By Iman Sadri
August 14, 2020
Armin Amiri is a name that has etched itself in the annals of NYC Nightlife and is an actor to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Having garnered the respect and friendship of Mickey Rourke, who calls him, ‘a great actor and friend.’ Armin broke into Tinseltown fame with the art house film, Factory Girl. The ensemble film centered around Andy Warhol and co-starred Sienna Miller. Amiri starred in The Promise, co-starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac. Amiri shared the screen with Salma Hayek in Septembers of Shiraz, a film co-starring Adrien Brody, based on the book by Dalia Sofer. Armin also starred in the film Reservation Road, with Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix.
Amiri has not only forged a friendship with Mickey Rourke, but also played his physician, Dr. Moyaedizadeh in the acclaimed Darren Aronofsky film The Wrestler. Armin has also built a vast television filmography, having appeared in NCIS : New Orleans, Deep State, and Conviction to name a few. He is the producer of the film The Night starring Shahab Hosseini, which he also co-stars in. Amiri’s transition into Hollywood came after studying at several prominent acting studios in New York. As his acting career was just beginning to forge his reputation as a Manhattan impresario was also beginning to take shape.
In the early 2000’s Armin began to grow his reputation as a rising star in Manhattan’s elite nightlife scene as the door-guy at the ultra exclusive club Bungalow 8. He then created Socialista, which became another hotspot in Manhattan. Investors included Sting, Cipriani and Harvey Weinstein. He then moved to L.A. and partnered with Chloë Sevigny’s brother, Paul Sevigny to launch Smoke and Mirrors, which quickly became an exclusive hotspot on the Sunset Strip.
Amiri’s hard work and talent helped him secure an audition for Factory Girl, which launched his career. His exploits and experiences in Hollywood thus far have been legendary. We write about biopics, but a biopic should be made of Armin Amiri. He has taken classes with Nicole Kidman and Juliette Binoche. Sparred at a table read with Al Pacino. He has become a Steve Rubell of his generation. He has created original content, which he cites as his most current passion. And he is just warming up.
To get caught up with this prolific Persian, we met up for a social distancing interview with Armin Amiri recently in West Hollywood.
Iman Sadri : Thank You for meeting up with The Persian Observer. Please describe your early life and education.
Armin Amiri : The story was I was in Iran until I was 13 years old. My parents helped me to get out because I always had aspirations to live outside of Iran. I left in 1984. I was coming of age and wanted a life that I desired. What I desired was Michael Jackson since I was 10 years old. I saw America as a place which gives an entity the ability to grow to such a level. When my parents decided to move back to Iran after being in Turkey for a year and a half, they asked if I wanted to go back with them and I said ‘No.’ My Dad said he could pay smugglers to have me go to Austria. From there I would have to fend for myself. It was impossible for me to go back to Iran. I took that offer. A smuggler took me from Turkey to Bulgaria. I was then taken to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, where I spent two months waiting for another passport. Finally I was taken to Austria, where I was dropped off in front of a refugee camp. The smugglers told my Dad it was the pencion of Europe, and had dormitories. But it was a full on refugee camp. 19 different nations were represented there at the time. Eastern Europeans. Russians. Afghans. Pols. Hungarians. Gypsies. You name it.
Michael Jackson Story : 1985 – Vienna, Austria.
In the refugee camp I kept hearing a Hungarian family saying Michael Jackson was in town that night. I was 14 in Vienna, Austria. I had no money at the time. I was given a red card which allowed us to leave the refugee camp. I jumped from train to train to train. It took me four hours to get in front of the stadium where Michael was performing. I saw the gates close and one of them in front of me was not fully closed. Two security officers were speaking German to one another. I put my head down and went in. I ended up on the second row, next to a guy with his girlfriend on this shoulder. Michael comes down from an air balloon, jumps out. Spins, lights go off. He points at us. The girl passes out. They come and take her. I am just standing there. Michael starts singing Thriller and points at us. Now I am just standing (this close) to Michael. It was like the Willy Wonka golden ticket was given to me. That was just the sheer, ‘There is no way you can’t tell the kid he’s not going to meet Michael Jackson.’ result. I think that’s what’s forgotten in people’s lives. Knowing that’s it’s possible to dream.
