Said Faraj is a blessed man, and he knows it. The Lebanese-born actor is currently co-starring in Green Zone with Matt Damon. But the true blessing came when this dad of two learned that his son, Abraham, who had been battling Stage 4 neuroblastoma for over a year, became cancer-free. Said spoke candidly with Celebrity Parents about his co-leading man status, his family, (even his stint as a hairstylist for David Hasselhoff!) and why President Barack Obama personally changed his life.
Let’s talk a bit about your background.
I’m from Lebanon and I came to the United States in the ‘80s. I was actually the last person to get a visa from the American Embassy in Lebanon. I came to this country with $235 in my pocket, and I remember that I was the only guy in the whole airplane. I was 16 years-old.
Were your parents okay with you coming so young?
We had no choice. It was during the Civil War and I had to leave. I came to LA, and I wanted to find my uncle who lived here. I stayed on a bench for two weeks and ate a hamburger every day. I remember that it was my dream to eat an American hamburger!
Was it like a park bench?
No, it was a bench outside the burger place. The place is still there.
They should put a plaque up and write, “Said Wuz Here.”
[laughs] Yes, I should get it trademarked!
[laughs] So you’re eating burgers and hanging out on a bench. Did you find your uncle?
Yes. I was running out of money and I asked someone if they knew where I could find my uncle. It turns out that my uncle only lived two blocks away! I went to school, and after I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to get into acting. Over the course of 2 years, I changed jobs 22 times!
What kinds of jobs did you have?
I did everything from deliver pizza, to working in a gas station, to being a mechanic. I worked at a hamburger stand, too.
Back to the burgers again!
[laughs] Yes. It’s interesting because many of the roles I’ve played in movies were jobs that I had at one point.
Including being a hairstylist to The Hoff! How did that come about?
I worked on an independent film called W.B., Blue and the Bean that David Hasselhoff was in. We became very good friends, and I became his hair stylist. Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to work on great films with great directors and actors. It really got me to where I am now.
And now you’re co-starring in Green Zone. Let’s talk about your role in the film.
My character in the film is Seyyed Hamza. He is a very high-ranking officer. He’s a father and he cares about his family. He is an essential role in the movie; he has important information that Matt Damon’s character is seeking.
It’s going to be a huge film. How do you prepare for a film like that?
By studying. My character has a very specific accent, and I had to study to learn it. As an actor, you have to continue taking classes and learning. You can’t just say, “I have talent.” It’s not enough. A while ago, the good roles were not coming, especially to people of Middle Eastern descent. Now, they are starting to come. I had to audition for Green Zone, and I was very lucky to have been cast from LA, because many of the actors in the film were cast from the regions we were in, like London, Morocco, and Spain. I am so grateful to director Paul Greengrass for fighting so hard for me.
And you’re sharing the screen with Matt Damon.
I am honored to be in a film with him. We filmed for 4 ½ months and when I was going from LA to Morocco, I was watching –in first class!—The Bourne Ultimatum. So when we get to Morocco, I went to do my first scene with Matt. I’m speaking in Iraqi, and I was concentrating so hard to get the lines right.
Now, as a director, Paul doesn’t do long shots. It’s almost like theater; he’ll film the whole scene from beginning to end. It’s a very unique style. So I’m ready to do the scene, and I’m face to face with Matt Damon… and I totally blanked out! He said his line, and he’s looking at me. And all I’m thinking to myself is, “Oh my God, this is Matt Damon!” [laughs] He asked me the question again, and I realized, “I have to remember my lines!!!” I’m trying to control myself, and I start saying my lines. The scene finishes and Paul says, “Marvelous! Marvelous!” I was thinking, “You don’t know what I was just thinking!”
He thought it was method acting! I wouldn’t admit the truth!
[laughs] I’m only telling that story for you and your readers!
On a much more serious note, let’s talk about what happened with your son, Abraham, after you finished filming Green Zone.
I have two sons with my wife, Judith. My son Amir is 15 and my son Abraham is 10. After I came back from filming Green Zone, my son Abraham started complaining about pain in his body. We took him to doctors, and on his birthday last year, January 6th, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma.
And as a parent, you never think that your child could get cancer.
Never. It came out of nowhere. And it was traveling all over his body. One day he would say, “Dad, my head hurts.” And then a couple of days later, he would say, “Dad, my arm hurts.” It was such an emotional time for my family. Here, I have waited for a role like in Green Zone for 21 years; it is the best time in my life. And then my son gets so sick. I couldn’t say, “God, why?” I just asked for help. I love my son so much. [stops, becomes emotional]
It’s okay. Take your time.
I just want to say thank you to our brilliant President. We started doing chemo and my son still had cancer. We went to San Francisco for two weeks, for aggressive radiation, and he still had cancer. We did more chemo and radiation, and he was still sick.
I thank God for President Obama, because he approved federal funding for stem cell research. My kid was one of the first 25 kids to receive this new treatment. On January 10th of this year, from the stem cells and the alternative medicine that Abraham received, my son is free of cancer.
He still has one year of recovery. Through the power of God, and my faith is so strong…I know he will be okay. I don’t think, “Why me?” God is a god of love. I think in the future that my son will be a good example.
And you are also a good example, because you can spread the word about how important stem cell research is.
I’m honored to be in your magazine, because I can talk about this, and let everyone know that my son is alive and on his way to making a full recovery because of this. It truly changed our son’s family life. Having my family healthy, and Green Zone coming out, I am so incredibly blessed and grateful. I could not ask for more.