A French actor who came to specialize in portrayals of characters from North African or Middle Eastern backgrounds, Zinedine Soualem was born in Thiers, Puy-de-Dôme, France, in 1957. Soualem worked on-stage in the early '80s, notably with an acclaimed performance in director Patrice Chéreau's production of Jean Genet's Les Paravents (1983). At almost exactly the same time, the actor embarked on a foray into features. His most visible early credit was a small supporting role as a sergeant in Costa-Gavras' explosive, pro-Palestinian political drama Hanna K. (1983), though his career and onscreen activity didn't really catch fire for around a decade.
In the mid- to 1ate '90s and early 2000s, Soualem enjoyed a renewed presence in film, and in fact began cropping up in four or five French productions each year. Some of his many projects during this period included Alain Chabat's Didier (1997), Eric Fourniols' Voyance et Manigance (2001), and Alain Chabat's Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre. Soualem achieved international crossover success with a small role in Catherine Hardwicke's religious drama The Nativity Story (2006), then landed a high-profiled supporting part opposite Dominique Pinon and Fanny Ardant in Claude Lelouch's thriller Roman de Gare.