by Gayle Stever, Ph.D.
Siddig El Fadil was born Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig El Abderahman El Mohammed Ahmed El Abdel Karim El Mahdi (he goes by “Sid”) on November 21, 1965, in Sudan. Had he stayed there, he would have been known simply as Siddig (according to Sid, “El” means “the son of”). But western culture requires a surname, so El Fadil is taken from Sid’s grandfather and was adopted as his surname when moved back to England.
The Sudan of the late ’60s was, as it is now, a place of political turmoil. Sid’s uncle, Sadiq Al Mahdi, was ruling the Sudan in 1965, but was soon deposed. In fact, the hospital where Sid was born was tear-gassed while his mother was giving birth, a barometer of the climate there at the time.
Sid’s mother saw the handwriting on the wall and left the Sudan to return to her native England. Six months later, Sid joined her in England where he spent the rest of his childhood and young adulthood. Sid returned to the country of his birth for a visit at age 17, but has not returned since.
Sid was educated in the British public school system, first at a prep school called Font Hill from ages 8-13 (it closed the week after Sid finished school), then at St. Lawrence College from ages 13-18. Sid recalls his favorite subjects as “art because it was easy and English because I liked all the plays and books they read. I couldn’t do any science to save my life! I don’t know how I passed my mathematics exams! I specialized in geography, ancient history and English.”
From there he went on to University College-London (UCL) where he majored in geography and anthropology. He reasoned that “if I didn’t make it as an actor, I might got to the Sudan and help out. And if I were a geographer and anthropologist, I would be pretty much equipped to go and do some of stuff there. It’s all about land management. It’s about soil types and such. So I started learning that and I found geography to be way too hard and anthropology way too easy!”
After attending UCL for one year, Sid decided it wasn’t to his liking and quit school to do other things. “Other things” turned out to be a succession of activities as varied as selling insurance, selling men’s clothing in a shop and serving drinks in a nightclub. Finally he ended up at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) where he studied acting and theater. The precedent for acting as a career had already been set by Sid’s maternal uncle, Macolm McDowell.
Immediately after leaving LAMDA, Sid did a season of theater in Manchester (northern England) where he played a prison guard who sat on a chair guarding a prisoner on stage for hours at a time. He also did some pantomime style children’ television (playing a “baddie” in a Sinbad show doing stage falls and “pie in the face” and that sort of thing) in England, in addition to performing in various shows in pubs and small theaters.
Sid also worked as a director in a small theater in London. “I was in a situation where I pretty much had a theater company at my disposal and a theater at my disposal and could do anything I liked. . .as long as I did it for nothing. Which is sort of a step before charging and not being able to do what you like. I was at a point where I could have just gone on and become a director in London, as a trainee at the Royal Shakespeare Company or something like that, and ended up being a bona fide director. It was quite a big struggle because for a year and a half, which is the time I spent directing immediately after I left acting school, you just have no money so you’re just living on welfare and you’re trying to make it. . .”
During this time of financial struggle Sid was offered the part of Emir Feisal in A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, the sequel to Lawrence of Arabia. Sid co-starred with Ralph Fiennes (more recently of Schindler’s List and The English Patient) who played T. E. Lawrence. His screen test with Fiennes landed him the part against five actors with a lot more experience.
In an interview that Sid gave at the time, Sid related how he got the part: “I sent in my photo and a CV (curriculum vitae) hoping I might get a small part as one of Feisal’s aides or henchmen. The first picture, of me without a beard, got no response. So I sent in one of me with a beard and got called in for a screen test. I wasn’t planning to get full time. I was directing fringe theater in London and I plan to go back to it. I don’t trust acting–not for an exotic actor like me. I could be flavor of the month for awhile, then burn out like a little shooting star.” (Los Angeles Times, October 20, 1991).
Sid may have thought he was headed back to a life as a small theater director, but fate had other things in mind. After doing A Dangerous Man, a six-part television miniseries came along, Big Battalions. Sid knew there wasn’t much competition for the part when he saw that the other guy auditioning was a tour operator from Jordan! He learned that the producers found him by going through the LAMDA yearbooks until they found someone with an Arab name who looked Arabic!
