TV’s Bond girl from Waziristan

Evgeniya Radilova studied the Pashtun tribal culture for her role.


Laaleen Khan November 08, 2012

ISLAMABAD:



Evgeniya Radilova takes challenging roles in her stride. After playing a Chechen revolutionary and a Holocaust survivor onstage, she’s now appeared as a militant from Waziristan in NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (episode 299: ‘Acceptable Loss’).


Viewers first meet her character, Sofia, emerging from a limousine in a form-fitting mini-dress. She has the panache of a Bond girl, though she’s in the improbable guise of a prostitute planning an attack on Manhattan.

Later, when Sofia is interrogated, her accent may sound a little foreign to our ears but her fiery defiance makes it obvious that the role has seeped under Radilova’s skin.  Director Alex Chapple called her “a Joan of Arc” because Sofia seems more like a wronged victim than a stereotypical radical terrorist.

While viewers may be horrified by Sofia’s thirst for revenge, they can’t but feel anguished by the restrained passion in her voice as she describes the drone strikes that killed her father while he was tending the wounded in Waziristan. This, in itself, is a coup for the show’s writers. As Radilova puts it, “Sofia is a volcano ready to burst.”

Born in Bulgaria to an actor mother and director father, Radilova was 20 when she arrived in New York with a green card and big dreams. She studied acting and English and launched a politically themed theatre company aptly named Dare to Speak Productions.

Now, at the age of 28, the actor reveals her insightful portrayals of distinctive Muslim characters from strife-ridden regions:

Radilova says: You’ve portrayed riveting characters in Special Victims Unit (SVU) and in the play, “I Plead Guilty.” How would you draw parallels between the two?

Both characters have lived very difficult lives and have had to face almost the same fate. Sofia lives in Waziristan, dealing with the Taliban and the war on terror and has lost her father. Seda lives in Chechnya, trying to stop the Russian troops killing and bombarding her country and has lost her husband. Their freedom of choice had been stripped away. In the conditions they were living in, these women had no other choice but to seek revenge.

How did you research Seda?

I watched secret footage of the Chechen hostage takers and survivors from the 2002 Theatre Siege of Moscow. One of the so-called terrorists told her story about how the Russians killed her entire family. She couldn’t bear living anymore and was ready to give it up in the name of stopping the Chechen war.

Did you base Sofia’s accent and mannerisms on any real-life women?

I took inspiration from different Pakistani New Yorkers for my accent. I also read about women from Waziristan who have spoken about the drone attacks.

Had you ever heard of this region before taking on this part?

I was aware of Waziristan and the war that has been going on for a long time. The most important part of your job as an actor is to research and investigate where your character is coming from and what they’re going through. I watched documentaries and studied Pashtun tribal culture.

What is your opinion on the realism and humanity of Sofia?

It is very difficult for me to even imagine how you would feel when everyone around you has been killed. You wake up everyday with the fear that today might be the day that the drones hit your home. I believe in the realism of Sofia’s past and in her plan for the future.

Has it come as a surprise to be contacted by a Pakistani journalist?

Honestly, I was very surprised and honoured to be contacted. After performing the role of Sofia, I feel like a part of me is Muslim and it feels like I have already been in Pakistan. I hope one day I have the chance to really see it.

So you’re a professional fire
performer too?


Fire is my light! Some people do yoga, others do martial arts, and I dance with fire for relaxation, meditation and excitement.  It’s the other me. Poi is a Hawaiian fire dance which I learned on my own in Bulgaria using long chains attached to Kevlar balls and dipped in fuel. I love to dance!

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2012.            

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COMMENTS (9)

Ambreen | 8 years ago | Reply

With all due respect to all concerned I agree that there was nothing Pakistani or waziristan like about this girl. Having said that, have any of you seen any news of drones on the US news channels. The CNN seen in Pakistan is a lot different than the CNN seen in the US. They are catered to different audiences and the issue of drones is hardly ever brought up. A program brought it to light, humanised a terrorist to show what led her to this path. Yes, Taliban were funded by the US government initially and we can lay all the blame we want on outside influences but what about PAKISTANI politicians. Everyone from Zia Ul Haq to Imran Khan have used their existence to their political advantage rather than consider a plan to eliminate them for the greater good of Pakistan or humanity as whole. I think this episode was a step in the right direction to at least show what the drones are doing in Pakistan. Instead of criticizing this portrayal we should encourage programs which actually increase the knowledge of the American common man about drone attacks and the fact that they do kill innocent Pakistanis. Just like we feed off what our media tells us so do they and their media has not covered the issue of drone attacks responsibly, till this recent attempt...

Pashtun Khan | 8 years ago | Reply

this doesnt really show the reality of tribals, indeed the talibs are proxies and for the actor information she needs to study the background and history of talibans who have been supported and funded in the past and that who is actually doing that now ISI or CIA, RAW or MOSAD. in addition, drones only started in 2004, where as talibans were already their in safe heavens of waziristan. if the actor trying to show that drones are the main reasons of creating terrorists then i would also request everyone to see in other 6 Tribal agencies and 6 FR regions. there is no drones taking place but the talibans are there which means that drones have not created talibans or forced local people to join talibans. if this was the case then talibans have killed and beheaded more local pashtuns than drones so what has happened to those victims families? they cant fight with talibans as some one there is protecting and training them for their means. please do research before making any such kind of stupid movie with out any facts. please Read or contact saleem safi or Raheem ullah Yousafzai who are specialist on talibans and drones.

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