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How Qaher Harhash brought his intriguing (& mysterious) 'Stress Positions' character to life

How Qaher Harhash brought his intriguing (& mysterious) 'Stress Positions' character to life

How Qaher Harhash brought his intriguing (& mysterious) 'Stress Positions' character to life

Out chats with one of the stars of Theda Hammel's newest pandemic era comedy.

Theda Hammel's newest film Stress Positions is a hilarious and acerbic look into the lives of queer millennials during the pandemic, and it's brought to life by an amazing cast that includes John Early, Hammel, Amy Zimmer, and Qaher Harhash.

Harhash plays Bahlul, the young Moroccan model at the center of the story. At the start of the film, Bahlul has moved in with his uncle Terry (Early) to heal from a broken leg, and immediately, all of Terry's friends and exes want to get their eyes on this mysterious, beautiful stranger.

As Terry tries to balance his chaotic life, the horrors of the early pandemic, and a bunch of truly terrible friends who are all obsessed with his nephew, the film falls down a manic spiral that leads to fireworks, overdoses, death, and gender transformations.

The entire film revolves around Bahlul and the draw he has on everyone around him. Each person wants him to be like them, and each person uses him for their own ends. Now, Out has talked to Harhash about the movie and what it was like playing Bahlul.

Out: How did you come across the project, and what exactly about Stress Positions made you want to be a part of the film?

Qaher Harhash: A week after I had arrived in New York, I found out that Salome, our casting director had emailed me asking if I wanted to audition for the lead role in an upcoming film by NEON. I had gotten so many messages from a scam account which wanted to sell me sunglasses, so I also thought this message was a scam. My agent then approached me and said that they were keen on getting me to audition and that they had already sent me the script. So I took it like I have nothing to lose. I had so many questions. In fact, I was terrified after reading the script. I did not want to offend my culture, just to get some laughs. When I spoke to Theda, I realized we were making fun of neoliberalism. So I was like, 'Yes, yes, yes!!!!'

Though your character is probably the most likeable of the entire bunch, the film is filled with characters who are messy, selfish, chaotic assholes, and I enjoyed every second of it. Was it fun and freeing to get to be a part of a project where every character had their own quirks and nuances and weren't saccharine clichés?

I was worried that two very well experienced actors like John Early and Theda Hammel would overpower me. But I realized that my role in the film was to be this medium, this Angel (referencing Marlene Dietrich’s film). I’m not supposed to be this loud and obnoxious person but I'm supposed to be the most normal person out of all them; not revealing exactly everything I think, except through monologue. Not only was it fun but I finally felt sane in this world, like there were finally people crazier than I was. Some of the things Terry and Karla say in the film are delightfully outrageous.

Was it hard to not burst out laughing sometimes while filming?

I truly felt connected to my character. I took everything they said to me personally. I rarely found myself laughing. I think Bahlul is in the biggest stress position. He is being held hostage by his uncle, who seems to misunderstand everything about him. He’s going to turn 20, he doesn’t know where to go. I took the script too personally, and was always worried that too much laughter would make me break character, therefore reducing my energy. I was too busy looking at the poetry of it all.

I know a lot of viewers still probably have pandemic PTSD. What was it like to be in a movie that revisited this time period that, although very recent, many would rather not relive?

I don't feel like the pandemic part of the movie stood out to me much during the shooting. The truth is that whether there was a pandemic or no pandemic, they would all have treated Bahlul the same miserable way they did. The pandemic just serves as a reason to why these people are all sharing a space together.

I thought it was so funny how none of the film's white characters knew anything about Bahlul's culture or background, but they tried so desperately to pretend like they were so inclusive, and virtuous, and knowledgeable. What was it like getting to portray that kind of dynamic on screen?

Qaher would just call them out on their ignorance and tell them that they need to keep their mouths shut. That’s the thing in today’s world, everyone wants to be so badly a humanist that they always end up supporting the wrong side. That whole scene with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran means to show you that sometimes people need to listen, they don’t need to comment on everything. It was very frustrating! I rarely find the humor in situations like that, because maybe I’ve lived in Palestine and I see how these comments, do have a reality on the ground.

Theda and John are my new fave comedy duo, and their characters were the frenemies I wish I had. What was it like working with them and crafting the weirdly tense but endearing dynamic all the characters have with each other?

They were both very friendly. We practiced weeks before actually shooting the film. I understood I'm supposed to play a young boy surrounded by sharks, lashing out at them every now and then. It was a pretty natural dynamic, since the three of us understood exactly what we were supposed to play.

Stress Positions is currently playing in theaters.

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Mey Rude

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.

Mey Rude is a journalist and cultural critic who has been covering queer news for a decade. The transgender, Latina lesbian lives in Los Angeles with her fiancée.