In the United States, Rick Berman saw A Dangerous Man when it aired on PBS during the latter part of 1991, and the rest, as they say, is Star Trek history. Berman originally wanted Sid for the part of Sisko but decided he was too young for the part and cast him as Dr. Bashir instead. The part had to be slightly rewritten for Sid as the original “bible” had called for an Hispanic male to play the part, named Julian Amoros. Berman reports that there were never any other candidates for the part of our favorite doctor!
Sid has been asked about his hobbies by various fans, and through the years they have changed. Shortly after starting Star Trek, Sid recounted that he enjoyed reading nonfiction essays (Noam Chomsky, George Steiner, etc.) and prefers them to fiction. He also likes music of the late romantic period, particularly German opera, although he has mentioned enjoying various pop music artists, including Prince. Sid began collecting wines in 1995, and that same year was introduced to role playing games like Magic and Galactic Empires. He has participated in Galactic Empires tournaments with fans at past conventions. More recently Sid has developed a passion for being a handyman and doing projects around the house. At one convention he claimed to have “more drill bits than God could use.” He confided that he loves being at home doing things like painting the trim on his house or puttering around in the garden.
Sid has a close relationship with is mother, stepfather and younger brother Thomas. Right after he arrived in the U.S., Sid recounted that he called his mother once a week (“and she calls me once a day!”). Sid’s mother worked as public relations officer, dealing with the press for theaters in England. She spent a lot of time in theaters, and this was part of Sid’s early exposure to the acting community. Sid’s stepfather is a highly respected person in the arts in England and often called upon to help as a creative consultant in production aspects for plays and operas. Sid’s mother and stepfather met when Sid was 8 and married when he was 12. The biggest change for Sid was moving from the city to the country, a move Sid liked.
Younger brother Thomas was born when Sid was 16. Sid remembers the day he learned he would have a sibling: “[Mother] told me she was pregnant in the supermarket and I remember going ‘ha, ha, ha. . .so should we get the apples or should we get. . .’ And she said, ‘No, I am pregnant!’ And it was great! It was terrific thing. I was there at the hospital when he was born. I remember drawing pictures of him because he was such an easy thing to draw. I would watch him sleep for hours. I loved him. . .absolutely adore him. He’s like a son to me.”
In 1996, Sid had to qualify that last statement as he realized having a son wasn’t quite like having a much younger brother. Sid’s own son with co-star Nana Visitor, Django El Tahir El Siddig, was born in September 1996. Sid is clearly “over-the-moon” for Django. At the DS9 wrap party in 1999, someone asked Sid to name the best thing from his years on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. His answer? “You saw him running around here last night. A little two-year-old boy.”
Sid and Nana divorced in April 2001, and he currently resides in England with frequent trips “across the pond” for family and work. Post-DS9, Sid is keeping busy with other projects. He appeared in the films Vertical Limit and Reign of Fire and guest-starred in a provocative episode of England’s ‘Spooks’ television series (airing in the U.S. as ‘MI-5′ on A&E).
We saw a lot of Sid in 2005: he appeared alongside Kim Cattrall (‘Sex and the City’) as Dr. Scott in the play Whose Life Is It Anyway? in London’s West End from January-April; May saw the release of Kingdom of Heaven, also starring Orlando Bloom and directed by Oscar-winner Ridley Scott (Gladiator); and in November he co-starred with George Clooney and Matt Damon in Syriana, from Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic). He also co-starred in Poirot: Cards on the Table as the intriguing Shaitana, which aired in the US in December.
Following that busy year, Sid starred as the titular general in the BBC documentary Hannibal in 2006 and as the the archangel Gabriel in the December release The Nativity Story. Sid immediately followed those roles with a recurring guest spot on 24 as Hamri al-Assad, a former terrorist trying to find diplomatic solutions to his problems with the West. In 2007, Sid appeared in The Last Legion, the independent film Un Homme Perdu, and Neil Marshall’s horror movie, Doomsday. Another independent film, Un Simple Espion, is slated for release in late 2008, and the intriguing Cairo Time, co-starring Patricia Clarkson, is currently in post-production and slated for a May 2009 release.
This biography adapted from the 1998 Membership Booklet for The Doctor’s Exchange (now Far Beyond the Stars) and updated as needed.