One of the best perks of working for SciFiMafia.com is the opportunity to speak with some wonderfully gifted actors, and recently I had the opportunity to talk exclusively with an actor from one of my top ten movies. Although he’s been in a number of TV series and movies, if you’re a sci-fi fan you’ll definitely recognize Faran Tahir; he has such a presence. He was the terrorist Raza in Iron Man, the regent Adwin Kosan on Warehouse 13, and he may have run down Sayid’s great love Nadia on Lost, amongst other roles.
But the role that he will always embody for me is as the captain of the Kelvin at the beginning of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek – the man who handed the helm over to James Kirk’s dad before transporting to the Romulan ship. You know.
So the first thing I had to ask him was about his Star Trek experience. “It was great. I don’t hide it, I was a Trekkie. The first day I walked on the set, I was an 8 year old boy, because I couldn’t believe I was standing on the bridge. You kinda forget everything else, being an actor and all of that, and you just stand there in awe, looking around and you go ‘OH MY GOD. Well, wait a minute, I do have a job to finish, let’s get to it now.’ So yeah, to me it was an amazing thing.”
But as a Trekkie, did being a part of the movie take away any of the Star Trek magic for him? “It actually made it even more interesting and exciting to me because you realize that you have now become part of this, it’s like The Iliad, it’s our modern-era saga. It’s this huge story that was created during our time,” he enthused. “So no, it took nothing away. It actually added to it because the challenge then becomes, if I’m going to be part of it, how do I make it as believable as I have always known it to be in my head? So given that, it was an amazing experience.”
How was working with J.J. Abrams? “JJ’s one of those people, he puts so much trust in you. I’ve worked with him a few times, and he has this ability, he can be directing a $150 million movie, and no matter who taps him on the shoulder, he turns and gives his undivided attention to that person. And to me, that is real leadership. Because by doing so he puts so much trust in the person, that you want to rise above, you want to do the best that you can.” He went on, “That was his only note when we started doing (Star Trek), was ‘you know what, I just want to keep it as real as possible. I want you to kind of work from your heart, out.” And he does bring that out in people.”
So, if J.J. Abrams has a pattern of working with actors he’s worked with in the past, and he’s going to be helming Star Wars: Episode VII… “You never know. JJ is someone who does bring his people back. if you see any of his work on television or in film, he does rotate his actors, his talent, because he thinks that ‘why do I need to go out when I already have a language and a rapport with certain people.’ It saves time if the people understand what he wants, you don’t have to go into a dissertation trying to explain a character, and you can get to work.” So…. “So who knows? If that happens, I will be there. He won’t have to say two words,” he laughed. “He can say hello and I will say YES.” Here’s hoping.
Star Trek was of course not the first blockbuster Tahir worked on; Iron Man came a year earlier. He brought his love of comics and a very interesting perspective on the main character to the film. “I guess I’m just letting everybody know what kind of kid I was, because I was also a huge comics fan, and Iron Man was one of those characters which made sense to me. Others I liked, but they all had superpowers that were somehow injected into them, or came from another planet, or whatever. Iron Man was somebody who actually became a superhero by putting his mind to it. That fascinated me. It gave me hope that even as a kid that you know what? I don’t need to be bit by a spider. I don’t need to come from another planet to be a superhero. I can put my mind to something and become one.”
As for the filming experience, “that particular cast and crew was something that was very special that came together. Partly because most of the people who worked on that project, this was not their genre that they specialized in. Everybody wanted to really put their best out there. There was such camaraderie, and such great give and take between the actors and the director and the producers, that you just felt that you were creating something together. Yes, we were all trying to fit into the silhouette of the character, but we were also given this opportunity and this trust to own it, and organically own it, rather than have it imposed on us. So I had an amazing time doing that.” Then he laughed, “and plus, playing a bad guy is always delicious.”
But that doesn’t mean he prefers the bad guy roles. “I come from a theater background. So to me, they’re all different challenges. if you do too much of one thing then it becomes stale. If I can keep it fresh, if I can keep it moving, if I can show different sides of what I have to offer… Sometimes you’re successful in it. Sometimes you’re not. But it should never be from lack of trying.”
Tahir played the epitome of leadership in Star Trek, but in the upcoming Elysium, by writer/director Neill Blomkamp (District 9), the leadership role is quite different; it’s political. He plays President Patel, the leader of Elysium. “He has been elected as president of the space station. Jodie Foster’s character is his Secretary of Defense. So of course she has her own way of dealing with the crisis which is not as political, and he is the counterpoint to that.”
“(My) character is a diplomat, he is a politician. He understands that although we are dealing with a very delicate and very important issue, that we have to be very very very sensitive to how we approach it. His whole mission in this is to somehow or another frame these things in a way that he can keep his political base, which is true for politicians anywhere, at any time.”
