Little did this tall Southall-born Punjabi Londoner know that he would be the on-screen face of the most notorious terrorist in the world, and a dead one for most part of the film, at that!
"I guess I do look a bit like bin Laden (Osama bin Laden) - I am 6 feet 4 inches tall, about what he was. I have brown skin and a prominent nose, but it's not as though anyone has ever stopped me in the street and shouted 'Hey, aren't you bin Laden?'" said Sekhon, writing in the New York Times about playing the role of al-Qaeda chief in Kathryn Bigelow's five-Oscars-nominated Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the decade-long manhunt after the 9/11 attacks.
American director Bigelow, whose film The Hurt Locker, made her the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, had shot Zero Dark Thirty in Chandigarh at the Punjab Engineering College campus and Sector 15 among other locations in and around city in February last year. Some of the local locations wore the look of a bustling Pakistani market.
But Sekhon shot for the film in Jordan, where Abbottabad was recreated.
Equipped with a drama degree from Royal Holloway, University of London, the 29-year-old Indo-Brit actor did have "sleepless nights" and felt "nervous" though he had played a henchman of Abu Hamza al-Masri in David Baddiel's 2010 comedy The Infidel.
Sekhon, who started his acting career with National Youth Theatre in London, admitted in the NYT that he's graduating "through the ranks of terrorists" and said that "If I had known that my nostrils' poking out of a body bag would be the main feature of my performance … it would have saved me eight weeks of heart palpitations".
"It's not that easy to be an actor of Asian ancestry in Britain or America. There are fewer leading roles for us," he had reportedly said.
But in the thriller, which has released in America and is yet to hit screens in the UK, the man who is centre of the plot is hardly visible and doesn't even mouth any dialogue.
Sekhon is seen just before his character is killed in the film, and plays a corpse thereafter. "Playing a dead person was more difficult than I'd imagined... being dumped into a body bag was certainly not as fun as having, say, an on-screen snog, but… I got so comfortable in the bag that, by the end of the shoot, I was known as Osama bin Loungin'," wrote Sekhon in the NYT piece.
About this role of a lifetime, the actor concludes in his NYT piece: "Would I be prepared to play a universally despised emblem of evil again? I guess it would depend on how many lines I had."
The film is tentatively slated for a February 1 release in India.