Hamza Haq talks about training to play Dr. Bashir in Transplant

From bad guy to badass: Hamza Haq is changing the game in Universal’s (DStv 117) new medical drama Transplant

Canadian Medical drama series Transplant opens with a scene that seems straight out of a tense action series like Homeland or 24. And it absolutely plays on audience expectations about dark-skinned men sweating, exchanging newspaper-wrapped packages in the back of rundown restaurants. But as with all medical dramas, Transplant is there to warn us not to trust first impressions, and to beware of our prejudices. It’s something that will be carried out in case after case in York Memorial Hospital. A baby belongs to an injured older woman, not her rattled and seemingly irresponsible daughter who’s holding the infant. A brilliant doctor at the scene of an accident was a patient and victim, not the hero who saved everyone.

It’s a fascinating start to a series that has gone all-out to be authentic and interesting as it tells the tale of a Syrian refugee, Dr. Bashir Hamed (Hamza Haq), who’s struggling to find his feet and find work as a doctor in his new country.

Hamza was kind enough to tell us a little more about how he prepared for the role and what we can expect…

Watch now on Catch Up Read more on Transplant S1

Doctor’s notes

As someone who’d been turning down a lot of terrorist roles, when this came along, what did you think of the way that the opening scenes at the restaurant were shot and edited?

Hamza: I thought it was a really good choice by our director, Holly Dale, to really play off of the tropes that most audiences will expect to see in a setting with Middle Eastern men, to have this dark, brooding atmosphere. In the opening scenes of the show, a lot of people were not surprised to see this kind of atmosphere, and then when it turned out that he (Bashir, played by Hamza) was actually the protagonist… Right from the start we set that tone and we carry it through the season.

What was something that series creator Joseph Kay told you about Bashir that really gave you insight into his character?

Hamza: There is this notion that Bashir is just this regular guy. They wrote heroic elements of him. He’s a doctor, he’s a survivor of this war and all of these things, but he really is just a normal guy in that he is capable of amazing things, but he is also capable of making mistakes and being a victim to his own ego. I really enjoyed that because often with Middle Eastern characters, you’re on one end of the spectrum or the other; you’re either completely innocent and helpless, or you’re the villain. And in this show, from the jump we were trying to tell this story of a well-rounded individual, regardless of his race or religions. And then you add his race and religion and circumstance on top of that, which makes it specific to that story.

You were originally brought in as a consultant. But how long did you spend preparing to play Bashir?

Hamza: Probably about 6 months. I was given the initial readings from around the time that I was offered the part, which was December 2018, and then we went into pre-production around June 2019. It took that long for me to familiarise myself with the series more than I already had, and to really understand the perspective of people who were coming from that situation by having conversations with Syrian refugees and specifically doctors from Syria who had experienced the story that we’re trying to tell.

What’s one of the things that the Syrian refugee doctors told you that you spent the longest thinking about?

Hamza: Honestly, how normal it was for them to see these daily atrocities. We tell stories about these phenomenal things and the circumstances that these people lived through and how much of a daily routine it was for them. There’s something spectacular in the fact that it is not so phenomenal for Bashir himself to be doing all of these things. But in the context of the show, those around him seem to be in awe of the things he is doing – and it’s just another day at work for him.

You also had to attend a medical boot camp during your preparation time.

Hamza: We had so much help from medical professionals both beforehand, and before we shot the scenes, on the day, on set. We were fortunate to have everybody with us. We choreographed all the scenes, for every medical procedure, and fortunately I’m good enough with lines not to get tripped up by all the jargon [Hamza studied neuroscience at Carleton University before switching to accounting, then film studies and law]. I can’t say the same for a couple of the other people, but everybody really pulled it off spectacularly in the end. Ayisha Issa, who plays Dr. June Curtis, personally has a hard time with needles, and in the first episode she had to perform a pericardiocentesis, which is removing fluid from the pericardium, which is the tissue around the heart. So, she had to push a 9-inch (22,86cm) needle into somebody’s sternum. And she’s terrified of needles! I was fortunate that I didn’t have any hang-ups like that.

Finish this sentence: The things about acting out chest compressions is...

Hamza: Not to hurt the person you’re performing the chest compressions on. You get a feel for it, and often you’d have a dummy when the camera was on you for a point-of-view shot, so if you were performing CPR, you could go full on. But when there’s a shot where everybody’s in the scene, you try to keep a steady rhythm with your scene partner and deliver something that looks real without hurting anybody in the process.

What did you find spot on about Bashir and his little sister Samira’s (Sirena Gulamgaus) apartment?

Hamza: It’s modest, and there are the doilies on top of the TV and that sort of thing. There are cultural elements here and there. It’s a sparsely furnished because they’re refugees and they didn’t come there with much. Everything is second-hand, everything is a little bit old. But when you do go in there, there are all these activities that will see. You’ll see Bashir praying in there, and you’ll see them in the kitchen cooking together. It’s something that’s reminiscent of being at home and being part of that culture, which I could relate to because it’s similar to how I’ve grown up. I think a lot of people will be able to see themselves in that. It’s somewhere that really feels like home without having a whole lot in there.

What’s one of the things that you really enjoyed about shooting the Eid episode?

Hamza: The fact that we even did one! Every show has a Christmas episode or a Thanksgiving episode or a Halloween episode. So that fact that we even did one and the fact that we learn the difference between the 2 Eids, that there’s not just one. I’m not too familiar with TV in South Africa. I’ve been there while filming The Indian Detective with Russell Peters and Mishqah Parthiephal in the Bo-Kaap, and I was fortunate to go meet a couple of artists there, so I know there is a certain cultural aspect there within South African television. But in North America, I had never seen a show that really even touched on it. So, it was just cool that we were doing it and to be part of a show that would do that.

Check out the review

The DStv YouTube channel offers in-depth reviews of brand new DStv shows created just for you! In fact, our resident TV guru Mr X watched the first episode of Transplant S1 and he has some thoughts... Watch it below:

Word from the doc

Also on the DStv YouTube channel, real-life doctor Fezile Mkhize recently reacted to the first episode of Transplant S1. Dr. Fez reacts to scenes from the series and gives his qualified expert opinion on if they've nailed all the medical detail and jargon, as well as how authentic the scenes in the show really are. Watch it here:

Watch Universal Now Watch Transplant S1 on Catch Up

Watch Transplant S1 from Monday, 30 November on Universal (DStv 117) 20:00 or on Catch Up

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