In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Pej Vahdat, who plays Arastoo Viziri on BONES, the actor talks about his life before acting, his work on SHAMELESS and the recent BONES episode “The Patriot in Purgatory.”
AX: Did you always want to be an actor?
PEJ VAHDAT: Actually, I played professional tennis before I was an actor. I played in the junior circuit, I played for theU.S. on the junior circuit, I played in college, and then I turned pro my junior year in college, and then after summer on the tour, I just wasn’t very happy and I was playing for the wrong reasons. My whole goal in life was to take care of my father and my mom financially as much as I could, because they had worked so hard for me and my [siblings], and I felt like, that’s my duty. I really wanted to just make their life easy. And I was pretty good at tennis, and I thought this was a good way to do [make money to help the family]. And then that summer, I came back, I just wasn’t happy. I came back to school and I decided to just quit tennis. And I always had a dream of being an actor; I was just too embarrassed to tell anybody. So I secretly took a class in theatre and I never went back to a tennis court after that.
AX: Not even recreationally?
VAHDAT: Once in awhile, but for me, tennis was really mentally difficult, because I just put so much pressure on myself that any time I’d go back on a court I’d get anxious, just those memories of how much pressure I put on myself. Recently I’ve become much more comfortable going back and playing – I play with my cousin, who’s quite good. But other than that, I really haven’t played much. I want to get into it, though, because I’m comfortable and I miss it a little bit.
AX: Is there anything you learned in playing tennis that’s been useful as an actor?
VAHDAT: Oh, absolutely. Tennis is such an individual sport and I compare tournaments or the whole circuit to auditioning, because basically, you’re competing for the jobs. And in that regard, I really learned how to just do my business and let that take care of itself and not worry about who’s there, who I’m auditioning against, all that stuff. So it helped me to stay grounded and just worry about myself and what I can do, because in acting, you can get really caught up in all the stuff that you can’t control. I can’t control that So-and-So from this movie is auditioning against me. It helped me in that regard to really just focus on what I can do, what I can bring to the table, and then let it go.
AX: Does the tennis background help with the physical aspect of your performances at all?
VAHDAT: Well, I mean, I’m pretty athletic, so I guess that could help. When I played my character in the play [BLOOD AND GIFTS] in New York, that actually helped, because I had to change my way of walking, just because I played an Afghan soldier from the mountains and, as the director said, “You walk too American” [laughs] and these guys don’t walk like that. I really could mimic them, I think, because of my athletic background. I’m pretty good at controlling my body pretty well, I think. That could have helped, but I could be wrong [laughs].
AX: Did you know you were going to be recurring when you were first cast as Arastoo?
VAHDAT: No. When I first got the part, there was just one guest star, and then I guess they liked what I did, and [it looked like] “This thing’s going to continue” and thank God it did.
AX: Have you been directed by series lead David Boreanaz yet?
VAHDAT: I have never had the pleasure, but I have had great scenes with him where I can see how talented he is as a director, because he’s giving me these tips. So I haven’t had the honor of working with him as a director, but as an actor, that was one of the best experiences.
AX: Had you met any of your fellow “squinterns” prior to “The Patriot in Purgatory,” the episode about 9/11 where you’re all in the lab together?
VAHDAT: Well, we saw each other in passing filming the dream episode, the finale of Season Four. So that’s where we started talking, and then at the wrap parties, a little bit more, but then once we filmed that episode, we became really good friends. I still talk to them almost daily via text and whatnot. We became quite good friends, especially with Eugene [Byrd, who plays Clark Edison] and Michael Grant Terry [who plays Wendell Bray].
AX: It was very interesting the way executive producer/show runner Stephen Nathan wrote that episode, giving Finn [Luke Kleintank] something to say to Arastoo that was very offensive about Muslims that Finn didn’t realize was offensive, and then giving Arastoo this very thoughtful response.
VAHDAT: Right. That script Stephen Nathan wrote is perfect, in my opinion, but I don’t want to be [making sweeping statements] – as an actor, to be able to say that speech and just address that topic – I don’t know if any other show’s done it like that. That was such a fine line for Finn and his character, and the way he handled it and the way he responded I thought was so sweet, because the other side would be him getting offended and getting angry and me getting mad and fighting, right? It was so sweet and [Kleintank] is such a great actor, and I just felt really, really lucky to be a part of that. I read the script and I went, “Wow, I can’t believe I get to do this.” I’ve never gotten so much feedback as about that particular scene. People were pretty happy about that, and I think it was something that a lot of people think about.