Mickey (Rourke) was another example of that. The universe had always given me these learning lessons. But has also given me these gifts.
‘Artistry is to create a magic that heals people and allows people to experience something.’ – Armin Amiri
IS : Can you describe your transition to the U.S. after leaving Europe ?
Armin Amiri : I got to know Vienna at 14, 15. I was in nightclubs at 15. I didn’t finish high school. I fell in love at the age of 17. She was from Michigan. I arrived there and I hated everything about America. It was a slap in the face at that point. I was married for a couple years. I only lived in Michigan for three months. Some of my refugee buddies were in S.F. I then moved to San Francisco and I felt like I was re-living the Haight-Ashbury 1960’s scene. There was great music when I arrived in S.F. I partied my ass off. In the bits of all that my dream was shaping and forming. I didn’t want to come to L.A. because every single actor I liked came from New York. And I said I am going to New York.
IS : What were some of the influences for you to become an actor ?
Armin Amiri : Marlon Brando. That’s what Mickey had. It was that energy. Female and male energy. Their art was smooth. I got into Pacino. Then sidetracked by De Niro. I saw 9 1/2 Weeks in Turkey. I watched it at night over and over. In Vienna I saw Prayers Before Dying. And then I saw Angel Heart, with De Niro and Rourke. Mickey became the closest access I could have to connect with Brando. I wanted to learn what he learned. That was the Actor’s Studio. I still didn’t have a Green Card, though. I worked in the Actor’s Studio, in the kitchen and office. I got to sit down and observe people coming in and working. To pay rent I became a bartender. Then I was asked to do the door a new hotspot in the city. This place then becomes the next Studio 54 of its day, Bungalow 8.
We could only fit 112 people. I started meeting everybody. I was telling some of the most powerful people in the world, who could and couldn’t get in … while not having my own Green Card. The Trumps. Epsteins. Bill Clinton. I was constantly compared to Steve Rubell. I ran into a lot of dicks, though. Early on in my career I was turned into the dark side of Hollywood, having mental blocks towards opening my art. Then out of nowhere a beached blonde hair Mickey Rourke walks in. I say, ‘Please come on in.’ We became good friends. It was around the time of Sin City in 2004. When I met Mickey he gave me the license.
IS : How did the role of Factory Girl come about and notes about your character, Ondine?
Armin Amiri : The story is about Andy Warhol and the the people living with him. Ondine, was a gay guy in the 1960’s. A snake type personality, who was a heroin and speed addict. An agent says I have to meet the producer. The the director came to the club. Nine different people came eventually around and presented the gig.
‘You have to be careful who you surround yourself with. Your bravery will expose people’s insecurities.’
IS : What are some projects in the pipeline now ?
Armin Amiri : The whole journey has made me more creative than ever. I’ve been able to create this film company that we just got our first license to release in Iran. I also just produced Mickey’s new horror film. I get to do my own Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke. I got a TV series out there. I am doing a short film right now. It’s about immigration and the wall and the separation of families. I am playing a Mexican father. Our company is producing it. If you look at the bio of the film company, immigrants are always at the center. I have another film which is like Falling Down, you get to see the rabbit hole that he goes through. I’ve created a series. The company is coming out of the gate pretty strong. If they don’t let you play the characters, go create your own projects.
‘If they don’t let you play the characters, go create your own projects.’
I have a TV series in the pipeline about Persians and Vikings. I don’t create things to be a star in it. It’s about the story. I’ve never been attracted to the story so I could be the star in it.
IS : Can you describe your Actor’s School experiences ?
Armin Amiri : I became a student there and then I found out a woman named Susan Batson, was teaching there (who taught) Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Juliette Binoche. She taught a few classes there but also had her own (off-campus) program. I didn’t have a Green Card. I was accepted to go to Stella Adler’s (Academy). Instead of going to one school I found a bunch of great acting coaches. Old school. I was going after people who knew what the work was. Teachers of actors like Al Pacino and Mickey Rourke. I got a bunch of great information out of them. I developed my own instrument.
IS : How did your legendary NYC hotspot Socialista come about ?
