Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir is working hard to challenge stereotypes

Star Trek, Iron Man and, now, Hawaii Five-0 star Faran Tahir talks Hollywood, Pakistan and Star Trek.
Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir. AFP
Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir. AFP

Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir is a busy man. A familiar face in the supporting cast of big-budget movies including Iron Man (2008) and Star Trek (2009) and Elysium (2013), he is also a regular fixture on television in the United States, where his recent credits include guest spots last year on The Blacklist, How to Get Away With Murder and Criminal Minds, along with a recurring role on superhero drama Supergirl.

This year, the 52-year-old will also be seen in a recurring role in season seven of the reboot of crime drama, Hawaii Five-0. And just last week, it was announced that he has been cast in season six of TV fantasy adventure, Once Upon a Time.

His character in the former is shrouded in secrecy – all we know is that he is called Lucky Mansour – but in the latter, he will take on the role of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo.

We chatted to the in-demand actor before the news of his Once Upon a Time role was announced. He was not allowed to reveal any details of his Hawaii Five-O role, but did share his memories of the original show, which ran from 1968 to 1980, and his thoughts on the reboot.

“I knew the original,” he says. “It was a very different kind of a show when it was originally produced, so I was intrigued with the reboot about how much of that original spirit they would keep, and how they’d make it relevant and exciting to the audience of the present. They’ve done a very good job.”

The distinctly Arab-sounding name of his character in the show raises the question of the stereotyping of Arabs by Hollywood – after all, he played a terrorist in 2008’s Iron Man.

“There’s an element of that for anyone I think,” says Tahir. “If you’re a very handsome 6’3” guy, there’s a type of character that will be thrown at you over and over again. So, yes, there are stereotypical roles that are thrown my way – but that is slowly changing.”

He believes actors should carefully consider the roles they accept to keep this change moving.

“I think I should take responsibility for what roles I should take and what I should not take, and not always put that responsibility on someone else,” he says.

“Sometimes you have to make a decision based on the money, other times it’s the challenge, and other times you just do it because you’ve done something three or four times in a row and you just want to bring something different to people.

“I also think it helps that I try to find a balance between film, theatre and TV. I did Othello for four months onstage, and that variety helps avoid getting stuck in one place, so people don’t see you in a stereotypical way.”

Tahir concedes there is still much work to be done to banish stereotypes, but says we should not read too much into a character’s name.

“Sometimes roles come along where you have to ask yourself, ‘Can I play this and look myself in the mirror?’” he says. “You have to ask that question and act accordingly. It’s getting better, but it certainly hasn’t evened out yet.

“As far as Hawaii Five-0 goes, people might say to me ‘Why is your name Lucky Mansour?’ Well, I don’t think I’d really cut it as John Adams. I don’t think you have to change a character’s name to avoid stereotyping, and characters of different ethnic backgrounds should be able to have appropriate names without having to explain or justify that.

“I didn’t change my name to make it in the mainstream, and that’s where we want to be.”

Hawaii Five-0 marks a reunion between Tahir and show creator Robert Orci, who also wrote 2009’s Star Trek reboot, in which Tahir played starship captain Robau. The actor notes that with a rebooting pedigree that includes Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, Orci was the perfect person to reinvent Hawaii Five-0.

Talking of Star Trek, Tahir has fond memories of his experience in the franchise.

“You feel like a little kid every time you’re asked to do something because these are the shows you grew up with,” he says. “You have to get over that initial excitement and remember you have work to do.

“You walk onto the set of a Starship in a captain’s uniform and you’re like ‘I’m walking into my own fantasy right now’.”

• Season seven of Hawaii Five-0 and season six of Once Upon a Time will begin in the US this month. UAE dates are yet to be announced. Previous seasons of the former have been on MBC Action and the latter on OSN

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: September 3, 2016 04:00 AM

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