When both you’re mother and father are well known in the theater it’s almost guaranteed that you will follow in their footsteps. Faran Tahir was born in Los Angeles while both of his parents studied acting and directing at UCLA. After completing their studies the family returned to their native Pakistan where they both established prominent careers. His father, Naeem, currently serves as the Director General of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts. Returning the America at age 17, Tahir attended the University of California at Berkley, where he graduated with a BA in Theater. He later earned his Graduate Degree at Harvard.
He made his feature film debut in Disney’s live action telling of “The Jungle Book” and is best known for his roles in “Iron Man” and J.J. Abrams re-boot of “Star Trek.” He also has a recurring role on TNT’s new incarnation of the popular television drama “Dallas.” Later this year he will be seen opposite Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Escape Plan.” This week he stars as the President alongside Matt Damon and Jodie Foster in Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium.” I recently spoke with Mr. Tahir, touching on his new films, his love of science-fiction and working with his parents.
Mike Smith: You’ve done a lot of sci-fi/fantasy genre’ projects: “Lost,” “Star Trek,” “Warehouse 13” and now “Elysium.” Is that something you enjoy? Do you intentionally seek out those projects?
Faran Tahir: I do enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s thought provoking. I think it tickles the imagination. And I like the fact that those kind of stories have very high stakes. Part of it is because I come from a theater background. If you’ve done any theater…any Shakespeare or Greek tragedy…the stakes are as high. I like the theatricality of science fiction. Do I seek it out? Yes, I do seek it out but not at the expense of other genre’s or other kinds of stories. I try not to get too complacent. If I do too many bad guys I try to play a good guy. If I do too much science fiction I try to do something else. I try to keep as much of a balance as I possibly can. I have “Elysium,” which is science fiction. I have “Escape Plan,” which is an action movie. I have two independent features coming out. One is an emotional drama about two families losing their children in a mall explosion (“Torn”). I play the father of one of the families. The other is a supernatural thriller (“Sara’s Cell”). So yes, I do like science fiction but I also need to make sure that I don’t get pigeon holed in just that genre.
MS: Can you talk a little bit about your role in “Elysium?”
FT: Sure! Elysium is a space station. A Utopian space station where all good things happen. Cancer is cured. The temperature never goes above 75. All of that good stuff. All of the grunt work to support Elysium happens on Earth. So the people on Earth desire to get up to Elysium while the people on Elysium don’t want the people from Earth coming over. I play the newly elected President of Elysium. My character is a politician. He’s nuanced. He’s very careful about how he deals with issues. He doesn’t want to hurt his base supporters both on Elysium and on Earth. The counter to him is the secretary of defense, played by Jodie Foster. She has a totally different idea on how to deal with these issues. There’s a nice, dynamic tension between these two characters of how they’re going to deal with the issue of the Earth people trying to come in and what are the resolutions to the situation.
MS: Where you a fan of Neill Blomkamp’s previous film, “District 9?”
FT: I’m actually a fan of Neill! You can sense that he’s a very bright guy. What I love about his work, and it’s true for both “District 9” and “Elysium,” is that he takes a hot-button issue and then he just slightly bases it in the fictional zone. But not so far in the fictional zone where you lose connection to it. “District 9” was a statement on apartheid. “Elysium” deals with other hot-button issues, like elitism and immigration. You can swap the words “Elysium” and “Earth” for “Developed Country” and “Under-developed Country.” You can say “the US” and “Mexico” and have the same dynamics. He works with some really great premises and presents them in a really fun way. I feel blessed that I got to work with him because he is really and truly a genius. He doesn’t push…you know exactly what he wants…but he never pushes his vision. He lets the actors get there organically. He trusts that you will get there with his guidance.
MS: A real change of pace role is Frank Ashkani on “Dallas.” Any chance of you coming back next season?
FT: (laughs) Here’s what I have to say about that. The story goes that anything is possible in science-fiction and on soap operas. So we’ll see what happens. (laughs) I could come back as the twin brother of the character…we’ll see. I really don’t know yet.
MS: Both of your parents are well regarded actors and directors in the theater. Have you ever performed with them?
FT: I have, actually. Back home the first television show I did was with my mom, which was kind of interesting. I’ve been directed by my father. And what I loved about it was that, although they were my parents, they were also consummate professionals. They would completely turn that side off and deal with me just as an actor when you were in a scene with them or being directed by them. All of the domestic issues could just wait. And it was a great thing to learn how to leave all of that behind when you’re working on something.
MS: You mentioned “Escape Plan.” Can you give us a quick preview?
FT: “Escape Plan” comes out in October. It’s a prison escape picture. The three of us…Stallone, Schwarzenegger and I…break out of a prison together. It was a lot of fun.
MS: Anything after that and the two independent projects?
FT: No. Right now I’m concentrating on those projects. After that we’ll see.