AX: As far as those scenes go, do the writers ever consult you about your sensibilities?
VAHDAT: No, not necessarily about my sensibilities, but they’re so respectful as far as the religion aspect of it goes. They don’t want to disrespect Muslims or Islam in any way, so they’re very careful about, “Hey, is this okay?” When I had a scene where I was praying early on, it was amazing how respectful they were about they prayer rug and where it should go and how we should touch it. And it was just something that I found to be so incredible and just something I love about this country, how open-minded and people are so respectful of everybody else’s beliefs, it seems for the most part.
AX: Well, there are a couple of closed-minded crazy people …
VAHDAT: Well, yeah. I choose to say that’s the minority, not the majority. I also think that’s lack of education. They’re just not exposed to [diverse cultures]. We’re lucky here in California and on the East Coast – you get exposed to different cultures more so than maybe the middle of the country, but even there … There are a select few that aren’t very open-minded, but I’ve found the majority are quite good about respecting other people’s beliefs, and I think the rest of the world could take notice of that.
AX: You’ve also had a recurring role on SHAMELESS as Kash. What is your character like there?
VAHDAT: Oh, on SHAMELESS, I play a closeted homosexual who’s married with children and had an affair with a teenage boy, Ian [played by Cameron Monaghan], who is Bill Macy’s [character’s] kid. [SHAMELESS producer/show runner] John Wells was a dream to work with. I was a big fan of E.R. and WEST WING, and when I got cast on that, I was through the moon, just going nuts, because I was such a big fan of his. And Bill Macy, of course. Pretty lucky with the show runners that I’ve been hired by, as with Hart and John Wells. I was in [SHAMELESS] for the first two seasons and then I went off and did a show at the Lincoln Center, which was called BLOOD AND GIFTS, and that was an incredible experience, one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life, and thankfully, it was successful as well. I’ve just been very lucky. I don’t know how, I’ve just been super-super-lucky in that regard. That’s just the luck of the draw.
AX: On SHAMELESS, did you have any discomfort about playing somewhat romantic scenes with a minor?
VAHDAT: Oh, yeah [laughs]. That part was uncomfortable, but we didn’t really do that, because he was seventeen, I believe, at the time, so we didn’t do anything that was romantic on the show, really. It was just more implied. They really covered that ground very tastefully, as much as you could without making us uncomfortable.
AX: Do you have a preference between stage and film and TV?
VAHDAT: Ooh. I think they all have their place in my heart. I really love theatre – I want to go back immediately toNew York or [do theatre inLos Angeles] even. But I don’t know. It’s like children, you know [laughs] – you can’t pick one.
AX: What else are you working on?
VAHDAT: It’s just a bunch of balls in the air that I don’t know what’s happening with. There have been a lot of auditioning and meetings, et cetera. BONES really helped me out in my career, just taking to another level, and also self-belief. When you’re in this business, you just need someone to believe in you and give you that confidence and yeah, you can do this, you can do this kind of career. That’s something I’m forever grateful to [the BONES team for].
AX: Have you encountered any BONES fans?
VAHDAT: Oh, always. They’re incredible. They’re everywhere. I was in Milwaukee – I’m a huge 49er fan, I love to watch them playGreen Bay in Green Bay – and in Milwaukee, I was stopped half a dozen to a dozen times. They are such big fans, so kind, so loving. I’m always shocked when someone recognizes me, because I’m not a main character, but they’re loyal, loyal fans, and they really warm your heart, because they’re so sweet. And they really love the show. It’s pretty incredible to be a part of something like that.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work on BONES or your work overall?
VAHDAT: The only thing I’d say is I’m just so lucky – I feel so lucky to be a part of this show. And I can’t wait to see what happens, and hopefully people like what’s in store for Arastoo and Cam [Tamara Taylor] and the rest of the series. Hopefully it goes on for a lot longer.
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Article:Exclusive Interview with BONES guest star Pej Vahdat – Part 2