By Iman Sadri
June 1, 2018
Anita Abdinezhad is only one year out of college and is already a bona fide actress with countless stage productions to her credit. She has starred in over a dozen Shakespeare and contemporary plays, often playing a lead or co-lead. She has created her own Youtube television series, has starred in commercials for popular brands, obtained a B.A from UC Irvine’s Theater Program, matriculated to Columbia’s M.F.A. program, which she will start in Fall 2018 and has already amassed a resume worthy of a seasoned actress. To get caught up with this future star, we sat down with Anita Abdinezhad in Irvine, California.
Iman Sadri : Please describe your early life, upbringing and education.
Anita Abdinezhad : I was born in Mashhad, Iran. My family and I emigrated to Irvine, California when I was 6 (just as I was about to go to first grade and begin my Persian education). As soon as I moved to the U.S., my world split in two: Iranian vs. American.
I could only speak (or try to speak) English at school, and Farsi was the dominant language spoken at home. I struggled with communication/languages and my cultural dichotomy for many years.
Acting classes became a refuge for me. I was given words to speak and prescribed a social situation that I could freely inhabit; unlike my own personal life. My time in college fused those two different worlds into one unit. I studied Public Health Sciences and Drama, with a Minor in Anthropology at UC Irvine.
IS : What inspired you to pursue acting as a career ?
Anita Abdinezhad : It was really my passion for it that drove me to take it seriously. Many label their passions in life as hobbies but, for me, it was an occupation. Something I quickly began to take seriously as a ‘job.’ What inspired me specifically? Movies that made me to want to be a better person. I wanted to have that same affect back onto others.
IS : Was there a specific Film, TV Show, Play, Actor, Musical, etc that was the catalyst for you to become an actress ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Million Dollar Baby, though a sad, sad, movie, has one of my favorite, cliche messages: Don’t. Give. Up. Also, this movie won everything.
IS : What talents did you see in yourself that made you realize that performing is the right platform for them ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Growing up, I was always an ‘open hearted’ person and sensitive. I would really get affected by being bullied and harshly critiqued, and I’d also get affected when I’d see the same happening to others. I never hid my feelings. And when I found acting as a platform to express them, the rest was history.
IS : Can you elaborate on your experiences at UCI, some of your academic/performance highlights and thoughts you would like to share ?
Anita Abdinezhad : It was extremely challenging being a science and art student.
I did well, but I never excelled- I don’t think. I always tried to get by and just finish an exam, or finish a production. I was mostly product-driven. It was hard to relish in the process. I know this about myself now, and am still working on it.
IS : Can you elaborate on the process of getting an agent and a manager ? And how you went about obtaining each ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Talent-link on Actors Access. I had a decent reel, took professional headshots, and kept reaching out.
IS : You have a fondness and great experience with Shakespeare. How did your role of Biondello and the Tailor in The Taming of the Shrew come about. Can you elaborate on your experience ?
Anita Abdinezhad : New Swan was one of my favorite theater experiences. Working on Biondello opened so much in my toolbox. I constantly played on stage and I felt like I always discovered something new on stage. Same goes with the Tailor.
IS : Can you elaborate on your role of Miranda in The Tempest at the New Shakespeare Festival ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Miranda is very close to home. In this show, I really used what I already had in my heart and brain and gut to speak her words. It felt like they came a lot through me, as Anita, and my connection to my own father and with my own curiosity of the unknown.
IS : Can you elaborate on your role and experiences in playing Olivia in 12th Night ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Olivia is a bundle of different women! She has such a diverse arc from feeling grief, to love, to hate, to love, to frustration, and back to love. I had so much fun not holding back and trying to stay 100% in each of her phases.
IS : How did your role on The Iliad come about ? Can you elaborate on your experience in this epic ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I love playing multiple roles in a show. The Iliad was so big with so little we had. Using bodies and staying minimal opens so many doors for exploration and discovery. This was a very collaborative piece. I hope to do another show similar to this experience. Then again, this was an unparalleled experience.
IS : What is your process to go about memorizing lines ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I have learned recently from my classes in Los Angeles that the method of memorizing isn’t as sustainable as absorbing the lines. Understanding why you are saying what you are saying. How it makes sense to say the next thing. It’s a bit more challenging as you have to look at scenes as a whole, rather than line by line… but I find that more helpful when it comes to being truthful on stage/screen.
IS : How was your experience working on a commercial for the Sheytoon App ? Can you share any insight with us on your experience ?
