Prime Time Persian : Q+A with Shaun Toub : The Most Prolific Iranian American Actor in Hollywood History


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Shaun Toub at the World Premiere of Captain America : Civil War on May 6, 2016 (Image Credit Getty)

October 16, 2016

By Iman Sadri

There are two words synonymous with the most prolific Iranian American actor in the history of Hollywood : Shaun Toub. Having appeared in over 100 episodics in television and in over 30 films, Toub is one of the most versatile actors working in Hollywood today. From comedy to serious drama, Shaun Toub has displayed a wide range of characters on screen in his prolific tenure in Tinseltown. In Iron Man, he is seen opposite Robert Downey Jr. for the first one third of the film. Playing the role of Yinsen, he not only helps Downey’s character Tony Stark survive, but he helps him build his Iron Man suit, and ultimately helps Stark escape by sacrificing his own life and buying Stark time. Without Yinsen there would be no Iron ManIron Man 2, Iron Man 3 or subsequent Marvel films for that matter.

In the Academy Award winning film that won the Best Film Oscar for 2004, Crash, Toub plays Farhad, the most poignant character of the film. His scene opposite Michael Pena and Pena’s character’s daughter in the climax of the film, is the most memorable and important sequence in the picture. It takes a prodigious acting talent to be able to carry the climactic scene in Crash that Toub so effortlessly and naturally displays. Being able to show an instantaneous range of emotion that his character Farhad endures is a cinematic triumph. From an incipient nervous rage where he is about to kill Pena’s character to the sudden surprise that he accidentally shot his daughter, to a moment of grief, to the astonishment and relief that the girl is alive and unharmed. All this occurs in a matter of moments for Toub’s character. The authenticity of the scene, especially being one in which there is no dialogue, is uncanny.

In Kite Runner, Toub brings Khaled Hosseini’s character of Rahim Khan to life with a delicate eloquence. In the first act of the film Toub displays compassion and a hearty vivacity portraying a youthful Rahim Khan. In the second act of the film, Toub’s portrayal of languidness on screen makes viewers believe Rahim Khan is frail and dying and at the end of his life. Toub makes the audience forget that his character was once young and vigorous in the same film. Whatever his role, Shaun Toub leaves it all on the screen.

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Shaun Toub (L) and Robert Downey Jr. (R) in 2008’s Iron Man (Image Credit Marvel)

Shaun Toub first got his start in Hollywood on the 1980’s hit show Hunter. In the 1990’s Toub appeared in a myriad of the decade’s biggest shows. Including, Columbo, Matlock, Dragnet, In the Heat of the Night, Lois & Clark, Ellen, Married with Children, Jag, Nash Bridges, Sliders, Pacific Blue, ER, Ellen, Walker, Texas Ranger, Cybill, Just Shoot Me and even the iconic Seinfeld, among others.

In the 2000’s Toub had roles in hits such as Charmed, Malcolm in the Middle, The Sopranos, The District, Lost and NCIS, to name a few. But, it may be this decade on Showtime’s Homeland that Shaun Toub has had his most impactful role to date on television. Playing the role of Majid Javadi, Toub’s chemistry opposite Mandy Patinkin and Claire Daines is unforgettable. With Homeland being an ongoing series, Toub’s character of Javadi may be reappearing in the near future. In Homeland Toub also has emotional scenes opposite Iranian born actors Nazanin Boniadi and Houshang Touzie.

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Shaun Toub (R) and Claire Danes (L) in Homeland (Image Credit Showtime)

Toub’s filmography is as impressive as his television credits. He starred in the 1995 hit Bad Boys, opposite Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. His role of the confrontational store clerk in the Michael Bay directed film made his improvised phrase of Mother-Bitches become a well known slur in the mid 1990’s. Toub also had roles in Hot Shots: Part Deux, Broken Arrow, Out to Sea, Stigmata, Stretch, Unity, Maryam and The Last Airbender, among others. In The Nativity Story, Toub starred opposite Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Shaun Toub and Shohreh Aghdashloo in 2006’s The Nativity Story (Image Credit New Line Cinema)

In Charlie Wilson’s War Toub was hand picked by Oscar winning director Mike Nichols to star in a scene with two other Oscar winners, Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Toub has cited his roles in Crash, The Kite Runner and Iron Man as his favorite and most personal roles to date.

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Shaun Toub and Bahar Soomekh in 2004’s Crash (Image Credit Lionsgate)

It’s not just stereotypical roles of Middle Easterners that one would assume an Iranian American actor would be cast for in this contentious political climate. This past spring Toub starred in Papa Hemingway in Cuba where he played the role of the American poet, Evan Shipman, who was friends with Ernest Hemingway. In Papa Toub is reunited with producer Bob Yari from Crash. Currently in theaters Toub can be seen in War Dogs, playing the role of Marlboro opposite Jonah Hill and Miles Teller.

