DUBAI: He may not be considered a household name yet but Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir is familiar to millions around the world. You may recognise Faran as Raza in Iron Man (2008) or Captain Robau in Star Trek (2009).
The international artist has been a Hollywood insider for over 25 years now and has starred in many TV series and films. His debut appearance was in Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1994 as Mowgli’s father.
Faran was also casted as Mallick in 12 Monkeys and more recently, President Rashad on hit American series Scandal. He worked in the staging of Othello earlier this year too. Speaking with The Express Tribune, the star gets candid about his current roles, the possibility of working in Pakistan and much more.
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Your role in 12 Monkeys was targeted to a completely different type of audience. What was it like stepping into world of Scandal as President Rashad?
Scandal is currently in its final season, which is why they aren’t holding back – all bets are off now. This phase is beautiful because it gives the writers, producers and actors the freedom of liberty to explore certain topics and relationships.
To enter that zone of production, where things are so well-established, and to be accepted with such open arms from the creator Shonda Rhimes, the whole cast and crew made this a valuable experience and that’s why I did this. There was a certain level of warmth and collaboration.
The reason I gravitated towards President Rashad was because I loved the character. In this day and age, where we are so connected to our phones and social media, you need to keep the audience’s attention because if they can guess the storyline or see the character as predictable, the curiosity is gone.
When you are crafting a character, the ability to keep turning that notch just a little – to bring other layers – is a wonderful challenge. This is something that this character offered me.
When you first meet this character, you see him as this hardnosed president of a country – the predictable stereotype. But as you get to know him, there is a different side to him; he is worldly, kind, gentle, loving – all of these sides then fill in the blanks and make him more ‘human’.
It makes people guess more about him and the love affair that develops is ‘scandalous’ (pun intended) which creates a very different level of stakes. You don’t stop being human just because you head a country.
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Do you see a man of South Asian descent ever becoming the president of America?
Until a year ago, America seemed like it was on a different path… and then things changed. There are certain things that are happening in the world which are pretty alarming but as humans, we have always found hope and a silver lining in the catastrophes and tragedies that have occurred. Having said that, there is a disturbing trend of leaders of different countries flexing muscles and it is getting us nowhere.
The days of conquerors of battlefields are long gone and eventually, people have to sit down and talk to each other. Even if you beat someone in a battle, there has to be some level of compromise. But we are slowly losing that art.
We have come into a culture – and I’ll use an actor term here – where we do not dialogue, we monologue with other people. If you and I are on opposite sides of an issue, we walk into the room thinking about what we’re going to say to the other person and we do exactly that, but what do we achieve at the end of it? What do we learn from it? We just patted ourselves on the back and thumped our chests like a primate and walked out.
The silver lining to me is that people of different stripes are bonding together. Human rights groups or charity groups – whether it’s a Muslim, Jewish, Christian or African American group, whether it’s women’s rights or gender identity groups – people have realised that they can’t work in parallel or in contrast with each other.
We have to join together as one to speak as one voice. So that voice becomes louder as everyone comes together. It’s never the time to be complacent – especially now. We have to have a more cohesive and empathetic understanding of each other’s points of view.
I hope there is a day when the US has a brown man as president – or even a woman as president! Countries that are labelled as otherwise very conservative have already had female presidents. It’s about time that we, the people in the US, also have that a viable option. I am hoping that there will be a change.
Film, television or theatre, which one do you prefer?
I have come to realise that us artists; singers, actors, poets, whatever you are – we are all trying to do the same thing… tell a story. The analogy I want to give is that of a painter. A painter tells a story by painting with oil paint at times, other times he’ll use watercolours and sometimes he’d rather use charcoal and sketch.
They have the ability to use various mediums but which one they choose depends on the particular kind of story they want to tell at that point in time.
Similarly with performing arts, we have to be smart enough to know how to tell a particular story. So sometimes, you need the magic of the silver screen. For example, if you’re doing Star Trek, it would be weird on stage because it wouldn’t be able to transport the audience into that world. Television gives you the ability to stretch the character and find nuances that you might not be able to find in theatre or a movie.
Theatre, on the other hand, provides an intimacy with the audience – which you can’t find in television because television is not happening in that moment. So one has to see what story is best told in what medium.
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What are your thoughts on the Harvey Weinstein issue?
It’s tragic. We have given people a pass for way too long. This particular industry has a downside where sometimes it is not based on meritocracy. There are people who know that they have the power where they can trump your word (again, pun intended).
If an attractive woman walks in – someone who has all the ability to perform a particular character – and rather than looking at her capability you coerce or manipulate the situation, then you are devaluing the person. It is absolutely wrong. Such behavior has no space in a workplace.
People can have feelings towards somebody but that’s a completely different situation. When you’re using other people’s vulnerabilities as fuel to satisfy your own proclivities; that is unacceptable. And it doesn’t matter if you are the president of the country, the CEO of a company or the guy who hoots at women on the street.
Any plans of working in Pakistan?
This question comes up a lot. I would love to work in Pakistan as long as the script is exciting and intriguing, and the logistics work out because I don’t want to do things I’m already doing in the US.
We can explore more challenging ways of doing things but I’m glad the Pakistani film and television industries are really taking off – I’ve been following. It all depends on the right script and the right people for me to do this.
So if we need a guy who plays an American returned industrialist, we can call you?
I grew up in Pakistan and have lived in the US for considerable amount of time so of course I can play a character that is decidedly Pakistani or of Pakistani origin.