Pakistani viewers may recall actor Faran Tahir in crucial roles on Star Trek (as Starfleet Captain Richard Robau of the USS Kelvin in 2233), in Iron Man (as Raza, an Urdu-speaking character among a Hindi-speaking group of Afghani terrorists) and on a memorable episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, where he played cancer-stricken Isaac (a well-liked lab technician at Seattle Grace Hospital, who happened to be Muslim).
Back in 1999, he also starred in one of the first desi-American indie flicks to hit the big screen, aptly titled ABCD, as Raj, an Indian- American struggling with his cultural identity.
An FC College, Berkeley and Harvard alum, Tahir belongs to a respected group of thespians who convincingly portray various ethnicities, speak with multiple accents and act with a subtlety rarely encouraged in this part of the world. In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, the native Lahori talks about his Hollywood experience, upcoming projects and how he got to where he is today:
What are the responses you get in Hollywood when people realise you’re Pakistani?
Producers and directors are focused on how someone can enhance their product so their approach is more analytical. So if you fit into their vision then you are in — regardless of where you come from. Fans, on the other hand, have been extremely supportive.
How did you manage to get where you are now?
A lot of hard work and the undying belief and support of my family.
As a Muslim and a South Asian, was it challenging to find a talent agent to represent you?
Finding an agent who works well with you is always challenging. I was lucky to find my first agent right out of my graduate work in theatre.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Take your successes with humility and your defeats with bravery.
Have you ever experienced any form of ignorance or discrimination since you started your Hollywood career?
Ignorance and discrimination generally come from misinformation and misinterpretations. This happens everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you are in the US or Pakistan. It becomes our responsibility to engage people in constructive dialogue to change their minds. Combative stances never help.
How would you describe yourself in one line?
Forever an optimist.
What insight do you bring to mainstream film, TV and theatre as a non-Caucasian actor?
There is a unique take on things that filters into your work because of your unique experience.
What kind of projects would you be interested in working on in Pakistan?
Any project that is well written and has a thought-provoking message.
What has been your favourite part to date?
Any role you are working on must become your favourite at that time. That is the only way to do justice to it.
How long do you think it will take for Hollywood to get over its obsession for terrorist-centric storylines?
In all fairness, it is a similar question to “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Hollywood doesn’t only produce films that have this storyline. Similarly, no one country or faith produces people using violence to solve issues.
What cultural influences can Pakistan offer that will appeal to the global movie-going public?
We have so much to offer: Rich stories from our literature, folklore, mythology and history.
Any advice for young Pakistanis who dream of making it to Hollywood?
Never give up on your dreams. But to turn your dreams into realities, you have to work very hard.
What’s the dumbest question anyone’s every asked you?
‘Who do you like better, your mother or your father?’...Please!
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2011.
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