By Iman Sadri
July 14, 2018
Rodd Farhadi is a name made for the bright lights of Broadway. He comes with a trifecta of talent. He is a singer, dancer and actor. Fresh out of UCLA, Rodd Farhadi is already a seasoned performer, has been a part of several big budget theatrical productions and has even performed at the Hollywood Bowl. He has a face and a talent made for show business. Only in his early 20’s, Farhadi is already leaving his mark in Tinseltown. We caught up with Rodd Farhadi recently in Los Angeles for a Q+A.
Iman Sadri : Can you describe your early life, upbringing and education ?
Rodd Farhadi : My story starts with my parents who migrated from Iran at different times. My Dad came in 1975, before the Iranian Revolution, and my Mom after, in 1980. They met while in college in Boston. I was born in Boston and spent most of my childhood with my Iranian-American family, especially my Grandma. I spoke only Farsi at first and didn’t learn English until preschool when I was 4. We then moved to North Carolina where my brother was born, but I pretty much grew up mostly in Silicon Valley, a small town called Los Gatos. Since second grade my Mom had been putting me in extra-curricular arts classes, whether it was an improv class, theatre class, painting, etc. From an early age, I was fascinated by the arts. In third grade I performed my first real show where I played a pirate, and then performed in every school musical until my senior year of high school. After high school, I went to UCLA and I received a B.A. in Theatre, graduating a year ago!
IS : What inspired you to pursue acting/singing/dancing/performing as a career ?
Rodd Farhadi : Well for me, it really felt like a seamless transition to go from making my childhood hobby as a kid into a career. My best friends from high school were all pursuing this as a career and I remember hoping that we would all do the same thing together. There has never been anything else in my life that I’ve given so much passion or dedication to, so for me I just always assumed it would end up being my career. My parents definitely had an opposite experience and it took them a while to jump on that boat though.
IS : Was there a specific Film, TV Show, Play, Actor, Musical, etc that was the catalyst for you to become an actor ?
Rodd Farhadi : I remember being in Kindergarten and seeing the 5th grade students put on a production of The Music Man. My parents and I didn’t even have seats and had to stand in the back of the theatre, but I didn’t mind. I remember being completely mesmerized. My mom swears that in the middle of the show I pointed at the boy playing the lead role, Harold Hill, and said “I want to do what he’s doing!”
IS : What talents did you see in yourself that made you realize that performing is the right platform for them ?
Rodd Farhadi : Ever since I can remember, I was always putting on shows with my cousins and friends. Whenever he had a mehmooni (Persian Party) and kids came over, we would put on some sort of show for our parents. Sometimes it was dancing, sometimes it was a puppet show, sometimes it was even an immersive haunted house experience (no joke).
IS : You are an actor, singer and dancer … it’s quite rare to be able to do all three. Which was your first love out of the three and why ? If they are equal please also elaborate on the inspiration and importance of each ?
Rodd Farhadi : Acting has always been my first love. I have consistently been fascinated by people and aim to understand why people do the things that they do. I remember even as a kid, people-watching was always one of my favorite things to do. I also just used to go around the house making strange character voices and pretending to be different people. I absolutely love dancing and repeatedly loved moving to music, but I never really trained in dance until my last year of high school. I did enjoy singing and sang in Choir from elementary school through high school, but it wasn’t until the last few years when I really fell in love with it. Musical theatre is a very interesting field because you have to be amazing at all three and be able to do them all at the same time. I never was that kid who only loved singing in a microphone, I loved the acting behind the song and going into character for a scene, then singing the song associated with it.
IS : Can you elaborate on your experiences at UCLA, some of your academic/performance highlights and thoughts you would like to share ?
Rodd Farhadi : College was a crazy exciting time. I remember being very discouraged my freshman year not feeling like my talents were being showcased, but I eventually realized I had so much more to learn and grow. Once I put my focus on growth rather than on just performance everything changed for me. Some definite highlights were playing George in Sunday in the Park with George, the lead Governor Arthur Phillip/John Wisehammer in our fall play Our Country’s Good, and playing Billy in Carrie: The Musical. Another amazing opportunity at UCLA was the opportunity to work with our professor Lainie Kazan, the mom from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, on a cabaret) celebrating 100 Years of Frank Sinatra. I had the chance to sing and dance to I’ve Got the World on a String in front of Frank Sinatra’s whole family whole family and with a twenty-seven piece orchestra. Afterwards we met the relatives who told us how much it meant to them that our generation was still singing his songs and carrying on his legacy.
IS : Can you elaborate on the process of getting an agent and a manager ? And how you went about obtaining each ?
Rodd Farhadi : It’s hard. Luckily, UCLA sets it up so students have showcase opportunities to gain representation coming out of school. My graduating Musical Theatre Class was really lucky that we took our showcase to New York City, in addition to performing in Los Angeles, so that professionals could see our work on both coasts. It’s all about finding someone who is as excited about you as you are about your own career. It’s hard to do and takes a lot of meetings and a lot of time to find the right people, but when you do it’s very exciting.
IS : How did your role of Aladdin come about ? Can you elaborate on your experience ?
Rodd Farhadi : This was the most random, yet serendipitous. I submitted on an actors audition website, and got a phone call at noon saying “My other guy dropped out. Do you want to play Aladdin today ? ” I went “Sure!”
IS : Can you elaborate on your role of Victor in Cabaret and the casting process involve with it ?
