Actor Rahel Romahn was 3 years old when his family fled their home in Northern Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.
A harrowing and tense year followed, spent cramped in a tiny apartment in Turkey, hiding alongside a fellow Kurdish family of 4 who too had not only experienced the horrors of their ruler’s dictatorship in their diminished homeland but also endured the day-to-day struggles of caring for a paraplegic child whilst contemplating a very uncertain future.
His father’s successful immigration interview with the UN proved his determination to work hard for his family and his adoptive country and was instrumental in his family’s relocation to safe and sunny Parramatta in Sydney’s west.
Thankfully the other refugee family were granted the same opportunities and now enjoy a life of peace in Norway.
Although feeling the pressures of learning a new language and grasping the concepts of a very different culture, by school year 3 Rohman had enthusiastically taken to the small stage playing Fagin in Oliver Twist and Hook in Peter Pan.
“Even though I was so young, my family taught me that I had to learn English quickly, I had to step up and make this work on all levels.”
The years that followed, attending a notoriously tough high school in Western Sydney proved challenging when he became the target of bullies, leading to long periods of social isolation to escape his reality.
“I was different I guess and this led to ridicule. I wasn’t physically hurt but bullying comes in many forms as we all know.”
His fascination for fervent character acting began here as he explored and poured over endless iconic and groundbreaking films, immersing himself in their stories, dialogue, methods and accents.
“For hours and hours, I would shut myself away and study classic films like Scarface, Requiem for a Dream and The Assassination of Richard Nixon. I was fascinated by the intensity of the characters and the actors that played them. I dissected their performances repeatedly. Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Ellen Burstyn, Gary Oldman, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep remain some of my favourite actors to this day”
Despite the daily battle of school, by Year 10 the seed had been sown and he knew that he wanted to be an actor.
Incredibly, this decision, paired with an openly passionate determination to make it happen led to further belittling and mockery, this time from within his own community.
The ignorant criticisms of others have clearly not impaired his percipience, they don’t deter or discourage him, far from it, they seem to serve the drive in him.
Standing His Ground
His turbulent early years have also manifested it would seem, into insightful erudition and a worldly wisdom reaching far beyond his tender 25 years.
Depth and seriousness aside, he is a spirited, lively soul, he likes to laugh at himself and he is a keen fan of Toast Of London (Netflix) which proves unquestionably to me (a fellow fan) that he loves bonkers humour and a big fat sense of the ridiculous.
Leaving school was a relief but the cold, hard truth, of course, was that he needed to earn a living and for the time being, that wasn’t going to be treading the boards at the Sydney Theatre Company or sipping on a fair trade cappuccino with pretty people in Home and Away. So….while diligently honing his acting skills in his bedroom by night, he gained employment by day in customer service for a leading Australian bank which remarkably only encouraged his determination to perform even further.
“I would have to deal with customers over the phone all day, I’d practise all manner of accents and portray an array of colourful characters, praying that the caller wouldn’t ask me about my background because I didn’t necessarily know much about Russian or Korean culture, it made the day go quicker that’s for sure!”
Romahn’s mission to leave the banking world and follow his dreams paid off and soon he enjoyed modest roles in significant Australian productions such as Janet King, Down Under, Ali’s Wedding, Secret City, Ready for This, Underbelly and Cleverman.
In 2015 he landed his first pivotal role as the very troubled teen Tarek Ahmed in The Principal, SBS’s compelling and powerful drama set in a struggling suburban Sydney High School immersed in the daily threats and realities of violence, gang criminality, drugs and Islamic State radicalisation.
The Principal was a significant launch pad indeed, exploring the trials and tribulations of multiculturalism, marginalization and the tempestuousness of male adolescence all slammed together in a meaty and fierce representation of modern-day suburban Sydney.
Romahn is currently playing 4 characters in the Sydney Theatre Company’s The Harp In The South.
Daunting to some as this may seem (though not surprising to me now I’ve met him), his characters consist of a comedic Irish euphonium player, an autistic child, an Aussie Ocker school bully and a delicate and snobbish Potts Point teen.
He joyfully showcases all 4 for me with astounding and unfaltering autonomy.
His ability to jump from one glorious being to the next colourful character in an instant is an art form in itself.
Soon he will start rehearsals to play Doug the pyromaniac in the upcoming (re) play Cosi (written by Louis Nowra and to be directed by Sarah Goodes)
A busy boy, he also has 2 sizable and exciting projects to plan for in the next 6 months but I am sadly sworn to secrecy and cannot share.
He’s not stopping there though, he feels confident in the knowledge that his dark and brooding looks will travel. “I will get to America at some point, I reckon I could play a mighty Mexican amongst other things no sweat.”
I have no doubt, with his adaptability and conviction he could play an Eastern European Transgender Wizard also. No sweat.
His parents are supportive and proud and not surprised one bit by their son’s chosen path “They spent my childhood watching me mimic anyone and everyone that came my way.”
Words From The Peshmerga
He later quotes from the Peshmerga (the military forces of the federal region of Iraq’s Kurdistan)
“Standing Before Death” is their motto he tells me.
He continues thoughtfully… “For me, in my life, this means ‘Standing My Ground’
One thing is for sure, he certainly is.
Photographer Alina Gozin’a has produced a beautiful video celebrating this remarkable addition to Australia’s acting world.
90 Seconds Of Rahel Rohman
Thomas Pennell Editor & Sound Designer
Photographer Alina Gozin’a