Armin Amiri : At the time Bungalow 8 was getting hot. I was getting some great roles coming in. But I was working at the club until 4 or 5 in the morning. I was going on auditions, tired, half-assed. Factory Girl comes, I still work for a couple more months. Then out of nowhere I found this place that was offered to me. I had a vision of Cuba. I brought Sting and Trudy and couple of the big names. Harvey Weinstein at the time put some money behind the place. Other investors were Cipriani and Damon Dash. I designed a private club myself and they liked my taste. An Old Havana theme. It became the spot, Socialista.
Some highlights included Anna Wintour hosting three of her major events at Socialista because she couldn’t get enough of the place. It looked like a 1940’s golden-age of Bautista, Godfather II time in Cuba. I got couches from Ralph Lauren, complimentary. In the midst of all this, chaos happened. The bartender came down with Hepatitis A at Madonna’s party. A plane crashed in front of the building on the Hudson River. Cipriani, who was one of my managing partners got arrested for tax evasion and thrown out of the U.S. They came and shut our place down after being open for only two years. Then I came to L.A. with Paul Sevigny, who’s Chloë Sevigny’s brother. We opened a place in the back of the Standard which became really hip, called Smoke and Mirrors and I didn’t go back to New York and stayed here. I decided to leave New York behind and really focus on creating content. This is what I’ve done besides acting and other stuff. I also wrote a book.
IS : Can you discuss some of the other film projects and they came about ?
Armin Amiri : I was in Terry George’s film with Joaquin Phoenix called Reservation Road. We did this Armenian Genocide film, The Promise, where I played a Turkish commander. I work out of London a lot. Sometimes there’s some better stuff out there than the U.S. I worked with Mark Strong in Deep State. We had a great time there. I was in Septembers of Shiraz. If you’re going to play a different ethnicity, it’s going to come with responsibility.
IS : What’s the key to memorization ?
Armin Amiri : For me the key to memorization is to be able to understand emotionally where you’re coming from. When that clicks you don’t even have to remember the lines anymore, they come. If it’s just lines, it’s very hard and it comes out very mechanical. If it’s connected to something that excites you it comes through the system.
‘For me the key to memorization is to be able to understand emotionally where you’re coming from.’
IS : In a series where there are multiple episodes, how many scenes do they shoot in a day ? How much do you have to memorize ? Such as NCIS : New Orleans ?
Armin Amiri : NCIS : New Orleans. That was a lot of work for a guest star. And I worked every day. Long hours. Sometimes you go on a location and you’re there for five days. For The Promise my role wasn’t huge, but it was big enough that they kept me there for a month and a half. Even though all together I only worked eight days on that film.
IS : How did the casting of your role in The Wrestler come about ?
Armin Amiri : The film was originally cast for Nicholas Cage. Daren Aronofsky really wanted Mickey. But they couldn’t insure him. There was no bond. Mikey came on board after Cage (was replaced), and I was excited. We shot the film in New Jersey.
‘I decided to leave New York behind and really focus on creating content.’
IS : Aronofsky had written the part of an Iranian doctor ?
Armin Amiri : It was originally an Indian doctor. He said, ‘Give me an Iranian name that is long and hard to pronounce.’ My Mom’s last name is Moayedi. So I said how about Dr. Moayedizadeh. He said, ‘That’s brilliant.’ I chose the name and he loved it. The only thing Aronofsky told me as a director, and I find him as a brilliant director, is one thing. He walked into the trailer. He asked me if I wanted to recite the lines. He looked at me and said my sideburns were a little too long. And that I had to cut them. The makeup people came in and chopped them off. He has that kind of a vision. It wasn’t about what I was going to say or if I was ready for my scene.
I read for the role when Nick Cage was attached. And Mickey said that he would put in a good word with Darren. And when Mickey came back, Darren had created a wrestling ring in the basement of the studio. Mikey was spending 6-7 hours in a day there. Just being thrown left and right. I went there. He was wearing these leggings with gold stars on them. His hair was wild. He said, ‘Let’s do the scene.’ Mikey, God bless him, he has a very interesting sense of humor. I had a great conversation the night before from Javier Bardem, who is a dear friend. He says when you work with Mickey you have to hit him in his heart. If you go from the heart and he won’t mess with you. That really did help.