To catch up with Shaun Toub and to gain further insight into his prolific career, we sat down for a candid Q+A conversation with Toub at The Tavern restaurant in Los Angeles recently.

INTRO / WAR DOGS

Iman Sadri – Congrats on War Dogs. Have you been busy with it all month?

Shaun Toub: With War Dogs coming out we weren’t going to do any press. Then they posted the clip that they’re calling fifty-fifty. Everybody has been talking about this clip in the promos. Miles Teller was on Live with Kelly and Jimmy Kimmel and they both showed the fifty-fifty clip. I am in the film for 10 or 15 minutes, I’ll just say I have a cameo.

 IS: How long of a shoot is that for War Dogs ?

Shaun Toub: I shot for 10 days in Morocco and 10 days in El Centro. The movie was shot all over. Los Angeles, Miami, Vegas, Budapest and Morocco.

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Shaun Toub and Bradley Cooper at the War Dogs Hollywood Premiere After Party.

IS: Where in Morocco were you shooting War Dogs ?

Shaun Toub: Casablanca

IS: Is it safe to assume that the studios pay for all transportation and hotel costs for your travel to Morocco ?

Shaun Toub: The wonderful thing about this business, when you make it I guess, the perks are really nice. You’re always flown first class. You’re always in the best hotels. They take care of you.

IS: Does your wife Lorena travel with you also ?

Shaun Toub: Yes, my wife Lorena and I always travel together. I don’t like to travel without her. For War Dogs, though, Lorena was traveling with her family in Spain.

IS: When you get the script for the film, as in War Dogs, how far in advance do you get it and how long do you have to prepare for your lines ?

Shaun Toub: It really depends. Sometimes you’re involved early. They have you in mind in advance and want to make sure that you’re available, sometimes you’re cast late and have to jump in.

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Shaun Toub in 2016’s War Dogs with Miles Teller and Jonah Hill (Image Credit Warner Bros)

IS: Why does the studio decide to go all the way to Morocco to shoot ? Would it not have been easier to go somewhere closer with comparable terrain, like Arizona  ?

Shaun Toub: It has a lot to do with budgets and also what’s best for the movie. I mean Iron Man was shot in the U.S. It was four hours away from L.A. You can find a desert shot in California also, but we needed the street shots and such as well.

IS: I would think it’s more expensive to go to Morocco, right ?

Shaun Toub: Not really. It depends on what you need and the permits and such. For example for Homeland the last two episodes, we needed it to look like Iran, so we had to go to Morocco. That’s one reason everybody goes away to shoot. I would love to stay home and film in Los Angeles and it’s really a shame that they don’t film more here, so much money is lost for our local economy and how many people have to leave families to go work. I wish there was more filming in L.A. I love being home.

EARLY LIFE

IS: Talk about your upbringing. How much of Iran do you remember and how old were you when you left ?

Shaun Toub: I left Iran when I was two, we went to England. My mother was going to school there at the time. My family owned the Dr. Scholl’s of Iran so my mom was going to school to be a podiatrist. Then I came back again and I was in Iran until the age of 13. Then I went to Switzerland, followed by New Hampshire for the last year of high school. Then Boston. And then I transferred to USC here in L.A.

IS: You said that at the age of 5 you wanted to be an actor. What inspired you at that early of an age ?

Shaun Toub: I was always fascinated by film. In Iran or in London when I was watching film or TV, I was fascinated by it. It left an impression. I was even mesmerized when I saw the Academy Awards for the first time, I was five. And growing up I was always was a performer. I was always the funny guy. I remember as a child my mother used to have grown ups over, and they would pull me in to do accents or impressions as a child. That’s why when I speak at events, I always tell parents to pay attention to what the kids are telling you. And what they want to do in life. Because sometimes, not always, but sometimes, kids know what they want to do at an early age. Pay attention and really guide them. It doesn’t matter what it is, they will become successful if they love what they do. Everybody is so obsessed with money and of course it’s important but I think passion is life. Without passion there is no life.

IS: Did you major in drama in college ?

Shaun Toub: No. I never studied it. My parents were very much against me becoming an actor. They were both podiatrists. So they wanted me to become an engineer, or a doctor or an attorney. But the acting bug never died. Years after I came to America my mother brought me my yearbook from Switzerland. In the yearbook it said, ‘The funniest guy in class and the most likely to succeed in entertainment.’ Then I got lucky. I was able to meet an agent. But, you know, I believe that acting is in your blood. You can get better by studying it and working. But it has to be in your DNA.