Rodd Farhadi : The casting process for this was very interesting. It involved a lot of dancing, and being a character while you danced. The creative team kept saying that they wanted us to show them the darkness of the Cabaret and make it less about the “dance moves.” As I mentioned, I’m an actor first, and can dance well, but I’m not a So You Think You Can Dance dancer, so I think I stood out for being able to create a character while doing the movement.
IS : How was your experience in Mamma Mia at the Hollywood Bowl. Can you elaborate about the casting process and any insight on your performance ?
Rodd Farhadi : This was my favorite performance I’ve ever done. Obviously the Hollywood Bowl is such an iconic venue and I’ve always been the biggest ABBA fan, so to get to do this show in front of 18,000 people was surreal to say the least. The casting process for this was crazy. I think there were 4 auditions and cuts before I found out I got the part. I was the youngest person in the cast and to get to play a speaking role with such a high caliber level of actors was so exciting.
IS : For a musical ensemble such as a Mamma Mia, how long is the choreography and casting process ?
Rodd Farhadi : That’s hard to say. Each show is different. After I was cast though, I learned the Hollywood Bowl shows have a crazy quick turnaround. We learned the entire show in 10 days.
IS : What is your process to go about memorizing lines ?
Rodd Farhadi : A teacher once told me that the best way to memorize something is to go backwards. I memorize the last line I say first and then go to the front. This also helps avoid line readings so that each time you say the line it’s fresh and you haven’t memorized a specific way to say each line.
IS : What is your process of preparing for dancing and singing, outside of rehearsal, to ensure unison and harmony with other performers in scenes with a large dancing group such as in Mamma Mia ?
Rodd Farhadi : Our stage manager films our dance sequences and we actors will record our harmony and singing parts on our phones. I’ll write down acting notes in my script. Usually when you have a three or four week rehearsal process, you can count on time to let everything sink in. However, like I said, the Hollywood Bowl shows have such a quick turnaround so it really comes down to practicing on your own and making sure you know your show backwards and forwards. Here’s a secret: During the shows, many of us had small pieces of paper in our pockets to remind us of what comes next.
IS : What were some of your favorite musicals growing up and musicals that are performed now ? Can you name a few musicals you would like to perform in the future and why ?
IS : Do have any favorite play or musical characters that you would like to perform in future productions and why ?
Rodd Farhadi : My favorite play is a play I actually got to do in high school, called Noises Off. It’s the funniest piece of writing I’ve ever seen, and if I could do any show for the rest of my life it would be that one. In the future, my dream is to originate a role. I want to create something that kids my age will want to get to play. However, I’d absolutely love to play Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, the Emcee in Cabaret, and Jamie in The Last Five Years.
IS : People such as yourself, (Tony Award nominee) Ramin Karimloo, and Sepideh Moafi, among others, are performing in 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 of Persian Americans to get into musicals, plays, acting and singing ?
Rodd Farhadi : If I’m being honest, I can’t think of one musical that is about people of Iranian heritage. There’s one role in the musical Oklahoma, Ali Hakim…the Persian Peddler. But that is all I can think of. There are musicals like The Band’s Visit which won the Tony Award for Best Musical this year, which follow a group of Israelis and Egyptians. Iranians have such stories to share but I think it’s up to us to write something about our heritage specifically. I also think our parents need to value the arts more than they do. Iranians love the arts, but the moment their children want to make a career out of it, they have a panic attack. My parents are so supportive now and what we’ve agreed on is that: “Every career is hard. You might as well try for one you love.”
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 ?
Rodd Farhadi : I would have said Freddie Mercury, except he’s getting a biopic as we speak. My greatest inspirations as a kid were Dick Van Dyke and Andrea Boccelli. I think a stage production of Dick Van Dyke’s life would be incredible, and you could make a phenomenal biopic about Andrea Boccelli and how inspiring his story is.
IS : Imagine you are 100 years old and reading your Wikipedia profile, what acting, music and dancing milestones, future projects would you like to have on there ?
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 ?
Rodd Farhadi : I would want to write a story about a first generation Iranian boy in his 20’s growing up in America. I know that sounds like a biopic of myself but I really do believe that first generation stories and immigrant stories are integral to what makes America, America.
“I think every performers’ dream is to be an EGOT winner. Obviously winning just one Emmy, Grammy, Oscar or Tony award is amazing, but why not dream big?”
IS : If you can have dinner with any actor, singer, dancer no longer alive who would you meet and why ?
Rodd Farhadi : Meryl Streep and Elvis Presley. Meryl because not only is she phenomenally talented, but you can tell she is the most empathetic human being and has such a wonderful heart. Elvis because I grew up listening to his music and I think he is the actual “coolest” person to ever walk this planet.
IS : If you can co-star with any living actor on stage in a musical or on screen, who would you want to share a screen/stage with and why ?
Rodd Farhadi : Meryl Streep. She is the greatest actor of all time. Or Shohreh Aghdashloo she’s the Persian version.
IS : What is your schedule like now ? What projects are your working on, planning to work on ?
Rodd Farhadi : I’ve been working on a lot of workshops of new material. At this point, I’m just trying to meet as many artists as I can to see what is next in store. Whether it be on stage, in a recording studio, or on a film set, I’m just trying to grow and share my talents with as many people as I can.
Rodd Farhadi is a rising star in the Iranian American community. He is already making his mark in Tinseltown, fresh out of UCLA‘sTheater Program. Big things are on the horizon for this Prolific Persian.
Follow Rodd Farhadi on social media @RoddFarhadi
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver