Faran Tahir may not be a household name yet, but the prolific actor can claim the title of Only Actor to Appear in a Top 5 Highest Grossing Film for both 2008 and 2009. As Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, in 'Iron Man,' the Los Angeles-via-Pakistan actor was the thorn in Robert Downey Jr.'s side (and might be again if rumored plans to include Tahir in a sequel come to fruition.) Switching sides, Tahir played the heroic Captain Robau in J.J. Abram's reboot of 'Star Trek,' in a brief, yet memorable, performance.
When he's not starring in blockbusters, Tahir can be found guest starring on seemingly every television show, including 'Lost,' 'Alias,' '24,' and most recently as Isaac on 'Grey's Anatomy.' Having just wrapped up shooting for the independent drama 'Ashes,' which sees the actor cast as a man struggling with mental illness, the versatile theatre veteran talked with us about playing terrorists, why J.J. Abrams wants him dead, and the lengths studios will go to keep a secret.Faran Tahir may not be a household name yet, but the prolific actor can claim the title of Only Actor to Appear in a Top 5 Highest Grossing Film for both 2008 and 2009. As Raza, the leader of the Ten Rings, in 'Iron Man,' the Los Angeles-via-Pakistan actor was the thorn in Robert Downey Jr.'s side (and might be again if rumored plans to include Tahir in a sequel come to fruition.) Switching sides, Tahir played the heroic Captain Robau in J.J. Abram's reboot of 'Star Trek,' in a brief, yet memorable, performance.
When he's not starring in blockbusters, Tahir can be found guest starring on seemingly every television show, including 'Lost,' 'Alias,' '24,' and most recently as Isaac on 'Grey's Anatomy.' Having just wrapped up shooting for the independent drama 'Ashes,' which sees the actor cast as a man struggling with mental illness, the versatile theatre veteran talked with us about playing terrorists, why J.J. Abrams wants him dead, and the lengths studios will go to keep a secret.
Your character is killed pretty quickly in 'Star Trek.' Were you disappointed you didn't get more screen time?
I grew up with 'Star Trek,' so to get to do anything in it was fun for me. You have to look at what impact your character is going to have on the story. My thinking was that because it sets the mood for the entire saga, it was worth doing and was going to have an impact. So it's 10 minutes, but it's a good 10 minutes [laughs].
Did you lobby for more time?
[Director] J.J. [Abrams] and I keep joking about that. I've done four things for him and every single thing I do for him, I die. It's like, "What the heck is your problem? Do you just not want me on Earth?" His last e-mail to me was, "I promise you the next time, you are not going to beepin' die."
When you were a kid, was it your dream to be in a 'Star Trek' movie?
Yeah, I think every kid who watched 'Star Trek' had that dream. It was such a feast for your imagination. You can identify with it on both your geeky and intellectual level. I got on the bridge [on set] and the first seven minutes, I was in awe. It was like, "This is my ship!" [Laughs] You have to learn to settle down and get to work.
How conscious were the cast and crew of balancing the expectations of hardcore fans with the casual moviegoer?
J.J. had an uphill task: He knew the Trekkies would judge it by a certain standard. But there hasn't been a 'Star Trek' movie or television series in years, so there's a generation that hasn't grown up with it. It was about, how do we hook them in? J.J. wanted them to be able to own the saga for their own and not what their older brother or father had told them.
Switching to 'Iron Man,' did Jon Favreau have a direction for your character going in or could you create the character for yourself?
Both. Jon is a very smart director and the quality that he was looking for was how fluid can you be. I auditioned with Robert Downey Jr. and we had to do the same scene many different ways. By the end, we literally had to do it as an old, married couple. So his idea was that let's understand the basics of it but let's not tie ourselves down so much so that we are trying to fit a formula. Let's take the formula and let it work for us rather than we working for the formula.
With two high-profile movies, how tight was security on the sets?
On both movies, because they didn't want it to get leaked out, the security was unbelievable. We would jump out of these trailers and into these golf carts which had thick curtains. They would drive us into the studio, close the gate and that's when you were allowed to come out of the cart. When we did 'Iron Man,' they would put a cloak over our heads and hold our hand to walk from the trailer to the studio because paparazzi had rented out all the houses up on the hill and had zoom lenses. They could have taken me to a cliff and told me to jump off and I wouldn't have known that it was there.
Every interview asks if you'll be in 'Iron Man 3.' If that role gets confirmed, what will be better: the fact that you're in it or that you'll never again be asked if you're in it?
[Laughs] I think I'd welcome both of those. I'm happy to keep answering the question. Jon Favreau and [the producers] are not stupid. They're also listening in on all of this and wanting to get the pulse of where the audience is. But at some point, they want to introduce Mandarin into the storyline and my character, like Mandarin, was the leader of the Ten Rings. We're leaving it open because, partly, it makes good business sense for us to leave a little bit of uncertainty for people to speculate on.
Has Jon even thought about 'Iron Man 3' or is he just focused on the sequel?
He has known for a long time where he wants to take it and I don't want to speak for him, but my feeling is that the second movie didn't want to just follow a singular storyline. They wanted to expand the characters to show that it's not a linear saga like 'Lord of the Rings.' There's a linkage somewhere in there, but the big idea is to do at least one more 'Iron Man' movie and then go into 'The Avengers.'
You grew up in Pakistan before moving back to the United States as a teenager. What did you learn from that experience?
What it taught me was that there are different realities in this world that people operate in and we can't put a value judgment on anyone else's reality. People might have pre-conceived ideas of what life and the people are like there and vice versa. It's these everyday interactions where you start to see the human side of people. You start to see all these diff types of people co-existing.
In recent years, Hollywood has come under pressure for portraying many Middle Eastern characters as terrorists. Does this idea factor into your role choices?
It does. When I read a script, if I feel it's written with the idea of just bashing other people, then I shy away from it. Sometimes, it's some guy coming out with his own hatred and I don't need to be a part of it. Then there are scripts that are written with a certain stereotypical angle, but I think it's not for nefarious reasons, and maybe I can go in, create a dialogue and change a few things on it. Does Hollywood do movies about terrorism? Yeah. And why do they do that? Because it sells. I look at it on a very personal level. I have to get up in the morning and face myself in the mirror. It's no value judgment on actors who do do them-and I have done some terrorist roles-but if I can face myself in the morning, I can do it. If I feel like I can't, then you have to make a decision that is it about money or is it about something else at this point?
Having guest-starred on so many different shows, does jumping from character to character help you as an actor by forcing yourself to get into different roles quickly?
It cuts both ways. You really have to be able to let go of any pre-conceptions about the character. But at the same token, if you're doing a television series, it would be really interesting to show a sustained character, which is being exposed to the audience every week. I like the idea of being able to play different people because it keeps it interesting and fresh.
When you go into a role, do you think if it would make a good recurring character?
You absolutely have to think about it that way because you need to give every character a long life. You may be on screen for 10 seconds, but in your head you really have to create a life that got him to this point. You think that way not because of wishful thinking that they keep you around, but because it's the right thing to do in creating a character.
On 'Grey's Anatomy,' you play a medical worker who survives a disease. After being killed by J.J. so many times, was it nice to live for once?
[Laughs] Exactly. I need to tell him that there are other people who want me to live.