Interview with Faran Tahir on ‘Elysium’ and ‘Escape Plan’

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We have two big action-packed movies coming up with Elysium and Escape Plan. Elysium is being directed by Neill Blomkamp, who was originally suppose to direct Halo, but has done District 9 instead. Escape Plan stars both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as they try to escape a prison that can’t be escaped. We had the chance to talk to actor Faran Tahir on his roles in both movies.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): Let’s get the show on the road!

Faran Tahir: Let’s do it!

Nerd Reactor: All right, so apparently you have a lot of big movies coming out this year, so you’re probably pretty excited.

Faran Tahir: Knock on wood, yes. I’m hoping it’s gonna be a good year. From all the spots that we have gotten for the trailers and from talking to people, it seems that people are excited about it and that’s what you want to see – because you can do whatever you do, but eventually you’ve got to put it out there for people and I’m quite confident that these movies are going to do well.

Nerd Reactor: Oh yeah! So, for those that don’t know what I’m talking about – Elysium and Escape Plan. With Elysium, that’s being directed by Neill Blomkamp, and he directed the very awesome District 9. The other one is Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Faran Tahir: Two guys nobody’s ever heard of, right?

Nerd Reactor: Yeah! Who are those guys?! But let’s start with Elysium – that story and that director, just being in a movie of that caliber – what was it like working on that project?

Faran Tahir: I consider myself blessed. As you said, District 9 – I thought it was a great movie. Neill does an amazing job – I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, he is a very smart guy because what he does is he takes a hot button issue and then he just removes it slightly and puts it in this fictional zone, but doesn’t remove it so far that you lose connection with it. Then he makes it interesting to examine that particular issue. In District 9 it was all about race and all of that. In this one, it’s about the immigration issues, but with great action, great fun, great visuals and all of that. So, given that, I think it’s going to be an amazing movie. What I’ve seen of it, it looks superb as far as science fiction goes. So I’m really excited about this one.

Nerd Reactor: And you’ve got a pretty important role in the movie as President Patel?

Faran Tahir: Yeah, you know, it’s a good role and it fits well. I think it’s a good counterpart. I’ll give you a little bit of a story behind the movie. Elysium is a space station which is utopian – all good things happen there. All sicknesses are cured, the temperature never goes above 75, all of that good stuff. But all the grunt work for Elysium happens on Earth. Now people from Earth naturally want to get up to Elysium, and people in Elysium don’t want these people coming in. So that’s the basic set up.

The way it’s presented again is great because you get to see the argument on both sides. Whether you subscribe to one or the other is, you know, it’s the viewer’s choice. But it’s there, and it kind of creates the same parallels that you might have in a developing country vs. a developed country. Say for example, between the US and Mexico or whatever. A similar kind of dynamic. I play the newly elected president of Elysium who is more nuanced. He is a politician, so he wants to deal with this issue with some level of sensitivity and not corrode his base while doing it. His counterpart, his Secretary of Defense, played by Jodie Foster, has a whole other idea how to deal with this issue. So it does create this really interesting tension between the two.

And the great thing was that – people ask me, “Is he a good guy, or is he a bad guy?” I didn’t approach it that way because I think it’s more important for people to decide whether these guys are good or bad. The great thing about the movie is that most of the characters kind of operate in different shades of gray. With the exception of a couple characters, you know, no one is a complete saint and no one is a complete criminal either. It’s a smart script, and a smart movie that I’m just happy to be a part of.

Nerd Reactor: I can’t wait to check it out. Was your character ever on Earth, or were you strictly on a made-up set?

Faran Tahir: No, no. We’re the rich guys. We don’t want to come down to Earth! No, we were basically up in the Elysium world, the space station. Jodie Foster and my character were up there, dealing with all the decision-making that affects both Elysium and Earth.

Nerd Reactor: Fair enough. Sometimes you want to go to Cabo or party down there.

Faran Tahir: Sure, yeah! I guess in the sequel maybe I’ll do that.

Nerd Reactor: Let’s talk Escape Plan with Sylvester and Arnold. What’s the set up for the movie?

Faran Tahir: The way it’s set up, Sylvester Stallone’s character is someone who, as a profession, he is hired by prisons as a consultant, to find out if this particular prison is escapable. In this particular case, he is framed, and he is put in an escapable prison under the impression that he was going there to find out if he could escape from it, but they actually don’t want him to escape because it’s actually an impenetrable prison. So the premise of the story is that the three of us together to plan and try to escape from this prison. That’s how it’s set up, and we have Jim Caviezel as the evil warden. And he does an amazing job doing that. So it’s that setup, and it’s really a lot of fun to work with these two guys – icons basically. You get to see why they became what they became in the industry, because they know their stuff. They know how to work in action films, and no one does that better than them.

