Interview With Actor BEHZAD DABU | A Unique Perspective
The era of technology and social media brought us the possibility to have an open dialog with those whom we admire most. Now, we can follow our favorite people on Instagram, reply to them on Twitter and like them on Facebook. In that sense, we seem to be closer than ever to them being aware of what they do and say about a variety of subjects that touch us all. This kind of exposure has also affected the consciousness of those who want to use the global platform to promote their ideas on how to make our world a better place. American actor, producer, and activist Behzad Dabu is no exception. He is in love with his acting career, which is reflected in his constant expansion as a professional and a person. Behzad has a unique perspective on how acting can contribute to the general wellbeing and anything that has a positive intention is always a reason to celebrate.
- Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is Behzad Dabu?
I’m an actor, producer, and activist based out of both Los Angeles and Chicago. I grew up in Syracuse, NY but consider Chicago home. I love working on new projects, listening to music in the car and watching the NBA.
I strive to be a strong advocate for social justice and equality, particularly in regards to representation in the arts and media; and I’m a founding member of The Chicago Inclusion Project. You can find me reading alone at the beach or at the movies with friends.
- When and how did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
I always loved telling stories… every time I wanted to tell a story, I would get up an reenact it. I was always adding voices and sounds and impersonating everyone in the story. As I got older, I understood the power actors could have to create change.
I think the only way people will truly change is if they go through crap, but people don’t like going through crap. So what if an actor could go through the crap for you? I see acting as a true service profession…. and it’s fun.
- What inspired you to pursue your acting studies at Columbia College Chicago?
It is a school that focused on the hands-on and pragmatic approach to life as an artist, in an urban environment, with a faculty of working professionals in the most vibrant theatre-city in the country. It was a no-brainer.
- You have worked extensively on stage performing at some of the best theatres in the country. Theatre must be very special to you. Why? What do you feel when you are on stage? How is working in the TV/Film industry different than in theatre? What have you learned from both experiences?
Theatre – is sacred to me. I feel powerful on stage. In the theatre, the audience has a choice on what to look at, since there is no camera focusing on what we want them to see. Therefore, the story is told in the energy between the actors. It is a living and breathing thing with a communal element that includes a little bit of magic. We’re all breathing the same air.
- How do you think the entertainment industry can benefit our society?
The Greeks believed that the only way to achieve true change… real catharsis… that the only way to have a real, profound and deep impact on a life, is that you have to go through hell. They believed that you really have to live in the (sh*t) for a while, in order for true transformation to happen. But guess what? People don’t like going through (sh*t). We avoid it. So, what if an actor could do it for you? What if one could go to the theatre… or listen to the song… or read the novel… or watch the movie, where the artist can go through it for us, by proxy, so that we don’t have to. If so, we — the audience — can reap the benefit, learn the lesson, and have the change we desire, or the change we need without going through it ourselves. That is the value of the artist. It is a true service profession. It is easy to see how the doctor, the lawyer, the construction worker, the architect, the hedge fund manager and the teacher impact our lives and what role they play in society. We get to see it and experience it. It is tangible… but here is a question for you… what do all those people do after work? They read books! They listen to music! They go to movies! They go to plays! That is culture. Culture is quite literally, what we live for. The Arts. And Artists? We create that culture. We are the culture creators. We have the ability to shape the society. We have the responsibility to do it in a meaningful and inclusive way. I take that very seriously. What we do is highly valuable. It’s an important piece of work.
- You are a member of TimeLine Theatre Company. What is so inspiring about being part of this theatre company?
TimeLine has a mission to present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues, TimeLine seeks to continue the extraordinary legacy of Chicago not-for-profit theater companies that started small, dreamed big and matured into prominent institutions that enrich the cultural landscape of the city.
The heart of TimeLine is a group of extraordinary artists who work closely together to shape the artistic vision and choose historically inspired programming that will create a dialogue about the social and political issues facing society today.
- On TV, you shine as Simon Drake in the American drama series How To Get Away With Murder on ABC. How would you describe your character?
What I love about Simon is that he shows a perspective of the other students outside of the Keating 5, that was previously unseen the first two seasons. Simon is hyper-intelligent and passionate and obnoxious but has an inner vulnerable side.
- How has working with such a legendary actress as Viola Davis influenced you? What would you highlight from this experience?
It’s a dream, a true dream. She is a master class in acting every day. She is also a lesson in professionalism and grace and I feel lucky to have this experience to work with her. I treasure it.
- What about the rest of the cast of How To Get Away With Murder? What do you think this “special” group of law students represents in the show?
They are all so talented and kind. I am extremely lucky to be working with them. It isn’t always this good with the people you work with!
- You also star as Amir in The Chi, a new American drama series on Showtime created by Lena Waithe about life in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. How does it feel to be a part of a show that is about one of the cities you are living in?
Lena is an American Treasure. The show is so damn good, and to be working on a show in my home city that showcases the stories of the voiceless people in our city…. it’s something special.
- You are a founding member of The Chicago Inclusion Project. Please kindly expand on what exactly this organization stands for?
I am a founding member of the Chicago Inclusion Project, which was created to help level the playing field for women, people of color, LGBTQ communities and people with disabilities in the performing arts. We serve as a resource for theatre companies across the country who wish to diversify their audiences and the artists they work with in order to truly mirror the communities they are in.
- Where does your passion for activism come from? How do you take advantage of being a public person to uplift others?
If we aren’t actively helping to fix the corrupt and unfair systems in place, then we are a part of the problem. And with the little platform I have, I feel it is a responsibility to “send the elevator back down” and also to speak up when and where I can.
- You have previously mentioned that being an actor is about empathy. Does embodying different characters and learning about them help you to expand your sense of compassion? If so, how?
Yes, I think empathy makes good actors, or maybe actors are good empathizers…(haha), I am not really sure which way it is. But yeah, as an actor, we are constantly considering other perspectives and motivations and I think naturally it makes us empathetic to the struggles of others. I mean, we literally “have feelings” for a living.
- There is a belief that to succeed in theTV/Film industry you have to follow a particular stereotype. And yet, many actors and actresses are an example of success regardless of their gender, orientation, age, religion, and race. What’s the formula for living the life you aspire to and still embrace who you want to be?
To a certain extent, I think many of us are forced to play the stereotype until we get to a place where we have the ability to turn it down and be cast in non-stereotypical roles. I think for many, that starts with playing the offensive stereotype… (the terrorist) and then the less offensive stereotype (the cab driver with the thick accent) and then later, the non-specific sidekick… and then into the protagonist. I think a way to change this pattern is to have unique and diverse voices behind the table and behind the camera. That way it starts with what content we are producing, what stories we are writing, who is leading these projects and that all trickles down to the performances we see.
- What is your biggest desire in life at this moment?
I want my friends and family to be happy and healthy, and to earn the respect of my peers.
- Our motto is “ You can be, do and have anything you want,” words by Abraham Hicks. What is your take on such a statement?
I love it.