By Iman Sadri
September 21, 2017
Alain Washnevsky is not your typical Persian actor. He speaks four languages, grew up in Europe, and sings opera. Washnevsky started out his professional career in real estate in Vienna, Austria where he was raised. In only a few years in Hollywood he has already co-starred with Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody in the film Septembers of Shiraz. He has starred opposite Kerry Washington in the ABC hit Scandal. He appeared in the award winning drama Homeland. He has been part of an Academy Award nominated short film. He starred with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Alain is also a voice actor and an award winning public speaker.
To get caught up with Alain Washnevsky and learn of his unique background and dynamic career we were fortuante to do a Q+A this month in Santa Monica, where Alain resides.
IS: Can you talk about your life in Europe ?
Alain Washnevsky: I was working in Vienna in the real estate industry. I left school when I was 14. You know we’re Iranian, our parents want us to become certain professions. But the bottom line is you want to be happy. I quit school and started working. I hit it hard. From 14-18 I worked door at a nightclub and DJ’d.
I moved back home at 18 and started working at a real estate agency. I became a partner at the real estate company. I was there for 13 years. We did well. I had the thing that people call success. The car and the apartment. The girl. And all that stuff. But I was miserable for a long time. But I didn’t know it then.
IS: Can you elaborate on your name ? Its origin.
Alain Washnevsky: Washnevsky is Russian. My Maternal Grandfather was Russian. My Mom’s Dad moved from Russia to Iran. I have my Mom’s last name. Both my Mom and Dad were born in Iran. Alain is also in my passport. When we left Iran I was supposed to grow up in France. But my Persian name is Ali. My friends and family call me Ali.
IS: When someone asks you where you’re from what do you reply with ?
Alain Washnevsky: I heard once home is where you feel home. And I feel at home here. Therefore I’m from here. That’s what I say when I’m asked.
A EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE OF L.A.
IS: How is your view of Los Angeles different now after living here ?
Alain Washnevsky: You know when they say here is all about relationships, well this town really is all about relationships. It’s where I’ve found spirituality. I did not think I would come to Los Angeles and find spirituality and deeper relationships and something higher to believe in. I’ve been lucky. I have the most amazing friends. I do believe that life is like a mirror, if you smile at it, it will smile back. People come to this town with all these desires, these dreams and these wants. A lot of people come here because they want something. Make me a star, give me success. But successful people smell neediness from a long distance away. I want to be an artist because I truly believe that I have something unique I can give, to contribute, to make a difference.
IS: What prompted you to get into acting ?
Alain Washnevsky: Today I maybe clear of what it is. If you would have asked me six years ago you would have gotten a different response. Today I would say, God, Destiny. Purpose. Legacy. Six years ago when I made that decision, and told myself, I would come here and in two years I would become a Hollywood star. I wanted change. There is this image I had when I was a child, I saw myself, in Hollywood, on the red carpet. I became a finalist at the World Championship of Public Speaking competition for ToastMasters. I remember when I was younger people would tell me that I should get into acting, that I am funny. Or that I should be in radio because of my voice. I remember people telling me these things but I wasn’t able to receive it. I was 33, I was pretty depressed. Wondering what I was going to do. I was walking in the rain in Vienna. I saw a sign at the door that said, Acting School. I went in and got the paperwork. I went home and Googled L.A. Acting School. Six weeks later I came and stayed with my Aunt. I went and saw some schools, found one that I liked which was close by. I went back to Vienna. And shortly thereafter I was in L.A.
I can’t give you a ‘I always knew I wanted to go into acting’ story. I asked one of the instructors, ‘Do you think that at 33 I am too old to get into acting?’ The instructor said that as an actor what is your job ? To talk about life. Well you have 33 years. You can talk about that. It was an important shift in my mindset.
IS: What was your first acting role ?
Alain Washnevsky: Student movies. Self-submit. Actors Access. I have a few friends who moved here and started the process. But then moved back to Europe or Asia. It’s tough. I was lucky. I started doing shorts. It worked. I did a lot of non-paid projects. In the first few years I would drive two hours to do a non-paid student project. I did some voice-overs. I then got my agent.
IS: How did the transition process come about from going from non-paid roles to getting an agent?
Alain Washnevsky: It came easy. I picked three names. I sent them to (my agent) Marlene Hartje. I just sent pictures, no reels. She said, ‘I see something in you.’ She is wonderful. After awhile I got a manager. I’ve had a new manager now for about a year. Eric Kind. He is a dear friend of mine. Great guy. Super knowledgeable. My relationship with my manager and agent is great. I know I can call one of them 7 am on a Sunday and someone will answer.
IS:. What’s your schedule like during the day ?
Alain Washnevsky : I audition, I am in post-production on my newest film, a short called Submit. I sing, do voice training, work out, write, create, cook. I love to cook ! I go for walks, I live, I love life ! Getting to spend time with amazing friends … I’m in a relationship with (someone) a woman who I love and feel very blessed to be with. Someone who is willing to put up with me and my sometimes unpredictable life as an artist. I’m very lucky.
IS: Can you elaborate on the Oscar nominated film Day One ?
