadays is talking about the TV show “Lost”. You were in the fourth and fifth season?
Yes, and I’ll go back in mid-August to Hawaii to start filming the sixth, which is the final season.
Could you tell us about this in more detail? After all, it’s the last season and everyone’s longing to know how it’s all going to end.
Ah, now the hook comes in! I know everything but nothing! How’s that?
In one respect, it’s a secret because the producers and writers have an overall vision of how they want to tie it up. But, you know, they don’t have to hide it from us because, as I’ve learned over this couple of seasons, we’re having such a ball – it’s a great group of people. Everyone gets along, cast and crew. And we actually enjoy the idea of not knowing what’s coming, and just playing in the moment. So, in one respect, it’s very secret, and in the other, we don’t really want to know!
It’s like life for you: in life you have no idea either what tomorrow’s going to bring.
Yes, I’m attracted to the adventure of the unknown. My career has been like an adventure. And I’m just enjoying the ride and enjoying the adventure. And along the way I’ve been very lucky to work with some fascinating, interesting artists whom I’ve learned from, and that has supported emotionally, artistically, and financially my own adventure. So, I actually feel more of a guest in the world of theatre and film.
Is “Lost” really filmed on a desert island?
Well, we shoot on the island of Oahu on Hawaii, and, of course, it’s well populated. We get to some wonderful locations up on the north shore and on the windward side, and inside, inland a little bit, and it’s pretty easy to make it look isolated. But I have to say, to wake up in your home in Waikiki beach, and have a driver pick you up early in the morning, and get a cup of coffee and drive off to the north shore of Hawaii, and pretend you’re lost. And then 12 hours later for someone take you back to Waikiki – it’s not quite as isolated as one would think!
Let’s have a look at another aspect of what you do – your charitable work. You devote a lot of time to it and, first and foremost, to the project in Afghanistan. How did it all start and why did you go to Afghanistan and start helping orphans?
Well, I first went into Afghanistan in the early ‘70’s. So, I’d gone by land from Europe to Afghanistan, on the old hippy trail of the early ‘70’s. And then years later I was asked to go in and give some help with the International American University that they were putting in, and through that I became affiliated with certain orphanages. And just being in there and seeing so much in a post-conflict area, if you will. And so many things are connected and I don’t even know if one would consider it humanitarian or charity – it was just a continued adventure. And one thing has led to the other. I guess it’s time to go with it as it becomes more known. I just have to speak about the things I know.
Why Afghanistan, though? After all, there are so many countries in need of aid these days...
I think Michael Ussery is best placed to answer this question: he used to be the US Ambassador to Morocco, and we’re doing this project together.
“Unfortunately,” Michael comments, “we Americans don’t know as much about the world as we should as a country that’s been a superpower. When we shine the spotlight on a country, we learn about it and then we realise the things they need, the help they need, and because we went to war there, then suddenly, we learned about a country we had not been paying attention to. So, when Jeff offered to go back and try and help out on our American University project in Afghanistan, we said, ‘Great! We need his help!’ We had two surprises. The first was we needed so much help to make the university happen. We thought that because the US government had given us the grant to plan the university, it meant that it’s going to be automatic, it would happen. The other surprise was how Jeff fell back in love with Afghanistan and stayed there for most two years.”
Jeff, are you seeking to get more Americans involved in humanitarian missions in Afghanistan and in your projects?
No, I’ve never asked anybody to come along. And when I got involved with “Lost”, I told them I wouldn’t use the show as a means to speak out about certain things. But here we are now talking about it. I wanted to show the positive work being done by others, and not as propaganda or to hide the dark and the negative things that were happening in the conflict area but just to give a little more voice and space to the positive. That’s only my opinion, and again, as for the dark things that are happening, the news covers that quite well. It was my way of showing the things that were happening – the construction, the agriculture, the education, the hospitals, the medical assistance, the irrigation of valleys... Is there a lot to do, absolutely, absolutely but I think by this approach it gives a little more support to the Afghans.
If you ask me, this is your standpoint in life: if something has touched you, you reckon it matters and then you just start taking action. And if people want to help, that’s all well and good – everyone can take part.
Absolutely, I think the door’s open for anyone to come and join in assistance in these areas, and by the same token, the door’s always open for them to leave – without judgment. I’ve never wanted to tell people what they should do because it’s relative, isn’t it? Everyone’s life is difficult. I’ve found it’s easier to involve people by not asking them to be involved but just giving them a little more clarity on what you are doing and how you’re doing it and they can pick and choose.
Yes, and the Marrakesh film festival, and, hopefully, with assisting and participating in the exchange of young Moroccan film students, going into different parts of the world, and throughout Europe and the United States, and they are also exchanging with students who are coming to study here. And I’m observing the Marrakesh film school which is fascinating – I went there yesterday. I think it’s one of those establishments that has support financially that allows them to have the equipment technically which allows it to be comfortable to pull in qualified and talented people from around the world.
You’re currently making a short film about the excavations of a palace which was recently discovered during excavation work in Morocco. What kind of project is this?
When this group of archaeologists found out I was coming over to have other meetings, they contacted Ambassador Ussery and said I might want to come out and have a look at the archaeological site. And then seeing what was there – the discovery of the long lost capital of Aghmat that ruled from West Africa through southern Spain in the 10th and 11th centuries – I thought I might be able to put something together and put it to some people so that they can find some financial support for the project. So, that’s primarily the reason for going out there and filming – whether it’s National Geographic or UNESCO or somebody so they can get some financial support – whether it’s from government support or independent support.
Honestly, as I said before, the work was not charity – I didn’t necessarily even look at it as humanitarian work. It was just coming across situations where I felt if I connected one group of people to another group, the situation or the problem may possibly be solved or move closer to clarity. And so here I ran across these people and it appears they are in need of financial support and international interest – I’ve got a camera and I can film it and show it to some people – it’s that simple. Personally, it was amazing to be there the week they found the palace!
You spent several days in Casablanca. Was this also to do with some project?
That was to make plans to go down south to the Western Sahara: to find out a little bit more about what’s going on down there with the refugees. The more I’ve heard about the conflict in the Western Sahara, and the unsettled situation – we don’t know but believe there are 70,000 refugees. But nobody seems to be able to tell me the exact figure. I’m in a quiet way trying to find things out – just for myself, and see if we can help in any way. I just think it’s fascinating that there’s no solution at the moment for what’s going on there. I know the King of Morocco has said that he would take all the refugees into Morocco. Now if that’s the case, why aren’t they allowed to leave these camps, stuck out in the desert? That’s what I need to know – I don’t have the answers to that. I would like to know. A lot of people have already offered to help me, including the Russian photographer Sasha Gusov who’s travelling with us and taking photographs. And I have offered my volunteer services to the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants which is campaigning against “warehousing” refugees, sometimes for decades in what was suppose to be temporary camps.
Oh, I don’t know – I haven’t thought about that! I mean there are jobs that we have to do just to sustain and carry on. They all seem to kind of mix together. I think I do the one to give me the freedom to do the other!
Do you have a big dream in your life?
No, I don’t. I’m very happy with the life I’ve lived – I kind of take it a day, a month, a year at a time. And as I move on to these different jobs, I just explore these other possibilities of learning a little more about something, as everyone does, and then connecting people with people to help. And it seems to now have evolved over these years on an international level. I think it’s very important for me that I’m not involved to show who’s wrong. It usually turns out that there’s a way of showing how it can be a win-win situation.
Photos by Sasha GUSOV