SAS Rogue Heroes: Sofia Boutella interview

The sole female lead in the new BBC hit series SAS Rogue Heroes is Sofia Boutella, who plays Eve Mansour, the Deputy Head of French intelligence in Cairo.

It’s a glamorous, shifty and gritty role, created especially for the series and Boutella said  her character Mansour is very much a ‘rogue hero’…

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What is SAS Rogue Heroes about?

It’s about one of the most intense and mysterious combat organisations that started in 1941 during Second World War in North Africa. They were a group of men that were intense, intelligent, and that didn’t go by the rules.

Who do you play and do you consider Eve to be a ‘rogue hero’?

I play Eve Mansour – a spy, an intelligence officer, who is the Deputy Head of French intelligence in Cairo under General de Gaulle’s command.

She is definitely a ‘rogue hero’, because she doesn’t go by the rules and uses her own methods to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in order to free North Africa from the Nazis. It would’ve been a disaster if the Nazis had kept going and invaded Africa.

Even if Eve is a fictional character in comparison to David Stirling or Paddy Mayne, she is very much a character that existed at the time.

There were spies like Noor Inayat Khan or Virginia Hall. So many incredible women who were a part of the liberation during the Second World War.

Eve, like a lot of them, used methods that were born within her instinct and her intelligence.

What do you think the character of Eve represents for history?

Considering their backgrounds, a lot of men at the time had all these pre-made ideas about the capacities of women like Noor Inayat Khan or Virginia Hall.

My character also uses her background and her physical aspect in order to lure people, in order to get what she needs to free the exiled Free French government and North Africa from the Nazis.

What drew you to this project and to the character of Eve?

I read Ben Macintyre’s book and saw his documentary, and I’m in such admiration of these men and what they were able to accomplish for the time. It’s so remarkable and I’m so glad that this story is being told.

These characters were also very particular, essential and so eccentric. I think they represent something even bigger than liberating North Africa from the Nazis.

Just looking at Paddy Mayne’s character and the arc that it follows, it’s very very current and essential to be talked about. I think that’s the same for David Stirling.

As much as my character is not based on one real-life person, she’s very much a character that existed at the time – women that were essential to the liberation during the second World War.

I was really drawn to telling this story, to play this female character who is strong, powerful and essential to a story – to an arc of the story.

I remember reading the script, it’s such a page-turner and it flows, the story was really well told.

What also drew me was the fact that I grew up in a military family. My grandfather was a colonel when Algeria gained its independency in 1962, but was a captain under the French military.

I grew up very much in a military family, so it just hits home for me. In that way being Algerian, growing up in Paris and having that relationship with France – and so does my character who is Algerian but serves under the French regime under General de Gaulle directly.

I was also very proud to play an Algerian character who is considered highly in those kind of areas, who is also educated, and serving a purpose that is bigger than her own.

Have you got a favourite scene or location you’ve shot?

One night we were shooting this romantic scene between Stirling and Eve, and out of nowhere within seconds the biggest sandstorm just hit us, I think we got that on camera. It’s so funny because me and Connor are still trying to make this scene as romantic as possible.

How was it to work with Tom Shankland?

He’s fantastic to work with. He’s probably one of the most positive directors, if not person, I’ve ever met. Anything could happen – covid, heatstroke, sandstorm – and he’s always there with a glass half full mentality.

That’s always helpful for a team to have someone leading us who has so much positivity.

Can you describe SAS Rogue Heroes in a few words?

This show is an important and essential part of history about real men who fought during an important time. This show is about the bravery and the courage of these men, and the insanity of these men.

Why do you think people should watch the show?

First of all it is highly entertaining. And second of all, even though this is a drama and not a documentary I think you’ll learn quite a lot.

Digging into the lives of these men is interesting and fascinating. I did not know about these men before I was on this project and I fell in love with all of them.

I’m in such awe and admiration of what they were able to accomplish that I think everyone should give it a go and watch the show, read the book and watch the documentaries because these men are courageous and fascinating.