By Sonya Rehman
Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir is no stranger to Hollywood. From roles in productions such as Iron Man and Charlie Wilson’s War to Star Trek and beyond, he has also guest starred in well-known television series like The Practice, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, NYPD Blue, and Supernatural, among many others.
Most recently, Tahir has starred in Escape Plan, a thriller slated for release this year which co-stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the Jodie Foster and Matt Damon science fiction flick, Elysium.
Tahir spoke with The Diplomat about his work, the Pakistani film industry and his experience working with Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man.
Your parents are also serious actors and directors. Tell us a little about your family.
My family has been a part of the arts and literature for four generations. My maternal great grandparents published the first Pakistani magazine for women in the late 1800s. My grandparents were writers. My parents are actors, writers, directors. This brings us to my generation. My brother, Ali, continues to carve his name both as an actor and director in Pakistan. Then there is me.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
I think somewhere deep inside that dream was always alive. I just accepted it in my late teens.
What has been your most challenging, yet rewarding role to date?
This has always been a hard question to answer. I will say that most roles in live theater that require emotional honesty are much harder. You have to bring the same energy, honesty, and commitment every night. I have done stage plays that have run six months at a stretch. To be able to give everything you have for eight shows six days a week can be very hard.
As a Pakistani in Hollywood, how difficult has it been making a name for yourself?
I have to admit that it has been a hard road. I had no role models, no mentors, no guides, no connections. All I had was my resolve and determination not to give up. I do want to make clear that I did this not by relying on luck, but by getting all the training and tools that I could to face these challenges. Along the way, I have had the honor and privilege to work with some of the best in my field. I would have never been able to do this without the love and support of my family. They have always been a beacon in my deepest, darkest hours.
Have Muslim stereotypes affected your career in any way?
Of course, life and current issues have an impact on the arts. Some of the stereotyping is gratuitous. One does need to be careful though not to always make this into a crutch. There is some unnecessary stereotyping but some negative depictions are the clear result of our own actions. It becomes my challenge and duty to stand up against stereotyping but also accept stories which have a kernel of truth in them.
What is your take on Pakistan’s local film industry?
The Pakistani film industry is going through a rebirth. For the longest time, we followed the Bollywood pattern of filmmaking. Now that you can see Indian movies domestically, this has made us reexamine our own industry. Films like Khuda Kay Liye and Chambaili are great examples. Also, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has done amazing and groundbreaking work in documentary film.
Do you think the local film industry has a hope of revival?
I strongly believe in hope. Yes, there is hope. With some fresh blood, some brave film-making and healthy competition, we can reimagine and revitalize this industry.
Would you ever consider coming back to Pakistan to direct or produce your very own movie?
Absolutely. The bigger question is how to find the financial, creative and logistic support to do this.
Which productions are you currently working in and/or have wrapped up?
I have four movies coming out: on August 9, Elysium, Escape Plan opens October 18, and two indie films, Torn and Jinn will be released this fall, but the dates haven’t been set yet.
Have you had any interesting experiences on the set during the shooting of your movies, with your co-stars, that you’d like to share with us?
I think the most fun I’ve had was at the screen test for Iron Man. The director (Jon Favreau) had Robert Downey Jr. and I do the same scene ten different ways. The director wanted to see our range and chemistry. He kept throwing out new ways of attacking the scene. Robert is a consummate actor so there was never any doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. We just laughed and kept going.
What advice would you give to an aspiring Pakistani actor hoping to become a success story, like yourself, in Hollywood?
Never let go of your dreams, but don’t leave it to chance. Get the training and tools to pursue your passion. Be your own best critic. Be realistic. Some people might be great actors and others can be amazing writers or directors. Discover your true talent.
The Diplomat Magazine