Nerd Reactor: For me, I don’t usually get to see Jim Caviezel as a bad guy, so it’ll be pretty interesting to see him in this, especially after watching Passion of the Christ or Person of Interest.

Faran Tahir: Exactly. And that’s what I like about him. I love it when you see actors show sides of themselves which you don’t expect. I think it’s great.

Nerd Reactor: Another good example would be you. In Iron Man you play this evil guy, but in Star Trek you played a pretty heroic captain.

Faran Tahir: Oh yeah, and I was just saying this earlier, that we need to be able to make sure that we keep bringing different sides to the audience. It becomes our responsibility as actors to make sure we’re not pigeonholed, that we keep showing diversity. “You know what? I did this with some level of success, but it’s not the only thing I can do. I have a wider palette that I can paint from.” I think it’s great when we’re given that opportunity to show different sides of ourselves. I am blessed that in the next four months I have these two movies coming out, but I also have two indies coming out, which are completely different than either one these more recent pieces. In one of them I’m playing the father of a child who dies in a mall explosion. It’s a whole level of depth, another set of realities that you’re dealing with. That one is called Torn, and then I have another indie coming out called Jinn which is a supernatural thriller. So I’m kind of blessed that I can do all of this and have it all come out in three, four or five months of each other. So we’ll see, we’ll see.

Nerd Reactor: Your resume is looking pretty great.

Faran Tahir: Oh, you know, knock on wood, I have no complaints.

Nerd Reactor: I don’t know for others of another ethnicity, if they would have as much of a problem getting roles as you, and how would you go about it? Do you have any tips?

Faran Tahir: The way I look at it is that I am going to go in and going to do the best that I can. There’s things I can’t change, that I don’t want to change. I can’t change the color of my skin, so there’s certain things which will always remain the same. So I’m not going to worry about it. I’m going to try and show something as unique as possible so that I can get hired. That’s not to say it always works. Sometimes it does, other times, another person might have a different silhouette in their head and some other guy gets it. That’s the struggle of all actors. I’m not going to make the color of my skin or my nationality or my ethnicity an agenda. By the same token I’m not going to make it into a crutch either. Or a handicap. Call me a fool but I go in and I leave all that behind. I go in and I try to serve the character the best that I can.

Nerd Reactor: That’s true!

Faran Tahir: Sometimes, you know, if the audience likes it, I would love nothing more. If the producers like it, that’s great. So I’ll just take it as it comes.

Nerd Reactor: No, that is true, especially seeing Iron Man, Star Trek or the upcoming movies. You’re not really showing off your ethnicity, you’re playing character who can be played by other ethnicity.

Faran Tahir: Exactly! That’s the spirit. That’s what the spirit of America is, right? That eventually we can let go of all that. I don’t have to play “Joe.” To me, the main thing is that I am a guy who happens to be – this guy could be Italian, this guy could be Hispanic, Irish, it doesn’t matter. As long as he is believable as the character. That’s all.

Nerd Reactor: It looks like you’ve done a lot of big science fiction movies. Is this a genre that you really enjoy or do you like to balance it out with other genres?

Faran Tahir: Well, like I said, I have four very different movies coming out, so I do like science fiction. I come from a theatre background and if you’ve worked on classics, if you’ve worked on Shakespeare and Greek tragedies and all that, the stakes are so high in theatre of that particular kind that science fiction also kind of gives you the same effect in a way because the stakes are so much higher. Civilizations are at stakes at times – I think you can bring that theatricality to the screen. I gravitate to science fiction as a person. But sometimes I think partly because of that, it’s become a good niche for me. But as I said, it becomes my responsibility to keep on showing different sides of myself. That’s why I said I was blessed that in the next four months or five, I have very different kinds of characters that people will get to see.

Nerd Reactor: I was wondering if you have any nerdy hobbies outside of acting?

Faran Tahir: Nerdy hobbies? Well, I’m a nerd runner. I run a lot. I’m a cyclist, so I’m a nerd about that. Beyond that, you know, I do like to read. A lot. So that’s pretty much it. I’m a food nerd. Love food. That’s my nerdiness.

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