I first wrote about Faran Tahir back in May, after the Pakistani actor played Captain Robau in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. Tahir, who was born in Los Angeles (while his parents were studying acting and directing at the UCLA Theatre Department), but grew up in Pakistan, later moved back to California to attend the University of California – Berkeley. He also received a graduate degree from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. The actor has a number of film and television credits under his belt, including roles in Iron Man, Charlie Wilson’s War, 24 and Sleeper Cell. Below, he answers a few questions for CHUP on the stereotyping of Muslims in Hollywood, his foray into acting, and the revival of Pakistan’s film industry:
Q: Your recent role as Captain Robau in Star Trek was significant not only because the franchise portrayed a captain other than Kirk or Picard as heroic, but because it was also a “color blind” role. What was it like to be involved in the film, and to play such a groundbreaking role?
It was a remarkable experience on many levels. First of all, it was truly color blind casting. I asked the director, J J Abrams, at one point about his reasons for casting me. He said that he was looking for a certain quality and intensity regardless of color or creed. It gives us a ray of hope that maybe we are slowly inching towards a more even playing field. The casting also adheres to the true philosophy behind Star Trek. Star Trek envisions a universe based on merit not race or other differentiators. Secondly, I grew up with Star Trek so it was like a little boy’s dream come true.
Q: Several Hollywood films and television shows, particularly after 9/11, have perpetuated the stereotype of Muslims as “terrorists.” However, recent efforts by organizations like MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) have been significant in changing perceptions. For example, Howard Gordon, the creator and executive producer of ’24’ said he changed his mind on the issue after meeting with representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Have you noticed a shift in Hollywood, or do you continue to face such obstacles?
There is definitely a shift to balance out the perspectives more. Some of it is because of vocal groups calling the media out and challenging their portrayals of Muslims and some of it is the natural balancing out of approach to sensitive material. Whenever there is a monumental tragic event [9/11] in the world, the human race reacts to the shock of it but eventually we realize that in the end, we have to engage in dialogue with the other side and not war.
Q: Given that your parents also studied acting and directing, did they support your own ambitions to pursue a career in theater/acting? What advice would you give young Pakistanis who may want to follow a similar path?
My parents have always been a support to me. Their main concern is always been my well being. They have tried to support me and even challenge me to find ways to protect my core and stay true to myself. They have taught me not only the craft but also how to find bravery in the face of adversity and humility in face of success.
My advice to aspiring actors would be NEVER to give up. There will be plenty of rejections along the way and plenty of wins but be your own best critic and friend. We all want to be successful and there is plenty of room for all of us but lets succeed with grace and dignity.
Q: What’s next for you?
I have two movies in post production. Ashes is the story of two brothers. I play the older brother who is spiraling into mental illness. The younger brother is spiraling into drugs. They have no one to fall back on but each other. Two Mothers is a story of two families dealing with the death of their teenage sons in an explosion at a shopping mall. It deals with how lives can corrode when a tragedy hits. I play the father of one of the boys and an extremely talented actress from our own Pakistan, Mahnoor Baloch, plays the mother.
Q: Pakistan’s film industry has recently seen a resurgence of film – from Khuda Kay Liye to Ramchand Pakistani to Kashf. What do you think of this revival and what more could be done to encourage this growth?
The Pakistani film industry has been producing movies in a singular genre. We need to branch out. It will bring newer challenges for directors, actors, everyone. People like Shoaib Mansoor, Mehreen Jabbar, and Ayesha Khan have shown the courage to tackle new frontier and others must take this baton and run with it.