From the hallways of Roosevelt High School to the sets of "Felicity," "24," "Sleeper Cell" and "The O. C.," Seattle's Henri Lubatti makes...
From the hallways of Roosevelt High School to the sets of “Felicity,” “24,” “Sleeper Cell” and “The O.C.,” Seattle’s Henri Lubatti makes it look easy: Acting chops and an aptitude for foreign languages can very well land you a spot on TV’s mammoth terrain.
And while he still might be driving the same Toyota Tercel that got him to Los Angeles from Puget Sound back in 1999, appearances on some 20 different TV shows are making Lubatti’s face increasingly recognizable. You’re that terrorist. The “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” guy.
The two-season “Sleeper Cell,” which aired on Showtime in 2005 and 2006, chronicled the FBI’s attempts to thwart Muslim terrorists targeting L.A. But what made this show a true talker, in addition to its chilling depictions of violence, was its nuanced portrayals of the terrorists themselves. Lubatti played Ilija Korjenic, a Bosnian terrorist who was fascinated by the U.S. as a kid but who gets turned around and starts raging against “America’s arrogance and conceit.”
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Lubatti’s TV profile rises again tonight, with a more peaceful character. He plays a snooping reporter on “The Unit” (9 p.m. on KIRO-TV), a show about those Special Forces guys who kidnap and kill to protect us all, returning home to the women who love and put up with them.
A graduate of both Roosevelt High (Class of 1990) and the drama school at the University of Washington (Class of 1995), Lubatti took a year off while in college to live in Italy. Returning to Seattle, he acted in productions at both Intiman and Seattle Rep, then started auditioning for TV shows by commuting to Vancouver, B.C. Eventually he landed a guest role on “The X-Files.”
Reached on the telephone recently from his L.A. apartment in leafy Silver Lake, Lubatti chatted about his career thus far.
Q: Is it Henry or Henri?
A: My mother’s French so I’ve always been Henri at home. But I introduce myself as Henry.
Q: What’s on your acting schedule for today?
A: It’s pretty quiet now with “Sleeper Cell” not getting picked up. So it’s a lot of sitting and waiting and being available for auditions. [The day earlier] I read for a designer [on “Ugly Betty”]. It would be a really fun part. They ask us not to say too much but I can definitely say I’m not playing a terrorist.
Q: Let’s talk about that — playing terrorists.
A: It was a lot of fun to play a terrorist. Maybe “fun” isn’t the right word.
Q: Talk a little bit about “24.” (Back in 2002 Lubatti played a terrorist in three episodes of “24.”)
A: They were looking for someone with a kind of Slavic, Eastern European accent. I started to take advantage of my language skills. [He speaks Italian and French and cobbled an accent for the show.] Once I got cast I didn’t know how long I would last. From what I was hearing people didn’t last that long on the show. So I was relieved every time I got a script.
Basically I was in this group who’s going after Jack Bauer and his family. I chase down Mrs. Bauer and the daughter. I get shot in the back.
Q: Did you worry about getting typecast?
A: At the time I just wanted to work.
Q: Did you worry about whether the shows were stereotyping Muslims?
A: “Sleeper Cell” brought that debate forward. That show was ambitious on so many different levels with the time that was spent on making sure we were portraying things realistically and respectfully.
We wanted to paint as three-dimensional a world as possible. We wanted to challenge viewers.
Q: Do you think the fact that you have dual-citizenship (American and French) helped in playing a foreigner who’s so much an outsider?
A: Ilija really had this love/hate relationship with the West and the culture. Certainly I don’t, but having traveled makes it easier to have different perspectives. No one I know has [Ilija’s] intense feeling but that notion of being conflicted? Absolutely. Americans, for example, have this complicated relationship with French culture.
Q: Mom Catherine Lubatti is French and Dad Henri is Italian. How did you hone a Bosnian accent?
A: It comes from my father who’s a high-energy particle physicist. His research and his work meant he had colleagues who spanned the globe. I can remember sitting around the dinner table and hearing all these different people. So I pulled it from that.
Q: And what about learning Bosnian for your “Sleeper Cell” role?
A: I met a good friend from Sarajevo who lives here now. We just worked together. He taught me phonetically.
Q: What sorts of things can you say in the language?
A: A lot of threatening stuff. If I tried to use it in a shop in Sarajevo they’d get a little concerned.
But you know those “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo” lyrics? [In the first “Sleeper Cell” season his character, in his Bosnian accent, does a karaoke version of the rap song.
Lubatti laughs and begins rapping:] “My mother went away for a month-long trip. Her and some friends on an ocean-liner ship.”
That was a lot of fun. When the writers created the character they wanted him to be enamored of U.S. hip hop culture. And that was a seminal track back then. There’s been a lot of comment about [that scene].
Q: What have been some of your most memorable roles?
A: “Felicity,” because it was early on . That was the first job that made this town seem friendly and that an acting career was accessible. “24” because I got to sit in a car and drive around and I was told to just keep driving faster.
I also remember being on the set of “V.I.P.”  and having a conversation with Pamela Anderson, about her Blackberry. She was telling me how the technology worked and how convenient it was. Just a neat moment.
Q: And all of this started in Seattle?
A: Born and raised. Roosevelt High. Ruben Van Kempen was my drama teacher. An inspiration. A lot of his students have gone on to work professionally.
And thanks to him, he gave my name to the Seattle Children’s Theatre and that was my first professional job: “Anne of Green Gables.” I realized if I showed up and said my lines they’d hand me a check. And that’s when it kind of clicked.
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or email@example.com