Alain Washnevsky: About four years ago I did an AFI short directed by Henry Hughes (Hank). Great guy and super talented. We’re still friends today. Navid Negahban was in it. We started getting nominations. We then got an Oscar nomination. Watching myself on screen during the Oscars when they played a clip of the film, that’s one of those times that you start realizing all this is worth it.
SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ
IS: How did your role in Septembers of Shiraz come about ?
Alain Washnevsky: A friend of mine called me. She was an intern for one of the production companies of that movie. She said that they’re doing a Persian movie, and they needed someone to help with the accent of Adrien Brody. They asked if I would do it, and if I was free the following day. I had just literally gotten my agent. I had been here less than two years. I went to Barnes & Nobles and got the book, September of Shiraz. I then started memorizing all these videos that people did with Persian accents, wrote together three pages. The next morning I showed up. They told me that the director wanted to record my voice with some pages on a script to then see if Adrien liked it. I recorded it and sent it to them. They got back to me saying Adrien liked it. They then asked me if I could record all of his lines for the film.
I started doing that and they said that they have more male roles, if I could record them as well. I said sure. The process of reading and recording was a month or two. Probably besides the writer and the director, no one knew the script as good as I did. At some point I said that I am an actor as well. I literally bought my own ticket. I was willing to get my own hotel as well. A week later I showed up in Bulgaria. There was a building for the actors, they said that there was a room and that I didn’t need to get my own hotel.
The first day I was there, the director was there, with the producer. And they said that they could put me in. I was there literally three hours and then I was on camera. Next to Adrien. They said they liked what I did and asked if I could stay the whole time. The director said that there could be three or four other characters, that would show up. I told them to simplify all these three characters and give him a name. They did. They called the character Behrouz Ghodsi. We shot a few scenes. Some of it got cut out. I spent time with great guys. Anthony Azizi who I later shot in Homeland. And Armin Amiri. I was there for ten weeks. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Having the sense of being of service.
IS: With Argo and Septembers of Shiraz, is it now prime for more Iranian themed stories ?
Alain Washnevsky: I think there is a movement. It’s a process. I think there are many stories waiting to be told. The more women write, the more you will have women as leading figures, strong female characters. The more Iranians write there will be more stories. Talking about their experience and their upbringing. The industry is changing. There are more opportunities. There is more competition. But making a movie today is more possible than years ago. There are more independent filmmakers doing stuff. It opens up more opportunities for these types of stories.
IS: How did your role on Scandal come about ?
Alain Washnevsky: Going back as an actor trying to get my first TV credit, I auditioned for stuff and didn’t get them. They called me in for a scene, which was supposed to be a one liner. It was a really cool casting director. I was just being silly that day. Just having fun. They called me saying they wanted me for something else, and then they cast me and said they will offer me the part of the minister.
IS: Where was that filmed ? Does your agent or manager help get the role ?
Alain Washnevsky: It was filmed right here off of Sunset. We shot for four days. Everyone was really nice. I connected pretty well with everyone, especially with Tony Goldwyn. It was a positive experience. My manager helped with the role. You can’t get these roles without representation.
IS: Is it possible to reach out directly to producers who are on social media ?
Alain Washnevsky: It’s a channel. But you just have to keep in mind that many, many others may also be reaching out. If you have something and it’s great, then of course. You have to keep the opportunity for the first contact for something that’s really worth it. And then when you want to do it, you need a good hook. The thing about this industry it’s always looking for new stories, new faces, and new talent. The demand is there. It’s a lot like relationships. Successful people smell neediness. What do you have to offer ?
DREAM ACTING ROLES
IS: If you could play someone in a biopic who would you play ?
Alain Washnevsky: I have three dream parts. One is a James Bond villain. The other role is I would love to play a flamboyant homosexual. Like in The Birdcage. I like to sing. I am a baritone. I love opera and Classical Music. I would like to play an opera singer and sing opera in a film.
IS: Can you talk about your voice acting ?
Alain Washnevsky: I think my Voice is a gift. I have been utilizing it more and more. Reading audible books and doing voice overs. And as I said before..I love to sing. Trying to put together a little set. Classical music, classical Broadway pieces.. and hopefully someday be able to perform that.
IS: How did you role of Amir Bastami on Homeland come about ?
Alain Washnevsky: I sent in a tape. I did it in Farsi first. A week later they asked if I could redo it in English. They called and said they needed me in New York. I was in the middle of filming Submit. They got me a business class ticket and a hotel. I got to work again with Anthony Azizi, and he introduced me to Shaun Toub.
IS: Were you familiar with Homeland prior to appearing in it ?
Alain Washnevsky: Someone told me about a Persian guy named Navid Negahban that was on that show. It was during Season 2. I watched it and loved that show. I remember thinking if I would ever get to meet Navid in person. A year later we worked together on Day One. That was a great experience. He is a great guy. We are still in contact. I even sent him a first draft of my movie Submit to get some feedback. We recently talked and I congratulated him for his awesome part as the Sultan on the new Disney Aladdin live action remake.
IS: What are some career milestones left for you to achieve ?
