Last week, an acquaintance sent me a link to an article about Innocence of Muslims, the anti-Islam film that has provoked so much violence in the Middle East. To my horror, the story prominently featured a picture of me.
When I watched the film clip, I was even more appalled. A year earlier, I had done two days of acting in a film I'd been told would be called Desert Warrior. The images were clearly from that film, but my words had been replaced by words I would have never uttered, and the resulting film was something I would never have agreed to participate in. Here's how it happened.
It was July 2011. One night, while looking through Craigslist, I happened upon an ad looking for actors for a film called Desert Warrior. I sent an email inquiring about roles, and a few days later got a request from the director for my bio and head shot.
A couple of weeks later, I was invited to an audition at what looked like an old nightclub. There, I met the director and another man who identified himself as Sam Bacile. There was no mention of Mohammad or Islam in the script I saw.
In early August, I received an email from the film's assistant director that I had gotten a role. The next day I arrived at what appeared to be a small cable TV station.
A guy named Jeffrey introduced himself as the assistant director of the film and told me I would be playing a character named Amir. In wardrobe I was given a pair of sandals, a robe and a turban.
I asked the director, a man named Alan Roberts, what the film was about. He told me that Desert Warrior was a film set in the present, but that the cast assembled that day would be shooting a flashback scene that took place a thousand years earlier. Fifteen minutes later I was called to the soundstage, where a large "green screen" area was set up. Green screens are blank backgrounds that allow filmmakers to impose a new background during postproduction. The strange part for an actor is that you don't get to see where you supposedly are.
The man who said he was the producer, Bacile, told me I was to play a blind man named Amir. I was in only one scene that day, as part of a group, and I tried my hardest to look blind. The lead in the scene was played by a nice guy named Michael, who played a character named George. We laughed about how out of place the name seemed for the time and setting.
During the shooting Roberts called the shots, but Bacile stood over his shoulder and they conferred on every detail. When the scene was complete, I was told to return for another day.
The next morning, I was handed a script and issued a sword, and we shot a scene in which the character George told me to go and kill a pregnant woman. The crew was in stitches as we shot the scene. How was I, a blind man, supposed to find a pregnant woman in the desert and stab her to death? It was decided that another actor, tattooed from head to toe, would lead me to my victim. I was told that when the woman fell dead I should turn to the camera, raise my bloody sword, and say, "George is the messenger and the book is our constitution."
When my scenes were completed, I found Jeffrey, the assistant director, to ask for my payment. Jeffrey said they needed me the next week, and that they'd pay me in cash then. I told him I would be traveling and wouldn't be available. He said that was okay; they would send the check. It never arrived.
No one got back to me until March of this year, when I received a call from Bacile. He said there were audio problems with my scenes and they needed me to come in and record a voiceover track to replace the original audio. I told him that I was never paid for previous work and therefore wasn't interested.
I heard nothing more about the film until Jeffrey sent me an email with the link. He, too, was horrified at what the film had become. In recent days, I have thought nonstop about the film, about the misinformed people in the Middle East who seem to think it represents American sentiment, and about the U.S. citizens who died because of that. This horrible trailer does not speak for America or Americans — even those of us who unwittingly appeared in the film.
Myles Crawley is a musician, writer and actor.
© 2012 Los Angeles Times