Interviewed by: Marci Liroff, CSA
1) Has there been a Casting Director that has encouraged and/or supported you in your career?
I’ve been lucky to have a number of champions in the casting community. Towards the end of grad school at USC, Donna Isaacson, Nicole Arbusto, and Joy Dickson were instrumental in helping my green and eager MFA class understand the basics of building an acting career.
For years, Marci Liroff has been one of the only people I trust for audition coaching. She is also one of my biggest advocates: a mix of therapist, business advisor, vibrant artist, and tell-it-like-it-is friend.
And I owe so much to the wonderful Scott Genkinger, who cast me in my first recurring TV role and has been fiercely supportive of my work.
Recently me and a few other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) actors have been building a coalition with the aim of dismantling harmful representations of MENA people in film and on TV. I was really impressed with how receptive Russell Boast and the CSA Inclusion & Diversity initiative has been to hearing our input and working towards meaningful change. I feel so grateful to have such smart, progressive, and generous allies in the casting community.
2) What work are you most proud of?
This year I played the vile, one-eyed rogue Cyclops in Prison Break: Resurrection. Though the character could be considered a riff on a negative archetype, I used it as an opportunity to stretch my abilities. I am proud of how I found the little windows in which this “bad guy” could be somewhat human and relatable. It’s also incredibly satisfying to watch yourself on screen and not recognize yourself at all. The character couldn’t be more different than how I manifest myself as a person and much credit is due to Scott Genkinger for seeing something in me that I never knew I had.
3) What was your first IMDBPro credit and how did you feel when you saw it?
My first IMDbPro credit was a very ambitious student film I did at Stanford a decade ago called The Strange Case of Salman abd al Haqq. It was my first ever work on camera and I won an acting award at a small film festival in Northern California. My name was misspelled on IMDbPro and on the award (two different ways!), but I was so excited to be in the same database as my childhood heroes like Judy Garland, that I didn't even care.
4) How has IMDBPro helped you market yourself to filmmakers?
I think my team has really made the most of the photos and "Known For" features – as soon as you click on my page, you get a strong visional story that shows my range as a performer. The feature that has probably been the most impactful on my career has been the contact info listings. I know people have very mixed feelings about cold email pitches, but I got my first two theatrical agents that way and I wouldn't have been able to do that without the info on IMDb Pro. I also think the "Shared Credit" column is fun and sometimes a cool ice breaker when connecting with new people in the business.
5) Any funny casting room stories?
Years ago, I was at a commercial callback in which I had to improvise some kissing and lovemaking simulations. I think it was for an STD PSA. I happened to get paired off with an acquaintance’s girlfriend. Fortunately, we were both well versed in clowning and just went for it, but it was the weirdest. We agreed that, unless we got the job, we should probably just never ever talk about it with anyone we know – especially not her very jealous boyfriend.
I also once had an audition for a drag queen character for an indie film. I went all out, like full makeup, wig, heels, fishnets, etc. I also happen to specialize in getting completely panic-stricken and lost on lots. So of course, I ended up lost, aimlessly wandering around Paramount for forty minutes looking like a broke Kardashian impersonator. Some tourists thought I was some contestant from Drag Race and asked for pictures.
6) Tell us a fun fact about you outside of acting:
I was born during an earthquake. According to my mom, the nurse was from Ohio (so she’d never experienced an earthquake) and ran off terrified. My mom’s hospital bed was literally rolling around the room when I decided to pop out.
Also, an image of my first headshot juxtaposed with the pharaoh Akhenaten mysteriously went viral a couple years ago. Apparently, some insane and not-very-credible news outlets in Brazil and Egypt made up a story that my picture was a DNA rendering of what the pharaoh would look like. I still have no idea how it all got started, but I get many weird messaged almost daily from fans of this pharaoh. The Internet is a strange and wondrous thing.
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