IS : Does a project like Factory Girl open the flood gates for casting ?
After Factory Girl I was cast in American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. This was my dream come true. You go from one role to then being in a film with Denzel and Crowe. Three days before I was cast as the Puerto Rican guy, John Ortiz ended up playing the role and they dropped me. They said the Latin community’s union is very strong and there is no way they’re not going to use a real Puerto Rican. But you have Gael Garcia Bernal playing an Iranian and it’s cool, (in Rosewater) but you can’t have the reverse.
Table Read with Al Pacino
I was sitting at the Hudson River feeling sorry for myself. I then get a call from a CAA agent saying that Al Pacino is doing a table read in L.A. It was called The Jewels. About a guy that does jewelry heists and they were looking for a Middle Eastern character who was from the Bronx and who was good at opening up safes. They sent me the script. I was working the night before and I couldn’t get a sub. I told Mickey. And he says for me to ‘smoke Pacino out.’ (laughing). I jump on a plane and come to LA. I get to CAA and I still had my American Gangster, handle-bar mustache. I was very nervous. I went to the bathroom nine times.
Bradley Cooper was there. With Jamie King. Along with people from Angels in America. Al wanted to hear the script. I was sitting at the far corner and he comes and sits right next to me. We started reading. It goes through Jamie, then Bradley. Then it comes to me. I couldn’t get the words out. So Al stayed with me. I go back and pick it back up. Al came back to me and said to his agent how I had to fly from New York. He said he wanted to thank me. He left a gorgeous message for his agent to call my agent, ‘saying the kid from New York is Ace.’ Al was gracious as an artist. Since then if nothing happens to my career ever, the fact that I sparred with Al Pacino, one on one on a table read, I take that to the grave with me.
IS : How did your role of Rashid on Reservation Road come about ?
Armin Amiri : I met with Terry George via casting, we hit it off. He also used me to audition all the actors. It was a really interesting experience to have Mira Sorvino come into the room and read with her. I locked lips with Natascha McElhone, which was her choice. I think I’ve had more opportunities than I’ve actually booked. Sometimes it’s timing. What I’ve noticed, what I recommend to any actor, it’s not about booking the job. Once you focus on that, it throws you off. It’s about showing up and doing the work. And release your work through that character. If you’re unable to do that you’re not going to get the job. You’re constantly playing for outside approval. That’s against what the art is.
‘It’s about showing up and doing the work. And release your work through that character.’
What I realized is that in the last 20 years what I got is a mastery of three different worlds. To tell a story through design. I became a space designer. Second to sit like the grandpa by the fireplace and tell you a story to lift your imagination. And third, through acting and creating content. What I am doing right now makes me happy. My goal is to empower others. I don’t look at myself as an actor, rather than a creator. I come from a design background, and acting and creating content.
‘In the last 20 years I got a mastery of three different worlds.’
IS : If you could play a biopic of any notable figure who would you play ?
Armin Amiri : I would tackle the role of Marcello Mastroianni.
IS : Any advice for the next generation of Iranian-American actors trying to break into the business ?
Armin Amiri : Young Iranian actors are coming up. They’re giving me great respect. They say you didn’t start with typical projects Iranians start with. That’s why I feel comfortable with my start in this career. Doing a film like Factory Girl. Coming in with major star power. Playing the role of Ondine. I liked the way they talked about my work in the film. I had a lot of time to prepare. To go to the MoMa. Watching footage. Losing weight. Doing all of the things that needed to be done.
IS : If you could write your own Wikipedia script when you’re 100 years old what other career milestones would you like to see on there ?
Armin Amiri : I’ve changed my way of thinking. Back in the day it was acting with Pacino or De Niro or Mickey was everything. Now I feel like I want to be part of a project where I could shine. I am working on different projects right now. They’re my own projects with great soul. I am interested in creating. We’re 99 % spirit and 1 % physical. People have infinite power with our spirit. We should never forget that.
Follow Armin Amiri on social media @IamArminAmiri
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver