Oded Fehr's shining moment came when an Arab recently unrolled his car window and shouted, "You make us Middle Easterners proud!"
He was referring to the Israeli actor's performance as dashing desert warrior Ardeth Bay, Brendan Fraser's Mummy-busting partner in "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns." "Given the political situation, that was the nicest compliment I could get," says the star of the new NBC drama "UC: Undercover," who was voted "Sexiest Import" by People in 1999. "Arabs have been unfairly typecast as terrorists, and I was proud to play one who was heroic."
After twice portraying the saber-slashing Bay, it was Fehr who was typecast. Requests poured in for him to play mysterious foreigners; he declined them all. "If I wasn't careful, I was going to be forever doing ethnic types," he says.
When "UC: Undercover" creator Shane Salerno asked him to play an FBI unit leader named Frank Donovan, Fehr jumped at the chance. For the 30-year-old Tel Aviv native, it was a break as important as "The Mummy," which he landed just six months after graduating from England's Old Vic Theater School in 1997.
"I had no idea about what I was doing on 'The Mummy,'" confides Fehr, who had to take crash courses in horsebackriding and swordfighting. "I was convinced that the director hated me." Instead, director Stephen Sommers was so impressed that he expanded Fehr's role and rewrote the ending so Bay wasn't killed.
For "UC: Undercover," the training went way beyond swordfighting. Fehr studied with real S.W.A.T. team members (his experience in the Israeli Navy during the Gulf War and working in El Al security helped).
He also interviewed FBI undercover agents and was struck by how similar their job was to his own. "They would talk about their 'role' and learning their lines and when they're 'in character,'" he says. "That was a revelation."