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Interview With Actor Faran Tahir of ‘Elysium’ and ‘Escape Plan’

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Faran Tahir continues his expanding acting career with several upcoming roles including Mr. Patel in Elysium releasing August 9 (co-starring with Matt Damon and Jodi Foster), and Javed in Escape Plan releasing on October 18 (co-starring with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Born in 1963, Faran comes from a theatre family well known in Pakistan and India with one sister and a brother. His parents are prominent actors/directors/writers in Pakistan. He completed his B.A. from University of California, Berkeley and his graduate degree from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard. His first major role was the 1994 live-action version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Faran recently finished work on the thriller Sara’s Cell (now in postproduction), which is about a captive celebrity reporter awaiting execution at the hands of terrorists compounded by other surprising events. I recently interviewed Faran Tahir by phone about his acting approaches, several upcoming films and his most well known acting roles.


What movie scenes did you first act out when you were growing up?

Who hasn’t done their own bad rendition of Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver? I’m glad we don’t have it on tape (laughing). That’s the first thing to act out in the mirror.

Please describe your research process as your personally prepare for an acting role.

I don’t take acting as a science. In certain roles, you have to find the inner connection first then build it. Choose the characters. Get information on your walk then get that walk established. You know how this guy would act physically or on the emotional side. The other thing I try to do is no matter how good or bad the character is put it on the side. Do not label the character. Find the truth first. Let the audience decide if they are good or bad. An evil guy doesn’t wake up and say I’m going to be evil today. He’s justified. That’s the central piece. It’s much more interested then to start with labeling, which produces a tendency to create a caricature instead of character. The character is a unique living breathing person. Find the audience and actor then find the connectability to that character.

What health and fitness regimes do you follow besides running and biking?

I go to the gym for a six day a week. My philosophy is that the body is smart. Too much activity in the same pattern, and the body finds ways of not doing things. I just change up we choose that day. Bike ride or run is best. My fitness is important as a human…important as an actor. This is the instrument we use. You have to be mindful of how you treat yourself.

Describe the challenge forging your talent into a film that an audience can really escape into.

I think people can always escape into a film as long as they find connections to the character. It can be sci-fi, drama, or any other genre as long as the character is being truthful. I try to give that truth and just trust into the character. You can transport people into a story immersed in all the stuff that’s around it using green screen and other effects, but those elements only serve the film if the people find an identity and/or connection to the characters first. It could be the most beautiful environments, but if the scene is not truthful than they don’t buy into it. Audiences are very smart. It’s wise not try to fool them. Just make it connectable and audiences will come.

Your son also had a role in Iron Man. Do you see your family following in your acting footsteps?

My family has three generations of people in literature and art. That side is very active. If my daughter or son want to act that will be fine with me. It is their decision. When I made my decision, my parents gave me practical advice think about how deal with the fact there will definitely be some amount of success and some disappointment. They taught me how to ground yourself. If my kids want to go into it, then I will fine and teach them that balance where they can hone their acting craft by creative ways and find lifestyle that keeps them healthy.

FaranTahirElysiumYour upcoming film Elysium focuses more on economic differences than ethnic differences where there are no clear-cut lines of good and evil. Please describe the challenge in representing this world as a prominent character with political power who must know all this world’s elements.

Again, the challenge is the more real you make these people. The more you believe in their point of view or show that you believe in their point-of-view or argument, then it creates a richer experience for the audience. My approach is let’s not worry about good or evil – just deal with situation. Today, politicians are very nuanced. They know how to use power and at times, they evade questions and are very truthful at other times. In finding that balance, I would watch CNN, MSNBC just to find that kind of personality not a person. I think that’s what people find. There is good and evil, but most people are just dealing with the situation. I research how they deal with it.

What do you like best about the science fiction film genre?

I come from theater background. There is a relation. If you have done theater, then you know that in Shakespeare’s works the stakes are high. It’s also this way in science fiction where entire civilizations are at stake and there are life and death decisions. On the technical side, you have the green screens, so it can be easy to make believe. In both, you have to transport yourself to that place in your head. Theater does the same thing. It is the way you play it. It’s not really there which is where we find that kind of relationship between the two. It catapults you into a whole state of mind.

In Escape Plan, you star with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action drama setting where a specialized security consultant is setup to be trapped in a seemingly inescapable prison. How do you address the high drama and action aspects in your role as Javed?