Alain Washnevsky: The most important thing for me is to have a family and hopefully children some day. I believe part of our responsibility is to give back and make sure our race continues. Acting wise it would be to book a series regular. I’d like to direct something I wrote. And as I said before to get to play some of my “dream characters.”
FINDING YOUR V-SPOT
IS: Can you elaborate on your Finding Your V-Spot speaking series.
Alain Washnevsky: That’s one of my brands. It’s a whole training that I am developing for self-discovery. I coach people. I help them develop their voice. The V stands for voice. It will stand for Voice, Value and Vision. I am also part of a company called The Captivating Company. We teach communication skills. For adults but also for a younger audience. We have been teaching this program at high schools and have seen miracles happening. Life changing stuff. We teach kids that they have a voice.We also help them to understand that their voice needs to be heard. That they need to speak up. A lot of problems in this world come from the inability to communicate. I always say stop hearing and start listening. Stop looking and start seeing. Stop attending, be present. That’s where I find a lot of fulfillment. When I actually see the difference. For me, as much as I get fulfillment from acting and from the stories, I really want to help people. By telling meaningful stories. It’s one of the things I want people to get from my work, to heal by watching me and relating to that. At the same time acting gives you range. It’s easier to be heard and seen and then it’s a good opportunity to share a message. You want to help young people and teenagers. That’s something I am very passionate about. My program is called : Finding Your V-Spot. I have some clients who I am training with their vocal and speaking abilities.
“I always say stop hearing and start listening. Stop looking and start seeing. Stop attending, be present.”
IS: Can you drop some more V-Spot Knowledge.
Alain Washnevsky: I truly believe our biggest gift is to share our gifts. I know I do my best, and I enjoy doing what I always wanted to do. And I just let go of the results. No matter if my art is going to put a smile on your face, or if it’s going to change a whole generation’s perspective. I have to just do my best, be prepared every second, be genuine, generous, honest, loving and kind. The rest is not up to me. I try to live my life that way.
IS: Is everyone coachable with these messages ?
Alain Washnevsky: Some people don’t want to share. It’s a fear. Holding onto things come with fear. Not having enough. Not being taken care of. There is a German saying, Joy multiples when you share it. The maximum of what you give is just a minimum of what you will receive.
“Joy multiples when you share it. The maximum of what you give is just a minimum of what you will receive.”
IS: What are your thoughts on visualization and the Law of Attraction pertaining your teachings ?
Alain Washnevsky : Energy follows attention. They say, Out of sight, out of mind. I say the reverse of that, In your mind, in your sight. Whatever you start imaging you will create your physical reality. Every thought leaves a form on some level. You have to be careful what you think. Every image that you see goes to the deepest level of our subconscious.
IS: Do actors visualize as if already they’ve already achieved certain roles prior to auditioning for them?
Alain Washnevsky: I don’t consciously. But it happens all the time. And I call them downloads. For example, I remember the week I had submitted my first tape for Homeland. I sent it the tape on a Friday night. On Saturday I remember going through a book and landing on a chapter than was called Farewell, Homeland. I remember thinking it’s a sign. They have a gravitational pull. For example, I see myself on stage singing. I just have that image. It’s not about me not being humble, I just have this image and it keeps popping up. Opportunities in life come but they don’t wait. Like the Persian proverb about the camel on the porch. When you’re not ready for an opportunity you’re not even able to recognize it. Your job is to be ready when the opportunity comes. It’s the same for parts in movies. My job is to make sure that I am ready when it comes into my life. We attract what we’re ready for. Keep working. Keep doing what you love. Keep doing your best. So when it comes, it matches. It’s about relationships. How you relate to other people. How you relate to the horizontal world. People keep asking why things happen to them. It’s not that it happens to them. Things happen. It’s how you receive it.
“Opportunities in life come but they don’t wait.”
IS: That’s great stuff, people need to hear more of this wisdom.
Alain Washnevsky: My talents, they don’t belong to me. These are gifts that I am blessed with. Same is with you and anyone else on this planet. Our talents don’t just belong to us. They belong to the world. I believe we have a responsibility to share. It’s not only about self-fulfillment. You got to get that stuff out there.
“The biggest gift we have is to share our gifts.”
Success is a like a tree. Let’s take an orange tree, for example. With the Western perception of success. It’s the car, the apartment, the girl. That is the orange. The juicy fruit end result. To get to that result you need a healthy tree. The tree of life. In order to make the tree grow, you need to grow roots. You have to be in flow with life.
Alain Washnevsky is a dynamic and refreshing talent in Hollywood. He is a Persian-Viennese actor, singer, voice-over artist, and motivational speaker who is fluent in four languages. Born in Tehran he is now making his mark in Tinseltown. He has appeared in an Academy Award nominated short film, shared the screen opposite Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody, played a minister appearing with Kerry Washington in the drama series of the decade, worked with other notable Iranian actors in Homeland, and has created his own motivational speaking and voice coaching series.
Follow Alain Washnevsky on Instagram @AlainSky and on Twitter @AlainWashnevsky
Iman Sadri is the Founder of @ThePersianObserver and @HollywoodSmileTV