“I believe that acting is in your blood. You can get better by studying it and working. But it has to be in your DNA”

IS: Did you start acting work right out of college ?

Shaun Toub: No, a few years after that. I went into real estate. I did real estate brokerage. I had a clothing line. I did some different things before I started acting.

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(L-R) Channing Tatum, Lorena Mendoza, Jenna Dewan Tatum and Shaun Toub attend the 18th Annual Hollywood Film Awards (Image Credit Getty)

IS: It’s interesting because comedian Amir K, who is now on the MADtv reboot, started out in real estate, in the mortgage business and is now in television and comedy which he says is his real his passion.

Shaun Toub: It’s incredible to see all this new talent. I started out so long ago and to see so many Iranians in the business, It’s fascinating and great. This is what I wanted to happen. I wanted people to not be scared to go after acting. I didn’t want them to feel that’s impossible. Because it is possible. You know, it was a such a taboo, when I was growing up to be an actor. It wasn’t like in America where actors have clout. So there was this taboo surrounding acting. I wanted to see if I could break the glass ceiling in the Persian community.

IS: Did you have any acting coaches or mentors growing up?

Shaun Toub: I am just raw. No, never had coaches and such. Acting is something I understand. I just get it.

“Acting is something I understand. I just get it.”

IS: What other profession would you be pursuing if you weren’t acting ?

Shaun Toub: I would be a fashion designer. I had a men’s fashion line before. I am very much into clothes. I understand fashion. Again it’s another thing. It just has to be in your blood.

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Shaun Toub at an event in Los Angeles. Toub states if he wasn’t acting he would be a fashion designer. (Image Credit Getty)

BREAKING INTO TV

IS: How did you get an agent coming up as a young actor?

Shaun Toub: So life is interesting, when you put it out there how it comes to you. I was doing real estate commercial leasing and this agency was looking for office space in Hollywood. And then somebody introduced them to me. I had a space. So I showed them the building and they loved it. Make a long story short we became kind of friendly and then we signed the lease. I used to tell them that I always wanted to become an actor since I was a child. So one night after work we were having some wine celebrating their lease. I told him, ‘You know what David, I would have been so good at this.’ The agent said, ‘Alright, if you think you’re so good, here, there is a scene about this kid who just lost his father, Do it.’ So I said, ‘OK, give me five minutes.’ I came back in and did this emotional scene. The agent, David Wilder, looked at me and said, ‘You son of a gun. You’ve been yanking my chain all along.’ And I asked him, ‘What are you talking about?’ He asked of me, ‘You’ve never had training or any schooling?’ I said, ‘No.’ He asked, ‘You didn’t study acting?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Go get some headshots.’ I told him I am not going to spend thousands on photos. He said not to worry about it and that someone owed him a favor. He said he could get me one role as a favor. Three weeks later he asked me if I wanted to go in for an audition. He didn’t want to tell me what it was about so I wouldn’t get scared. It was for Rambo. I did the audition. And I got called back.  I went all the way to the end. Sylvester Stallone didn’t choose me because supposedly I was too tall for the part. Funny enough, I was at an event recently for his movie Creed for the Academy. And I told him the story. I told him, ‘You were my first rejection.’ Stallone laughed and said, ‘Oh my God I have seen lots of your work.’

ICONIC SHOWS : 100 + EPISODICS

IS: What was your favorite TV acting experience out of the over 100 episodics you’ve done ?

Shaun Toub: Honestly, most all of them have a meaning for me. Seinfeld was iconic. Columbo was with the wonderful, Peter Falk. You know I watched him growing up. These are your icons that you see growing up and I end up scenes with him. He was a sweet guy. You know most people in Hollywood are actually quite nice. In Just Shoot Me I thought my character was very funny. I played an Italian gigolo.

SEINFELD   

IS: What can you elaborate on about your experience on Seinfeld ?

Shaun Toub: It was awesome. It was just fun. It was a very special and famous episode and the character was fun. The work was great and the people were wonderful.

BAD BOYS

IS: The voice on Bad Boys you do is hilarious with the infamous, Mother-Bitches, which became a popular catch phrase in the 90’s after Bad Boys, thanks to you. How did you get the Indian accent down?

Shaun Toub:  I used to do a lot of comedy. I do accents pretty well. And my second role was an Indian role on a sitcom. I do many different accents. So for Bad Boys I decided to mix the Indian and the Persian accents together. So nobody got offended. It was Michael Bay’s first film. So I auditioned for it and I got the job. He said he really needed me to be funny. This was a scene they were shooting after the film had wrapped.

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Shaun Toub in 1995’s Bad Boys (Image Credit Columbia Pictures)

IS: They filmed your scene in Bad Boys after the movie had finished to add more comedy to it ?

