Lawrence, your interest in this region goes back many years. What brought you to the subject of Al-Qaeda, and why have you devoted so much time and energy to it?
I got my initiation into the Middle East in 1969 when I went there to teach at the American University in Cairo for two years. It was actually alternative service for me. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. I didn't know anything about the Middle East. I flew to Cairo and I got there at midnight and the next morning, I taught my first class. So that was my initiation. And I really enjoyed my time. I was very involved in the lives of my students. And so when 9/11 came along and this culture that I had such a feeling of fondness for had attacked the culture I lived in, it was really upsetting to me. Every American was upset, but there was a side of this tragedy that was particularly personal to me.
You turned your interest into a acclaimed book called "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." What prompted you to then create a theater piece as well?
After the book came out, a lot of people were asking me how these experiences had affected me personally. The play was a way of dealing with the emotions and experiences, and explaining to people what it would be like if you were an American citizen, like me, who went to try to find out who these people are and why they attacked America. That's sort of the reporter's role. I never had the experience as a reporter before this of having such a difficult time separating my personal feelings from my professional obligation.
Alex, what sparked you to want to work with Larry to turn his play into a movie?
Well, I had never been a kind of Middle Eastern expert. After 9/11, like everybody, I became much more aware. And I had done a film called 'Taxi to the Dark Side,' which was in its own way about Iraq and Afghanistan, but in a fundamental way it was actually about a kind of change in the American character. I had heard about Larry's play, I had certainly read the book, and I was a huge fan. I loved the play because it was kind of the flip side of what I had done in 'Taxi to the Dark Side.' Larry's play was a journey of an individual going to the Middle East to find out more about it, and the people who lived there. And for me, that was very compelling because it taught us a lot in a very condensed space about the Middle East, but also did so through the journey of one individual. And I always think that that's a more interesting way of going about it. It was in the great tradition of storytelling because it was at once so educational and so personal. So I thought it would make a great film.