And it’s neither good guy or bad guy, but maybe a bit of both. “What I like about the movie is that most of the characters are operating in shades of gray. There are very few people who are black and white, good and evil. The rest of us are many layers and many shades, which I like because I think it helps you play the character for everything that you think it is, and then leave it to the audience where they want to put this character, rather than you have to tell them ‘I’m a bad guy, I’m a good guy.’ That’s the kind of work that I like. You put in all the layers that you can, and then you leave it to the audience how many layers they want to peel off.”
It’s not just the characters, however, that are portrayed in shades of gray. “The great thing about what this movie and also what the director does in general, is that he takes a current issue and then he puts it slightly in the future or in a science fiction setting just so that we can take a look at it… I think it’s a very intelligent script.”
And the issue this time? “It deals with distribution of wealth of course. It also deals with in a very strange way a current issue we have now which is immigration and border crossing and all of that. The haves and have nots,” he explained.
“Elysium is this utopian space station where all good things are possible, and Earth is where all the drudge work happens for Elysium. People from Earth naturally want to get to Elysium. The people of Elysium have their own reasons not to have this influx of people.”
“Now you can flip those words and you can make “Elysium” say “U.S.”, and “Earth” say “Mexico”, or another developing country, and you have the same dynamic. Wherever side you fall on, there is an argument to be made on both sides. And that is the beauty of it. It doesn’t make it so black and white where you are being spoon-fed a particular agenda. It does show you, yeah, that there is this elitist view that people on Elysium might have, but by the same token there is a certain kind of frenzy that takes over on the other side, where people will do anything; not look at what the laws or rules are. So it’s a nice way to start this debate. It’s gonna be an interesting topic when you see the movie, to discuss.”
How was the process? “The cast is brilliant. You’re working with people like Jodie Foster, who is an amazing talent to begin with. You almost become almost a student all of a sudden because you see somebody who has been in this business for so long, and the way they approach and how accessible they are, and how they create a bond on and off screen; it’s an amazing experience.
“On top of that I think working with Neill who I think is a brilliant brilliant mind, you just see how something that seems so daunting when you read the script; how is this reality ever going to be created? and you see it unfold in front of your eyes. it humbles me to see that people have that ability to bring all of this and put it all together. I think it’s gonna be quite an amazing movie, I’m quite sure of it, actually.
When I asked him about how he got involved in the movie, he laughed; it was an appropriately very modern take on the casting process. “We are so technical now. I was asked to read for Neill, I was in New Mexico shooting something. Neill I think was either in Vancouver or South Africa, but he could not be in the same room at the same time, there was no way. So he asked me if I could just “do a scene,” so I said okay. So I sat in my hotel room, I had no one to read it with, so I put the other character’s lines up on my iPad and recorded them as the other character, and I took my iPhone and I did the scene with myself. Then I put it on YouTube with a dedicated password for Neill and the casting director, and sent it. And within a couple of days the deal was done,” he laughed. “That’s the beauty of the times we live in now, we can do all that.”
Elysium is slated to hit theaters on August 9. Two months later, on October 18, we can catch Tahir in a very different movie: Escape Plan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. “Those two are icons in the action genre. The movie is very well-written, very very well directed, and it was great to see both Schwarzenegger and Stallone share the screen, because they know the genre so well.”
“They know the dance, they know the steps, they know how to do it. To be able to work with them, to be able to see how they use the material to find the reality of it and also give it that extra bump that makes it an adrenaline pumped scene… it’s a wonderful talent to be able to do that…I think it will quite a treat for the audience to see these two icons working together.”
“The movie itself has a wonderful cast across the board,” including Vincent D’Onofrio and Sam Neill. “Jim Caviezel is in it, and he plays a really delicious bad guy – he can look really cold and he does it amazingly.”
And the storyline? “My character is, I’m the third guy, we’ve planned this escape from this prison which is impossible to escape out of. So it has some great moments, it has some levity to it, it also has some tragedy to it, it also shows – again what I like is that these guys are there, and although supposedly they are bad guys, but there is something redeemable and something actually positive about them also. Again, I love the fact that it has layers, it doesn’t put characters in this black and white kind of situation.”
We had time for just one more subject: Warehouse 13. At the time of our chat it hadn’t been settled, but he thinks he’ll be appearing in the final season. “We need to tie up some of the issues and then find a conclusion to this actually quite interesting series… It’s a great premise as far as science fiction goes, because it just gives you so much freedom, and it also brings up all these literary and historical references that you can work with. It’s been a great experience and I will be sad when it’s over, because it is a family.”
Does he have any interest in appearing as a semi-regular in other series in the future? “When you go to series work there’s an honest question you need to ask yourself and that is, if I’m going to do something for a very long time – creatively does it excite you, is it a fun thing, or fun people to work with, what is the project? so yeah, if that’s a route that life takes me in then great.”
Really great. I’d be happy to see him on my TV screen more often, and am really hoping to be seeing him in one or more Star Wars movies in the future.
Thanks so much to the wonderful Faran Tahir for taking the time to talk with SciFiMafia.com.
Elysium starring Sharlto Copley, Matt Damon, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner, Jodie Foster, and Faran Tahir is slated to hit theaters on and IMAX August 9th, 2013.