Shaun Toub: Yeah. They needed something in the middle that was really funny to break it up. It was a reshoot. I told Michael Bay, ‘I’ll be funny.’ But, the lines were, ‘Freeze Motherfucker’ and ‘I’ll kill you.’ And I told him, ‘Michael to be honest with you these lines are not that funny.’ He asked if I had any ideas. I told him that I did. Five minutes later a producer knocked on my door on the trailer. He came in and said, ‘I hear you tell people I am not that funny.’ I said to myself, ‘Shit, I am getting fired now.’ He said, ‘I wrote that scene, you don’t think it’s funny? If you think you can make it funnier, make it funnier.’ I asked him, ‘Can I change it ?’ He said if I changed it, that it better be funnier. So a few minutes later we go on the set. Martin (Lawrence) and Will (Smith) were there. Will was very nice. Actually, I am still in touch with Will. So they said, ‘Let’s rehearse.’ And in the scene, I said (with an Indian-Farsi accent), Por – teen – Twenty Pive ($14.25). I saw they were smirking. Then I went, ‘I got them.’ And I said, ‘Freeze Mother Bitches’ (in an Indian-Farsi accent). Martin fell to the floor, and he laughed kicking on the ground and Will laughed his ass off. They high fived each other and said, ‘He’s funny.’ And Michael Bay said, ‘Change whatever you want but be funny.’ So for, ‘I kill you’ I changed it to ‘I blow you.’ And Martin couldn’t stop laughing.

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Shaun Toub and Will Smith on the set of 1995’s Bad Boys

BROKEN ARROW

IS: Talk about Broken Arrow. That was a big role in a huge film. With John Travolta and Christian Slater, directed by John Woo.

Shaun Toub: It was a lot of fun for me. I can’t say that it was one of my favorite roles. I mean it was wonderful to be with Travolta and everybody was so nice and I appreciated it. But I didn’t feel it was anything for me to sink my teeth into. I like roles that I can really do something with them.

CRASH

IS: What an amazing feat with Crash. Winning the Academy Award for Best Film and you and the cast winning a SAG Award for best ensemble cast. Can you talk about how the role of Crash came about ?

Shaun Toub:  The process of Crash was crazy. One of the toughest I’ve ever been a part of, mainly because I was too young for the role. Imagine this is 10 years ago, so I was younger and I had to play the father of a grown daughter (Bahar Soomekh). But the script was absolutely incredible. It was an absolute gem. I had never gotten a reaction like that when I’ve read a script. When asked said if I wanted to go for an audition, I said no. Because again you don’t want to get too old in this business too fast. You want to have longevity. You want to do younger roles, not older roles. Then you are only known as an older guy. But yet still, when I read the script I said that I have to get this. And eventually for the part we had to do a lot of makeup and they added wrinkles. I had a different walk. I lost weight.

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Shaun Toub (sixth from the right) celebrates with the cast of Crash at the 12th Annual SAG Awards – Jan 29, 2006 (Image Credit SAG Awards)

IS: The scene where Farhad says, ‘She was my Fereshteh.’ Did you add that yourself ?

Shaun Toub: That was written, I translated it from English to Farsi.

IS: That’s such a powerful scene with you as Farhad and Michael Pena and the little girl, when you shoot the blank.

Shaun Toub: When you look at my character’s face it says so much. How he feels about what he has just done. Because I always say, ‘You can’t act it.’ You have to be it. Acting is when you’re not acting. That morning I made sure they bring the little girl to me for 30 seconds before filming. I just wanted to connect with her. I wanted to feel the pain that I shot the same child that I just saw that morning. And the confusion after that. It’s a very complex scene. But I have to say that scene is the one the most important scenes in Crash. I also saw the audience’s reaction. I went to a theater and in that scene I saw a man next to me jump on his chair. He jumped on it, literally. And the confusion that everybody was wondering why the little girl was still alive. It’s an incredible thing, I still get goosebumps talking about it.

“Because I always say you can’t act it. You have to be it. Acting is when you’re not acting.”

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Shaun Toub in 2004’s Crash (Image Credit Lionsgate)

 IS: That’s why it takes a certain acting genius to be able to capture that emotion and transfer it onscreen to the audience.

Shaun Toub: Thank you. I love what I do. When the magic happens it’s golden.

“I love what I do. When the magic happens it’s golden.”

THE PERSIAN PROTAGONIST

IS: This is a two part question. In Maryam and in Crash and Homeland you co-star with other Iranians, do you forsee playing more roles as an Iranian protagonist ? And if so, do you have your own story with an Iranian character, because you had mentioned that you would like to direct in the future also ?