You really have to dig into movies like that or any movie. I have to really understand the script. You put your markers in; how you find the economy in what you present. If you go too far then you have nowhere to go in the next part. You chart out the arc of your character. What their journey is. The bigger picture. The connections, relations and reactions to other characters. It’s a well-orchestrated thing. When you find that then you can forget the technical side. Just play it. See a living breathing human being. So, I learn the technique, use technique, then lose it.

Please describe your approach to the high drama and tension in your other upcoming roles in Sara’s Cell and Torn where you play a father in one of two families where the teenage sons are involved in an explosion at a suburban mall.

I’m going to hold off on Sara’s Cell and discuss other things coming up. Torn deals with two families who experience an untimely death. People deal with tragedy in this drama, which will release in the next few months. People will see a different side of what I have to have to offer. Also in the upcoming thriller Jinn, I play Ali who is at an asylum in a straight jacket for most of the movie. People get to see me in something different.

What do you remember most about your return to Los Angeles, California in 1980 after living in Pakistan for a while?

It was, you know…I don’t know if it was a cultural…It was a fundamental shift because after you have been removed from a reality and entered it again it takes time and some adjustment. It’s mainly the little things. If you live in Pakistan, we operate on a whole other way of life. Guests often come to your door unannounced, which is no issue. I’m not saying either is good or bad. They are just separate realities. I’m able to move in both realistically and not judge. In every place, we can celebrate the good and critique the bad, especially in those days when we didn’t’ have face of social media. It was a small adjustment and not much of a not a struggle…a bit of a journey is the way I like to put it.

What are some of your most memorable theatrical performances at U.C. Berkeley?

There were quite a few – The Trail, which I really love because it goes back and forth in time. Shakespeare is always a lot of fun. You know, it was theater based, but also beginning of my entering into this craft. It was a great and important learning time and not put boundaries on it. Not to worry about people’s critics, but just do it for the love of it. I was so glad to have it.

How did your educational background help you lead to your first role as Nathoo in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book?

It’s partly because all education helps you. I was familiar with the book, which helps you. Training helps you. The Jungle Book is a period piece. You have to find the truth in that period. How the character would move, act, and talk. The training does help you. The different periods have different physicalities, so you pull all that from training and education then bring the characters alive.

Please describe how you got the lead role in the 1999 film ABCD as Raj, an Indian American struggling with his cultural identity. 

I had met the director/co-writer Krutin Patel a few years before we shot it. He saw me in at the theater I think. He gave me the script. We made a workshop of it. We kept in touch. Patel said I am going to make this movie. Then I got the call to play this character.

Please describe your approach to playing the villain Raza in 2008’s Iron Man amid the sci-fi/superhero elements.

Good or bad – does he feel justified in what he’s doing? Other questions that we had were ways to keep this guy apart. Let’s not make it about being a terrorist, a hungry mercenary or soldier of fortune, but someone who will use anything social side, political advantage or religious side to get power…that frame makes it interesting. I play it more as somebody who feels just in actions. It’s more eerie and less of a caricature than what people usually get to see.

FaranTahirStarTrekYour role as Captain Robau in Star Trek was fairly short, but you made a big impression. Do you feel pressure in shorter roles as opposed to larger roles where you more screen time to develop your character.

It does create a very interesting challenge. You have to do even more research. What makes him tick. What makes him a breathing person. It’s a short time to show the facets of this guy. You cannot always impose them all in a scene. Find what grounds this character so people relate or connect to him. As for the movie, JJ Abrams wanted to show a really competent captain of a ship. It was not about the other protagonists. If this was a real world, then there is not just one general who is general – we have several throughout the whole army. The Federation is not just about Captain Kirk’s competency, but others who are just as competent and contributing. That was the approach. I’m glad that people liked it.

What are the most memorable moments you have shared with your co-stars on the set

Usually they are the goofy ones. We can all play characters as intense. I enjoyed my scenes with Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. It was late…about 3 a.m. We kept cracking up filming the scene. We would bump into the suit. We were bumbling idiots that day. We kept trying to get the papers right. I would forget a line then he would forget a line then we would crack up looking at each other (laughing). I’m sure the crew was thinking just pull together; we want to go home. Through all of that, you feel like a kid. It’s a real playful side of people that really comes out when defenses are down.

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  • Lisa L

    Great interview feature. Excellent read.

  • Tan The Man

    Nice interview.