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A Star Is Rescued: Camel Finds New Life With 'Arabian Nights'

Television * Safra had a look 'so knowing and human,' director says, that animatronics weren't necessary.

April 28, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Barron, director of ABC's "Arabian Nights," describes one of the stars of the four-hour fantasy that begins airing Sunday night as "brilliant," with a most "expressive" face.

Indeed, this actress, who makes her film debut in the movie, more than holds her own opposite British actor Rufus Sewell, who plays the infamous Ali Baba. In fact, she dominates every scene she's in with Sewell--no small feat considering she's such a newcomer to the business.

Who is this budding talent, this fresh face, this unexpected vamp? Her name is simply Safra. An 8-year-old camel, she literally stumbled into her calling as an actress just in the nick of time.

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Safra so enchanted the cast and crew of the production in Antalaya, Turkey, last year that they named her character in the spectacle after her. In her role as Ali Baba's sidekick and confidant, Safra spits her disapproval over her master's actions, is very vocal in her opinions and is far more clever than her master. She can express more with her all-knowing deep brown eyes and strong face than many actors can with even the most sharply written dialogue. No animatronics or enhancements needed.

"She does one look which is so knowing and so human," says the British-born Barron, who fell in love with camels and desert sagas after seeing "Lawrence of Arabia" as a child.

When Safra arrived on the set, she was thin and undernourished. Slated to be someone's main course--camel meat is common in Turkey--Safra had just been rescued when she was brought on the set to audition for the role of Ali Baba's trusting camel.

The animal wrangler tried her out and discovered, says Barron, that unlike most ill-tempered camels, Safra had a sunny personality. And from all reports, she was brighter and more willing to follow commands than any camel they had encountered.

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Because she was so scrawny, the craft services crew on the set began to fatten her up. So much so that she began to pack on the pounds, which led to a continuity problem. "She got a bit too fat," says Barron, "and then they got her in the right state."

There was talk that Safra would emigrate to England after production wrapped, but a spokesperson for "Arabian Nights" said there was too much red tape and paperwork involved in having her make the journey.

So Safra is now enjoying a life outside of Antalaya with the person who rescued her. Though she hasn't acted since the ABC movie, according to Barron, Safra is now something of a local celebrity.

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* "Arabian Nights" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. and Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC. The network has rated it TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with a special advisory for violence).

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