Shaun Toub:  As far as directing, there are so many great stories to tell. Everyone is pushing me to direct. Lorena, my wife is always saying I should direct, because I see everything in detail. But I still loving acting.

As for writing, I have a couple of scripts I’m working on but in order to write, you have to have a lot of discipline and a lot of time. Thankfully I haven’t been able to do that because I’ve been working.

As for my acting, I think Denzel (Washington), said it best, ‘My favorite role is my next role.’ I’m more interested in the substance of the character I play rather than the ethnicity of it. If a great Iranian role comes my way, I’ll be delighted as well.

“Everyone is pushing me to direct. Lorena, my wife is always saying I should direct, because I see everything in detail. But I am still loving acting.”

THE KITE RUNNER

IS: Talk about The Kite Runner. How did the role of Rahim Khan come about ?

Shaun Toub: I was in Italy and I was doing The Nativity Story with Shohreh Aghdashloo. And my agent called and said they are going to send me a script for me to read, and that I would love it. They told me that I need to go to London for the weekend and I told them that they’re crazy because I was in the middle of a shoot. I was working on a Friday until 10pm and I would have to get a midnight flight to go to London. I would have to audition for Marc Forster on a Saturday and come back that same night to make it back to Italy. I told them they were nuts. But then I read the script and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Lorena was going back to Los Angeles from Italy and she read the script on the way back home and cried. And so I went to London and I met with Marc Forester and they offered me the role.

IS: Where was The Kite Runner filmed?

Shaun Toub: In China, in Kashgar. Four hours away from Afghanistan. To make it look like Afghanistan of 30 years ago. Remember, that the Afghanistan of 30 years ago doesn’t exist. It’s all destroyed.

IS : How did you get the Afghan dialect down ?

Shaun Toub:  I am stickler about making things as perfect as possible. I studied it. I had a dialect coach. After some of the Q and A’s people would walk up to me speaking Dari. I would say I am Persian, I speak Farsi, I don’t speak Dari. And they were shocked. They all thought I was Afghani. I was proud of that.

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Shaun Toub in 2007’s The Kite Runner (Image Credit DreamWorks Pictures)

IS: How were you able to make Rahim Khan age so realistically ?

Shaun Toub: I had three weeks off after we shot the earlier scenes. Lorena and I went traveling around China for three weeks. I started growing the beard. And they added to it also. It was lot of makeup, a lot of prosthetics. Four hours and 45 minutes in the makeup chair. A lot of wrinkles to be added.

IS: How do you prepare to play a frail, sick man by lowering your energy for a role like that ?

Shaun Toub: You have to feel that you are him. The character in that moment, how does he feel?  The man is sick, so the energy has to be decreased. The way he walks, the way he sits, the way he picks up things. Also you improvise in the moment. When Amir (Khalid Abdalla) gives me the book to read a quote he dedicated to me, I am not supposed to be able to read that as an old man. That was not in the script. So I asked for glasses and I put my glasses on and read the quote. Directors appreciate that kind of input.

IS: The scene in Pakistan when Rahim Khan is older, that was back in Kashgar again or elsewhere ?

Shaun Toub: Yes it was in Kashgar. A very tough and depressed area. I didn’t eat any meats, chicken, anything. Just cooked vegetables the entire time. Our 1st A.D. lost 22 pounds. Our 2nd A.D. lost 18 pounds. Our supervisor was in the hospital because the food poisoning.

IS: Why does The Kite Runner strike a special cord with you ?

Shaun Toub: The Kite Runner was just special. It didn’t get the play that it deserved. Collectively they shut it down because of the kids. Unfortunately, they made a big mistake with what they did with the controversy about the kids. Slumdog Millionaire had the same controversy, but they took it and ran with it. And they used it. With the Kite Runner, they pulled back. People were concerned about the wellbeing of the kids. But the kids were treated very well. We loved the kids. And the kids loved everybody. These kids where from the streets and schools of Afghanistan, they come and had these amazing experiences. It’s a fantastic film. And Marc Forster deserved a lot more accolades than he got. A book is a six hour movie, So it’s very difficult to make books into movies. But I think Marc did a fantastic job. And he did it tastefully. Especially with the rape scene, you know. I’m proud of the movie. You know a lot of directors don’t know how to deal with kids. It’s very difficult. Especially kids who have never seen a camera. And he did such a masterful job.

IS: Are you familiar with Khaled Hosseini’s other books?

Shaun Toub: Yes, in fact I still talk to him. I talked to him about a month ago. He’s a wonderful guy. My friend, Italian designer Domenico Vacca says that when he was sitting with the book by the pool it was better than a cute puppy to get the attention of the ladies. He said people went up to him, wanting to talk about the book. At the premiere Khaled was sitting two seats away from me. And although he wrote the book and he had probably seen the movie five times before the premiere, at one point at the premiere, I look over and he was sobbing . We were all emotional, even though we were in the film.

