written by Azad Imanirad
"The son is the father" claimed the poet Wordsworth. Yes, my character, Abdul Basara, owns me. He is the dominating patriarch of my submissive acting world. He follows me everywhere I go and casts a large shadow over my head, constantly reminding me of the stereotype that drags me from airport to airport across oceans.
Acting's a tough gig for a Middle Eastern guy in North America.
Often times, the first gigs you're able to confidently land are titled: "Extras needed: Bearded Middle Eastern looking male wanted ASAP." When you're on set, you're enviously dreading the sight of your competitor, the Middle Eastern actor with a speaking role, who's usually violently shouting and threatening to kill people. 'You weren't good enough to do that', I would think to myself.
There was a point of time at the start of my acting career when I actually thought I could get away with never playing a terrorist. That trip ended when I accepted the role of Gavrilo Princip, the First World War assassin. Then I played a Syrian suicide bomber. Then I played Omar Khadr. I was a Moroccan extra at a bazaar, an Iraqi extra, an Iranian revolutionary guard extra, heck, I was getting paid just by standing there and looking like a bearded Middle Easterner. Before I knew it, I was finding my "niche", my step in the door, I was on my way to take what's mine! The angry Middle Eastern violent guy taking revenge on the infidels! No more an extra, now other actors in line could enviously dread the sight of their competitor and his speaking lines: ME.
Acting's a tough gig for a Middle Eastern guy in North America. Chances are you vomit out your characters after you're done with them. They reek... but not this one.
When I got an email about Just Cuddle, I was depressed.
I had just finished writing and showcasing a draft of a play I had written and performed about the life of Omar Khadr. My master's thesis was all about portraying terrorism on the stage. I had disappointed that ambitious young performer with big dreams by falling deep within the wells of stereotypes. I was taking the easy way out, who needs Hamlet when I can be Omar? I justified myself by writing about bad guys turned good, heroic assassins, and sentimental suicides. It takes a toll on you.
You shape your "real" self antithetical to them. You step as far away from them as possible whenever you get the chance to do so, only to realize they are all that you have. They take you in their arms and tell you that it's all going to be ok. That one day, you can also get to play a space engineer responsible fro saving planet Earth, or maybe, just maybe, one day you can play the role of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). But until that day comes, fight!
Just Cuddle intrigued me in a humorous way. The context of the show could not be further away from the political world of terrorism and its performative features. What the hell was an ex-terrorist doing on this show I thought to myself. And for that reason alone, I wanted the part immediately--he was peaceful, out of place, heck he was even sort of a geek the way I saw him.
The most important question he asks is: "Why do they always put lemon in iced tea?" I loved him because there was a purity in him that was real. He had detached himself from the ground and lived in his heart. He had healed himself to almost perfection. I realized this is why Winter needed this character. Here was her character who was selling her emotional, comforting touch for plastic bills in return. She had helped someone commit suicide. She needed to be cuddled on a spiritual level and here was Abdul, a healer of sorts. Suffice to say that through her friendship, Abdul also receives an emotional touch on a spiritual level he had been missing because of his own isolation and tragedy.
As I sit in front of my little desk in Iran, I look back at Just Cuddle as one of my most Canadian experiences. An open-minded, diverse cast and crew working together to send out a message of solidarity and understanding enmeshed in the series.
I worry about the future of both my countries--Canada and Iran. Foes that don't like one another, which is a reflection of my torn identity arising from the immigrant experience. Sometimes tears in relationships can start to heal with a simple hug.
So on this platform I declare to the international world of diplomacy a two-word manifesto of peace to save us from this chaos: Just Cuddle...wish it was that easy.
With the obnoxious thumps of trumpisms giving voice to the unfortunate politics of difference and hatred, show business should be booming for this Middle Eastern Bearded Male. I'm grateful for this experience because in Just Cuddle I was more than that.