Her most recent film, "Inescapable," which is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, follows a father's desperate search for his daughter, who's secretly travelled to Syria to find out more about her father's mysterious past. He then has no choice but to venture there to find her, and is forced to stumble through the Middle Eastern chaos he thought he left behind.
The heartfelt movie perfectly captures the tension and escalated suspicions in the country; cast members Alexander Siddig, Marisa Tomei and Joshua Jackson all deliver intense performances as a father searches for his daughter. Moviefone chatted with Nadda about Syria, her "psychic" choice of locale and America vs. Canada abroad.
What inspired you to do this film, and more specifically, this subject matter? Basically I became obsessed with the Adib character, the father. He came into my life and refused to leave. [Laughs] I guess it was a couple of things: I travel a lot, and I went to the Middle East by myself and my father was like, "Don't go missing or else I'll have to come after you." Part of it is he's got this mysterious past, and he feels like he's escaped it, but he hasn't. Not really. Also, I've lived in Syria, during my childhood -- I'm Syrian -- so I've always known what Damascus is like, so I've always wanted to set a story there.
It's especially appropriate right now, considering the absolute chaos in the country at the moment. I know! I started working on the film in 2007, and for years, people thought I was crazy for writing this movie. Everyone was like, "What are you talking about? Where is Syria on a map?" and then all of a sudden in the past year, everyone is like "This is so topical! How did you know?" And also, before, everyone was saying, "You're so paranoid! What's wrong with you?" and now it's like it's justified.
People must think you're psychic. I must admit the timing is a little insane ... and there's a part of me that realizes why I was so desperate to make this movie. Now, looking back, there's no way I could shoot this movie. There's no way I could have done that.
Finally we're getting Alexander Siddig in a lead role - what is it about him that draws in the viewer? You know what it is? He's so masculine to me. He's the quintessential Arab man. He's a really good actor, too. I knew I wanted him to be in "Cairo Time," and in this movie, I knew he could be a little angrier, a bit more contained, and I knew he would be perfect for the role.
I feel like his character is simmering for most of the movie, until the end. Exactly. Alexander and I talked about that. In another movie like this, I would imagine the father going absolutely ballistic, but this is a character that feels so much guilt, because he knows that his daughter's disappearance is his fault. He doesn't have time to react. It's a very selfless thing that he does -- he holds it together until the end. And he has to, because he has to find her. A child disappearing anywhere is a horrible, horrible thing, but a child disappearing in Damascus is something else entirely.
He manages to communicate that with those eyes of his. I know! People always ask me about this. For me, as a director, it's the eyes. His eyes have me. I don't know what it is. He's so subtle and he has your heart. He's minimalist, but it works. I don't know how he does it.
Tell me more about Marisa coming on board -- how did she prep for the role? She plays a native Syrian. She's terrific, and I've always loved her as an actress. She brought a commitment to the role that was insane. She went to live in Beirut for two weeks. When I first met her, I thought she looked like my cousin. It was crazy. She's Italian, so she already has the Mediterranean feistiness that I was looking for. She's the same age as Alexander, too, which is something that I wanted. She became an Arab woman in that two-week period, and she learned Arabic. The accent is tough, especially since not many people know what a Syrian person sounds like. It was a complete transformation for her: the hair, the makeup, the clothes. The mannerisms were easy for her, though, since she's Italian and already uses her hands. [Laughs]
There's the line in the movie where someone says that, over in the Middle East, Americans and Canadians are viewed as the same thing. With all your travelling experience, do you find that's true in real life? Oh yeah. I get that in the Middle East all the time. People love Canadians, though; if you're wearing a Canadian flag on your backpack, you're golden. Sometimes, though, especially in the Middle East, they think that Canada is part of the United States. But on the whole, we're seen as a gentler, kinder, friendlier version of Americans. [Laughs]