“My favorite role is my next role… I’m more interested in the substance of the character I play rather than the ethnicity of it.”

PARALLELS OF THE KITE RUNNER & CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

IS: When The Kite Runner came out it’s about the same time as when Charlie Wilson’s War came out. And there are parallel story lines there with Russians in Afghanistan. And you were in both films. Do you think there is there a correlation with the timing of both releases ?

Shaun Toub: It’s funny that you say that. You know with the late director, Mike Nichols, I had talked to him about Charlie Wilson’s War and then I got The Kite Runner. After The Kite Runner finished filming they called me and asked if I was available. They asked if the director Mike Nichols can call me. I tell them, of course he can call me, the guy is like a God. So he called my house and said they have to reshoot one scene for Charlie Wilson’s War that didn’t go well with the other actor. And that he really wanted me to do it. So imagine, I would be in a scene with two Oscar winners, Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols is directing a few feet away. And I am going to say no to that ? And I tell you, that one scene I had with them got a lot of attention.

“So imagine, I am in a scene with two Oscar winners, Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols is directing a few feet away. And I am going to say no to that?”

IRON MAN

IS: How did the role of Yinsen in Iron Man come about ?

Shaun Toub: You know Crash really brought a lot of heat for me to get to the next level. And then there was The Kite Runner and The Nativity Story. They asked if I would do a screen test with Robert Downey Jr. just to see our energy together to make sure we click. I said, sure. Downey was really nice, very sweet. I walked on to the set and it was supposed to be this long screen test, so after a few minutes of it they said, ‘Ok thank you very much.’ I am thinking to myself either that is really good or that’s really bad. But they came and said you guys look like you have known each other for years.

IS: Where did they film the scenes in Iron Man with you and Robert Downey Jr. in the cave?

Shaun Toub: Here in California. In Playa. They built the cave there.

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Robert Downey Jr. and Shaun Toub at the Iron Man Hollywood Premiere After Party

IS: You make up the first third of the film in Iron Man it seems with Downey, right ?

Shaun Toub: Yeah. They say if those scenes didn’t work there would be no Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Avengers, etc. That is the franchise. That is something I am very proud about. Jon Favreau said on record that if he knew Iron Man would become so big he wouldn’t have killed Yinsin. The reasons they killed Yinsen was because they felt that the audience would react really well to the character. So they wanted to bring the audience in by doing something really drastic. Even though Yinsen was a big character in the comic book.

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Shaun Toub and Robert Downey Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man (Image Credit Marvel)

 IS: The backgammon scene in Iron Man playing with Downey, was that your idea?

Shaun Toub: I think that was Robert’s idea. But that was a very nice scene. I love that line (I say), ‘So you’re a man who has everything and yet nothing.’

“I love that line I say…you’re a man who has everything and yet nothing.”

HOMELAND

IS: Were you familiar with Homeland prior to getting the part ?

Shaun Toub: I tell you a funny story. When they offered me Homeland I hadn’t seen it. And I said, it’s a TV show and I am in film mode. The character is older. My wife and I hadn’t seen it, but our friends were nuts about the show. So I called my agent and said I wasn’t sure still.  She said, ‘Shaun there is no way I am going to let you pass on this one. I am going to send you the first and second season. Watch it and then we’ll talk.’ So she sent me the first and second seasons. One night Lorena and I at 10pm decided to watch a couple of episodes to see what the big deal was. And then six episodes later it’s 4am and Lorena looks and me and said, ‘One more.’ And I had a 9 am meeting. So I called the agency the next day and said, ‘Get me in this thing.’ I’ve been a fan ever since.

Shaun Toub and Claire Danes in Season 3 of Showtime’s Homeland (Image Credit Showtime)

IS: Were all your scenes as Majid Javadi in Homeland shot in North Carolina ?

Shaun Toub: We actually shot the last two episodes of Season 3 in Morocco, in Rabat and the rest was in Charlotte, NC. The fourth season they went to South Africa. Last season they went to Germany. Next season they are mostly in New York..

IS: You have such great chemistry with Saul (Mandy Patinkin) on Homeland. How do you explain it?

Shaun Toub: Isn’t that funny? Everybody says that, as if we’ve known each other for years. It just happens. Lucky I guess.

IS: How did they make you look physically older to have you be appear in Mandy Patinkin’s age group ?

Shaun Toub: Some of it is makeup. Some of it is the losing a lot of weight to look older. Whenever you lose weight you just naturally look older.