Anita Abdinezhad :That was my first experience playing a millennial Iranian-American person. I was basically playing myself. It was really fun to shoot it and turned out to be a hilarious commercial.
IS : Do have any favorite theatrical play character that you would like to perform in future productions and why ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I am really interested in playing gender-bent Shakespearean roles, like a female Hamlet or Princess Hal. I just love seeing women being faced under arduous challenges in which they have to overcome, and Will Shakespeare did that really well for the men characters. So why not see the women in this day and age kick ass, too?
IS : People such as yourself, Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo, and Sepideh Moafi, among others, are performing in plays/musicals, what are your thoughts on people of Iranian heritage entering Broadway ? What more can be done to draw more of the new and upcoming generation (such as yourself) of Persian Americans to get into musicals, plays, acting and performance ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I think it is about damn time. It is crucial for the Iranian-Americans who have made it big to advocate the arts more in Persian communities, to show our older generations the legitimacy and importance of theatre and performance.
IS : Since I write biopic ideas, if you could star in a biopic or stage production of a historical figure or notable living individual, who would you portray and why ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I dream of playing a historical Iranian woman. Like Farah Pahlavi.
IS : Can you elaborate on your Youtube series Poupak and the experience and process of filming it ? What would you like the audience to takeaway from this project ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Poupak was so fun to write, film, and act in. I had a great group of film friends that I trust, who helped me make it, and it really had no stressful moments. We filmed everything in one day, and it was very casual and fast because of the nature of the Mockumentary and a fast moving style of the episode. I would love to have anyone who watches this to get a fresh perspective on Iranians. We get stereotyped a lot for being flashy, materialistic, very nerdy and sometimes terrorizing. Poupak defies these stereotypes.
IS : Can you elaborate on your role of Two Gentleman of Verona and the experience ? How does this role compare to other Shakespeare roles ? Which Shakespeare role is your favorite that you have played and why ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I have really enjoyed every Shakespeare play I have been a part of. Two Gents was especially fun because I played a gender-bent role (Speed) and was able to play a ‘Tom-Boy’ character for the first time. It really expanded my comedic range.
IS : Congrats on getting into Columbia’s MFA program. What are some experiences you would like to gain from this experience? Being in New York ? etc.
Anita Abdinezhad : I hope to discover things about myself that I never would have expected to discover. I want to be a very versatile actor, so I want to be challenged in every which way. I also hope to get in REALLY good shape there. I’ve been told grad school for actors is especially rigorous in the fitness department! Which is exciting. Being in New York is going to be a degree of growth in it of itself. I love the city, and feel like I am going to grow as a human being there a lot too.
IS : If you could write your own screenplay, or play, like how Stallone wrote Rocky, what theme/topic would you want to have as a plot ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Ooh. Probably ‘not being afraid to express your truest self’. Or ‘seeking refuge and personal growth with education’.
IS : If you can have dinner with any actor/actress no longer alive who would you meet and why ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Elizabeth Taylor came first in my mind, so I’ll go with her.
IS : If you can co-star with any living actor / actress, who would you want to share a screen/stage with and why ?
Steve Carell and Meryl (of course).
Steve is my favorite comedic actor and Meryl is the dame of dames!
IS : What is your schedule like now ? What projects are your working on, planning to work on before heading to Columbia ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Currently I am working on writing Episode 2 for my webseries, Poupak. And creating video poetry in Iran. In July I will be starring in a short film where I play an underdog superhero. It’s a pretty exciting script, and a role I’ve never played before!
IS : Do you plan on doing any Off-Broadway or Broadway plays or musicals while at Columbia ?
Anita Abdinezhad : Yes. I will be in an Off-Broadway play my third year at Columbia. Then, hopefully, many more Off-Broadway and Broadway projects after that.
IS : Imagine you are 100 years old and reading your Wikipedia profile, what acting milestones / future projects would you like to have on there ?
Anita Abdinezhad : I want to have been in many feature films, big pictures, small comedies, and everything in between. I want to have acted in some TV shows. Been in a number of Broadway plays. And written and produced a lot of my own work.
I also want to be known for activism (i.e providing girls with Menstrual Hygiene Management, helping give access to education for children in 3rd world nations, and aiding with Amnesty’s refugee crisis).
Anita Abdinezhad is a rising star in the acting world. She has a prolific resume and is just warming up. Follow Anita on Instagram at @awni_ooni and Twitter at @AnitaAbdinezhad
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver