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An Interview with Arian Moayed A Reputable Iranian-American Actor

June 24, 2017 by  

Persian heritage

Thank you for giving time to us for this interview.

You have achieved a great deal of success as an actor, but I would like to begin with your very early life. Iran is your birthplace, I believe in 1980. This was just after the beginning of the revolution. You left Iran when you were five, do you have any memories of your birthplace?

 

I don’t have very many memories of my birthplace, mostly because for most of my childhood, we were moving around.

What I do remember, oddly enough, are smells. Oftentimes, when I go into a Persian store or a Persian household I sometimes remember the smells that were around when I was a child more than anything else. It reminds me of where I was born, the first few years of my life. 

 

Your parents settled in Glenview, Illinois. Is there a reason for settling in Chicago? And please tell us a bit about your parents and your family?

 

The reason that we moved to Chicago was that my oldest brother, Amir, was studying there. When the revolution hit, everyone in the family thought it was wise that he just stay. So that’s how we immigrated to Chicago. The joke is: we couldn’t have gone somewhere warmer? 

My mom and my dad still live in Chicago, my brothers and my sister all live in the states now. But, like all immigrant families, the adjustment period is not quick. It’s an adjustment period that takes time and energy, especially when you have to completely uproot and relearn a language and a culture and a society that’s not close to your own. 

My oldest brother has a mortgage company in Chicago, my other brother lives in the DC area and he’s an anesthesiologist, and my sister lives in Dallas and she works in retail. My parents are both retired. 

 

Have you ever returned to Iran?

 

When I was in college, I had a little one month trip to Iran. I got to visit my sister, who was there, and also my dad who was there at the time as well  and so much of my family is still there. So I went to Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan and really tried to get to know where my roots were and where I was brought up.

It was an amazing experience, because I really went there to try to figure out who and what I was, as so many who are born in other countries and moved to the states are constantly straddling the line between where you are as a human being – are you more Iranian or more American?

That trip to Iran was how I tried to answer that question, but honestly it just made it even more confusing. So many Iranians thought of me as an American as I was desperately trying to grasp at being Iranian. The reality is that I am one of many immigrants in this country, whatever your ethnicity may be, that is dividing our brain-space between both cultures. There is something about that, that is both difficult and rewarding. 

 

Did you incur any difficulties as a child being Iranian? If yes please share them with us and share also the ways you coped with this.

 

I imagine my struggles as an Iranian growing up in America are no different than possibly any immigrant who has gone from one country to another. It’s difficult to adjust to a new society when your family members and culture and friends existed in a completely different world prior to immigration. Trying to grow up in a country that is not your own, what you desperately try to do is throw yourself into what is more dominant, mimic what’s around you, in this case, American culture. So, the difficulties mostly were trying to cope with the fact that I was different. That causes a lot of strife and anxiety, and it can be damaging. I’m no different in that way. So, the things I did as a young child who was trying to assimilate to this new culture, are things that I’m actually quite embarrassed of. It takes time and energy and good parents to really put a strong head on your shoulders and help you realize you have to go through those moments and try to find ways to feel comfortable in the new culture. 

A really concrete struggle was that as a young child, 8 or 9 years old, I was the translator of the household. This is difficult because it’s hard to try to understand, as a young person, adult issues and be forced into being an adult yourself, when you don’t yet want to be. So, that was probably the biggest struggle I faced. 

 

 At what age did you become interested in the theater and wanted to pursue acting as a profession?

 

You know, I’m lucky, because one of my brothers is a doctor, my other brother is a businessman, and my sister has always been the jewel of the family’s eye. So, I just kind of got let go to pursue whatever I wanted. 

I think I knew I wanted to be an actor at a very, very young age. When I was in about third grade I was asked to be in Miss Rohrer’s class ceremony uniting all the different cultures represented at my school. We dressed up in the tradition of our culture and then I had to go out and say “hello” in my language to someone of a different culture and they would greet me in their language and everyone got a chance to share their country’s word for “hello”.

Anyway, so I went up in front of the entire school and I said “Salam” to the crowd and my entire third grade class, including Miss Rohrer, waved at me! And I was like, “I like this!” So that’s really the first memory I have. 

Honestly, I always wanted to entertain. It was a real tool for me to cope with a lot of the things I was probably dealing with as an immigrant, as an outsider, and it was an easy way for me to figure out who I was.

Later it became even more important when I realized that theatre and art are some of the most substantial and important ways of changing society. If you look back at all the generations, all the things that people remember are pieces of political history and war and… art.

Now we look back at history, and art is what gives us the meaning of who we are as a civilization, as a society, and as human beings. I realized that pretty quickly when I was in college. Again, I was lucky because my parents pretty much supported whatever I wanted to do since there was already a doctor in the family who they could brag about.