IS: The role of Majid Javadi is supposed to be a long term role, right ?

Shaun Toub: Well, Homeland was supposed to continue with my character. Carrie goes to Turkey to keep an eye on me. Then there is a shift and it completely changes the storyline. The fans really liked Javadi so you never know. The writers are so good, they leave what they call Easter eggs here and there in case they need to visit them later. Javadi became an Easter egg. So we’ll see.

IS: In Homeland do you know what’s going to happen in subsequent episodes ? Or only per episode ?

Shaun Toub: Per episode. Because they’re writing and changing things as they go along. They have an outline of where they’re going to go. They do write the season ahead of time, but there are a lot of changes that take place. The lines change. This scenes change.

IS:  The scene in Homeland where you’re killing you ex-wife, is that the most violent scene you’ve been a part of ?

Shaun Toub:  Yes. And I was so against it. I tell you, I really had an issue with it. I just didn’t feel the character would risk so much to do such a thing. But that’s the beauty of Homeland. They knew what’s coming next. You see. They knew that this is going to be a payback for Saul. So the next episode after that one was where I realized why they wrote what they wrote. Before that, I was like, ‘Can’t I just shoot her with a gun?’

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn and Shaun Toub as Majid Javadi in Homeland (Season 3, Episode 6). - Photo: Kent Smith/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: homeland_306_1468.R
Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn and Shaun Toub as Majid Javadi in Homeland (Season 3, Episode 6). – Photo: Kent Smith/SHOWTIME

IS: What is the technology they use to make the blood aspect of the stabbing scene so realistic ?

Shaun Toub: She was wearing a prosthetic. It was pretty thick. It had hoses and squirts out blood, and somebody is sitting there with a pump.

THE ART OF ACTING

IS: As an actor describe how you can morph into multiple different personalities and be at your optimum level personifying each ?

Shaun Toub: As an actor I started later in this business. You bring your different life experiences into this. By my mid 20’s when I started, I had traveled so much and met so many different people. And I have a God given gift that when I see words on a page, if it speaks to me, it’s something I feel. If it is not something I feel I am not going to take the role. When I understand it and connect with it I immediately have a vision for the character.

“I have a God given gift that when I see words on a page, if it speaks to me, it’s something I feel. If it is not something I feel I am not going to take the rolE.”

IS: How has your acting changed since starting out in the late 80’s with hit shows like Columbo, Matlock and Hunter ?

Shaun Toub: I am more at peace with it. I want it to be real. When they look at me I want them to feel like they’re looking at the character and not me. The wonderful thing is I have been able to do some amazing characters. You know I did Papa Hemingway as an American poet. I’ve had the opportunity to do many different things. At the same time the problem with my career is that people are having a difficult time connecting the dots. The guy who did Bad Boys was the same guy who did Homeland or Ironman. They don’t realize that I am the same guy in Kite Runner and Crash.

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Shaun Toub as Evan Shipman on the set of 2016’s Papa Hemingway in Cuba (Image Credit Yari Film Group)

IS: But that speaks so much about your versatility.

Shaun Toub: It’s a good thing and a bad thing. But I am blessed. Because I have been able to have such iconic roles. And I don’t take it for granted.

IS: Which actor or actors most inspired you coming up?

Shaun Toub: There are so many. Hard to even pick a few. One that comes to mind is Sean Connery. I always loved James Bond. I actually got to be Sean Connery in a video game for From Russia With Love. Because apparently our features and dimensions are similar. One day, we were doing motion capture, where they put those dots on you and I was talking to the producer. I asked him why they chose me for the role. They got Sean Connery’s picture and they put it on my picture and said, “You guys have exactly the same features.”

IS: That’s a pretty cool. Where is Sean Connery these days ? Or Gene Hackman for that matter ?

Shaun Toub: They’re older. That’s the brutal thing about this business. Not everybody is like Betty White that can still work. You know you don’t get the roles. But look at (Robert) De Niro, he keeps working.

IS: Who do you choose between Pacino vs De Niro ?

Shaun Toub: You know, they are both are iconic actors. Look at the movies they’ve done. Godfather, Goodfellas, Raging Bull or Scarface. You can’t even pick one. You can’t even dare say who is better between the two.

IS What are the keys to memorizing lines ?

Shaun Toub: Practice. And your brain gets used to it. As you do it more and more often it becomes second nature. That’s another reason why I love being married. I get to practice with my wife. She reads all of my scripts first before I do.

IS: How often does one need to practice ?

Shaun Toub: It all depends on how the writing is. That’s the amazing thing. If the writing is good you pick it up quickly.

IS: In Homeland for example do you have to memorize the whole episode with your lines in advance or memorize it scene per scene ?

