Netflix’s true crime dramatisation The Serpent had viewers completely captivated by the story of Charles Sobhraj — the smooth-talking French serial killer who murdered at least 12 backpackers along South Asia’s hippie trail in the ’70s.
For actor Tahar Rahim, who was tasked with bringing Sobhraj’s atrocities to the small screen, the weight of portraying such an evil individual was one he found difficult to shake.
Speaking on the Just for Variety podcast, Rahim said it was a process to leave the darkness of the character on the set, instead of bringing it back home.
“I needed a workout to let it out, all of this dark energy had to get out of my body, out of myself,” he said. “I needed to relax and the only way I found was to work out.”
Another issue that Rahim and the creatives behind The Serpent faced was how to avoid glamorising the serial killer — who, along with his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc, would defraud, drug, rob and murder their victims in order to fund their lavish lifestyle.
“I talked with the director, and I was like, ‘Okay, he has to be charming…Otherwise, [his victims] wouldn’t fall into his net,’ ” Rahim says. “And it was like, ‘Yeah, but be careful. What we want is him to be scary and attractive, and mysterious.’”
Sobhraj was convicted of 12 murders and jailed in India from 1976 to 1997. After his release, he resided in Paris for a time before returning to Nepal where he was arrested, tried, and received a life sentence.
Rahim revealed that he actually considered trying to get a meeting with Sobhraj in prison in order to witness his charm and manipulation skills first-hand, but ultimately thought better of it.
“Ethically, it was not right, out of respect to the victims and the families,” Rahim said. “Plus, you know what, Charles Sobhraj, if you want to see him, you got to pay. So above all, I’m going to give him some money? No way.”
While Sobhraj — now 77 — is still serving his sentence in a Nepalese prison, Leclerc, who was also sentenced to life, had her conviction overturned after being diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She died from the illness on April 20, 1984, at 38-years-old.
Sobhraj is now married to his lawyer’s daughter and his translator, Nihita Biswas, who is 44 years his junior.
Biswas reportedly fell in love with Sobhraj after visiting him in prison, telling The Times of India that she believed he was innocent. “I don’t know what he was. What he is now is important,” she said. “He is a good man, I have seen the way he cares for his family. We have a good relationship.”
The Serpent is now streaming on Netflix.