Who were you influenced by?

 

I think my biggest artistic influence would have to be Charlie Chaplin. I am a kind of absurd, kind of ridiculous, Charlie Chaplin nerd. Mostly, I love him as a performer and I love how he created his own studio, how he used his art to lash out against society. I love how he used his art to talk about the common man, I love how he uses his art to show the world how universal art can be. 

One story is, I was shooting a movie in Morocco a few years back. In Marrakesh there’s a medina, my wife and my kids came and visited me while I was there, and the first day, I took them to the medina to check it out. The medina in Marrakesh has everything – snake charmers and monkeys and orange juice sellers and it’s just this magical, Aladdin-esque kind of world. So, we’re there and we took a carriage to get there. I could see in the distance, there’s a movie playing on a big screen. It was Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and there must have been one thousand people, just watching it. A movie that’s almost ninety-five years old, still has the resonance to change people’s lives. It was bringing together a Muslim, French and European culture all before my eyes, an American, born in Iran. My family and I just stood and watched in awe, and applauded when it was over. It was really  beautiful and that is why I think Chaplin is my biggest influence.

As far as Iranian influences go, there are too many to name. But, Forugh Farrokhzad is one. I love her poetry, I love how she uses language to articulate her powerful feelings about being a human being. I’m a monstrous fan of Abbas Kiarostami. I think that he was not only a visionary, but someone who also understood what it meant  to have restrictions on cinema and use them to better the films instead of allowing those restrictions to silence the medium completely. 

 

You have a list of impressive credentials in acting and film and theater, what ones and what characters to date have been your favorite?

 

Playing Musa in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which I did on Broadway with Robin Williams, was one of my favorite characters, mostly because, never in a million years could you ever imagine that an Iraqi translator would be the lead character of a major Broadway play. He was neither a “good guy” nor a “bad guy”, but just a human being trying to cope, one who had made beautiful decisions and horrible decisions. That is a character written specifically for the common man, by Rajiv Joseph, one of the world’s greatest playwrights. My other favorite character to play is Hamlet, which I’m doing right now. I have the opportunity to play an Iranian Hamlet. It’s unique because this is the first time this has ever been done, and also important because this is really bridging the gap between both cultures.

One of the most impressive performances was your character as an Iraqi translator in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. I understand that in order to recreate a genuine Iraqi Arabic accent that you taped a translator who was hired for the play and studied her Iraqi Arabic accent in English.  There are a few other of your credits in film and play that involve the Middle East and Iran as subject matter or character, do you believe that your portraying and production of shows featuring Iran as a subject matter or Iranians as characters will help educate American view of the people of Iran?

 

Absolutely. The reason I play characters at all, whether they’re Iranian, Iraqi or Israeli, is because I believe that the human condition is not binary, it does not come in ones and zeros, it is not black and white, it is not “Democrat” or “Republican”, it’s all shapes and sizes and complexities. 

Recently I was in a play on Broadway called The Humans and I played a very rich character. This character could easily have been played like a snob or someone who has no idea what it is to be a middle class American, but the reality is, there is no interest in that for me. Not only that, but those people, those binaries, don’t really exist. It’s possible to be unbelievably wealthy and care about everyone. It’s also possible to be the opposite – to be very poor and hate everyone. Both of these things can happen. I’m interested in exploring the complexity of the human condition in those ways. This is why I’m doing this Hamlet. This Hamlet is both Iranian and Western, he is the son of a Persian warrior and a foreign bride, he lives in both places. He loves the Western traditions, but also loves the Eastern traditions. Sometimes that complexity creates a collision that both the character, and the audience, have to deal with. Those are the characters I like to play. 

 

Before I ask if you have anything else you would like to share with the readers, I ask that you provide words of inspiration and wisdom to our younger readers?

 

The easiest way to succeed as an artist or a lawyer, an accountant or an entrepreneur is to DO, just DO. You’re going to fail a lot. Literally the day of this interview, today, I’ve already failed three times in different ways. That failure can crush human beings and your desire to continue, but you must continue going forward. That’s the best advice I can give anybody. Just DO. Don’t wait around for anybody, don’t ask for anyone’s permission, if you think it’s the thing you want to do, just DO THAT THING. Otherwise, waiting around is just going to be that: waiting. And the act of waiting is getting stuck in your own inertia. Just do the damn thing. And honestly, the only success that you can have is by doing the thing you love over and over again. By doing it yourself, by making things happen yourself, what happens is, once you accomplish that thing, whatever it may be, there is a satisfaction and a gratification that leads to confidence. Confidence leads to better decisions, and those better decisions lead to more success. Volunteer your time. Show up to the things you care about. You will find success. 

 

Thank you for this interview and best of luck to you and your cast in the production of Hamlet. 

 

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