Shaun Toub: You have to be prepared ahead of time, because sometimes you work so late so you may not have time.

IS: And you have to know the lines of the other actors ?

Shaun Toub: You have to be listening to the other actor and what they say. Every actor is different. When I am talking to you right now we think about what we’re going to say next. There are pauses. So in acting it has to be the same way. It has to be real. You can’t just recite the line because you know it by heart. It can sound fake. An actor like Mandy (Patinkin), you never know how they will say their line. That’s a mistake a lot of actors make. The night before they study thinking of how it’s going to go. But you have to be totally flexible and listening to the other actor. You don’t know how they’re going to deliver their lines. Maybe they’re going to be sarcastic.

IS: I thought it’s defined in the script if the character speaks with sarcasm or melancholy, for example?

Shaun Toub:  Yes it is, but most directors want actors to bring characters to life. They want to see what the actor can add to the character.

IS: What is your ideal role or one that is out there that you want to play ?

Shaun Toub: There are so many. But remember the film The Saint with Val Kilmer ? He did many different characters. He is a spy and he becomes different characters. I find that fascinating and challenging. A James Bond villain sounds great to me too.

IS: Can you talk about the role of Conrad Bonaparte on NBC’s Grimm?

Shaun Toub: Conrad turned out to be a lot of fun. I didn’t expect it to. He became a favorite villain. It was an interesting character. You didn’t know what he was doing or where he was going with it. He was the puppet master. And he knew he had the power and how to manipulate people.

“Most directors want actors to bring characters to life. They want to see what the actor can add to the character.”

IS: How do you manage the schedule of filming with multiple projects at the same time?

Shaun Toub: That’s the funny thing about this biz. Either you have so much going on that you don’t know what to do with it or there is nothing.  But generally life is busy for everyone these days.

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Shaun Toub and Dev Patel in The Last Airbender (2010)

IS: What career advice would you give to your 25 year old self?

Shaun Toub: There are two answers to that. You either say, I wish I would just believe that everything is going to be alright or I wish I knew then what I know now where I could change some things and do things differently. Although I think in life, if you’re here today you’re one of the very blessed people to have survived. When people freak out on their birthdays it surprises me. Because I always tell them, be happy that you had another birthday because a lot of people didn’t make it. So I think in life you can’t look back and say I wish I could change one thing. Because when you change one thing you change so many other things and you don’t know how it would work out. There is a fantastic movie based on this subject. It’s with Michael Caine, called Mr. Destiny.

“I think in life, if you’re here today you’re one of the very blessed people to have survived.”

IS: What’s next for you ?

Shaun Toub: I have some projects in the pipeline. I will make an announcement soon.

IS: What do you do in your free time?

Shaun Toub: I love sports. I play beach volleyball on weekends. And I play indoor volleyball on Tuesdays. On Saturdays I bike before that. I go to the gym as as well. I ride my motorcycle from time to time.

CONCLUSION 

Shaun Toub has been called the ‘Godfather of Iranian American Actors’ for many reasons. He was the first to break the glass ceiling in the late 1980’s appearing on Hunter. Appearing in over 100 episodics and in over 30 films has given him a decorated filmography and a prolific list of television credits. He is the most recognized, established and versatile of Iranian American actors in Hollywood today. From Columbo to The Kite Runner he has displayed a wide range of characters from comedy to drama. He has been awarded a Noor Film Festival Award for his body of work and was part of the ensemble that won the SAG Award for Best Cast in 2006. Crash also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Toub has created indelible characters in the films he has played. His roles have not been limited to stereotypical Middle Eastern parts, either. In Papa Hemingway he played a wounded American poet. On NBC’s Grimm he played the villainous Conrad Bonaparte. It is not just versatility that Shaun Toub beings on screen. It is a sense of profound reality with the characters that he plays that he displays to the audience. In Crash one could feel the pain that his character Farhad is suffering the moment he thinks he shot the daughter of the locksmith. In The Kite Runner one could see the compassion and virtuousness of Rahim Khan as well as the authentic sounding Afghan dialect that he brought to life. In Iron Man the audience senses the natural chemistry that Yinsen shares with Tony Stark.

For Iranian American actors Shaun Toub is not only a trailblazer, but a thespian who sets the standards of excellence in acting. He is not just the Godfather, but a thriving Forefather of Iranian American actors in Hollywood.

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Follow Shaun Toub on Twitter @ShaunToub and on Instagram @ShaunToub

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Shaun Toub and the author of this article, Iman Sadri, at The Tavern in Brentwood, the site where this Q+A took place.

Iman Sadri blogs for Persian Media outlets and is the founder of Hollywood Smile TV. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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