Actor Faran Tahir on "Iron Man" and "Star Trek"

Who is Faran Tahir? Well, he's probably best known as the actor who plays the terrorist, Raza, the man who kidnapped and tortured Tony Stark in this summer's box office smash "Iron Man." But soon audiences will see Tahir in a new and heroic light as Captain Robau in next summers highly awaited "Star Trek" from director J.J. Abrams.

Often cast as the villain and no stranger to the world of J.J. Abrams, Tahir has appeared in several television shows including Abrams' own "Alias" and "Lost." He also matched wits with Jack Bauer on Day 4 of the popular Fox program, "24".

But before battling Tony Stark on the silver screen, Tahir had already compiled an impressive resume of film work including his big screen debut in the 1994 live action film, "The Jungle Book," and last year's "Charlie Wilson's War," acting along side Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts.

CBR News spoke with Tahir about the making of "Iron Man," his knowledge of the Marvel Universe and what Trekkies can expect from next summer's relaunch of the Star Trek film franchise.

CBR: To start with, were you aware of the "Iron Man" character from the comics before you got the part?

Faran Tahir: Well, I knew the comic books because I grew up reading them. So, I knew who Iron Man was and how he fits into the Marvel Universe. I've always had this infinity for Iron Man because he was one of those superheroes who didn't become a hero because of some freak accident. He was a guy who built himself into a hero. And that, as a kid, gave me hope that you could do something and become something more than you are.

So I knew that, but as far as my character is concerned, I knew the context of "Iron Man." So it was easier for me to translate that into this newer version, updating the whole story to current events. It was easy to make that transition. It didn't seem too out of place and because I had that historical context, it kind of fit together.

So you were a comic book fan growing up?

I was. I had a lot of comics when I was growing up. And then as I got older, as sometimes happens, I stopped reading them for whatever reason. I got some distance from them but then my son, who is nine, got into them when he was younger. So that kind of brought it all back to me. As he got more into them he would ask, "Who's this character? What's his power?" And I was glad that I could answer him.

One thing that my son and I used to do when he was younger, was that he liked to dress up in superhero or supervillain costumes. The rule was that you couldn't buy anything for it, you had to find the stuff at home. So we would raid everybody's closets and go through the garage to find stuff. Then he would go to his pre-school and slowly it became such an event that teachers and kids alike would be waiting to see what he would be dressed up as. So comic books and superheroes became a pretty regular affair in our house.

What was your reaction to the "Iron Man" script when you first read it?

When I first read it, I really enjoyed it. I thought that it was done in a very smart way. It had something for everybody in it. I also liked the fact that it was dealing with current realities and yet transcending all of that. Especially with my character, it's so easy to pigeonhole him because of what he represents. That it says, "Here's a terrorist", and so on. But the writers did a very smart thing and didn't really take the obvious route. These are guy's who are in the mist of all of this [terrorism], but they have a different ideology. And it wasn't about some fanatic religious goal or something. These are people who are actually true to the original idea of people just trying to grab as much power as they can.

So I really enjoyed it. They gave us enough freedom to make it original. There were little things that we ended up adding, like I speak foreign languages in it. I tried not to speak just one, so it didn't seem like this was a regional warlord. Even while I was barking out orders, I would pick different languages. I used Arabic, Farsi, Hungarian and even Russian. I used anything that I could find just so it wouldn't have that context. So, people who want to look for that in it will find it and for the people that don't want to look for it, it still works.

What was it like working with director Jon Favreau, an actor-turned-director? What was that like being directed by him and do you feel that he had a clear vision of what he was going for?

You know, I think that you touched on it. The fact that Jon has worked in front of the camera and behind, gives him this really unique advantage because he knows what his vision is. But sometimes when you have a vision you also need to have the facility to articulate it to different people working on the film in different ways. You don't want to articulate the same vision to the cinematographer in the way that you would articulate it to the actor. We have different hooks into the way that we're going to get there. Because of the unique positioning in his career, he could switch it and talk to us rather then giving us an oral dictation on the character. He would throw out a few choice words. He knew that you could then take that word and make it into something that you could work with. So it becomes a very organic way of working.

What I liked about him was that all though he had a vision, he was not going to get there by driving it hard. When we were doing the screen test, I think he had me do the same scene ten or eleven different ways. He would look at the screen and come back and say, "Okay Faran, now try this. The guy has a headache. Now try, he just got in a fight with his wife." When I look back at it the thing that I really think is amazing is that what he was trying to see was if I was going to get stuck playing it just one way. Or could I keep it fluid and keep it immediate. Could I change if I needed to and have more of an improvisational dance rather than a waltz. So it was great working with him. He's a really focused and bright man.

You shared a bulk of your scenes with Robert Downey, Jr. What is he like to work with?

You know, the great thing about Robert is he's such a humble, nice guy off screen. I'll give you an example. When I was doing the screen test that I was telling you about, Robert and I were doing it together. I had never met him before. We were introduced and started to look at the script together. We read through the scene a couple of times and then he looked at me and said, "You know what man, if you need to throw me around, slap me around, whatever you need to do let's just do it and have fun with it."

When someone gives you that license at the get-go, it just takes a lot of weight off your shoulders. I mean here's a guy who just wants to have fun. That was the greatest thing about him. He's so focused and quick on his feet that you really have to play with him. You can't come in with a preconceived idea of how you are going to do the scene because he might change it on you.

Again, I go back to that analogy of dancing. It is an improvisational dance. He'll change styles in mid-sentence and either your willing to go there or your toast. Having that type of quality, being such a nice, humble guy, who was open and generous off screen and on, you can't ask for anything more then that really.

While you were shooting, were you aware of Samual L. Jackson's cameo as Nick Fury, the tie-in with this month's "The Incredible Hulk" film, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avenger references in "Iron Man?"

You know, there was talk. I knew that it was going to happen. I knew that if they're talking about making "Iron Man" and then they're going to follow it up with "The Incredible Hulk," and that Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. has to be brought in at some point. So there was talk about it. At the time we were shooting it wasn't certain if Sam Jackson would be available in time. But they really wanted him to do it. There were just issues that they needed to iron out. But they always had the idea to throw that in there and see what would happen. A little hidden gem for whoever would pick-up on that.

Was the Nick Fury scene in the original shooting script or was that added in later?

That was added as we went along. They hadn't really, in the original script, named that it was going to be Nick Fury because they wanted to keep it open and not have it leaked out either. But as we went along it became pretty apparent that, that was going to happen.

There were a few references in "Iron Man" to one of the villains from the comics, the Mandarin. Can you tell us anything about that?

Again, people who know the story from the comics notice the hidden clues in the film. If you remember, one of my speeches is about Genghis Khan. So the people that know the story line know that the Mandarin is a descendent of Genghis Kahn. So there is that whole idea. Now through my [character's] obsession with Genghis Kahn, you can read in to it, but I think we wanted to leave it open. Because I think that there is a conduit to the Mandarin through the Ten Rings, [the terrorist group Raza leads of in the film]. Now, I don't know if in the coming movies, if my character becomes The Mandarin or if he is the conduit or right hand-man to him, but we wanted to leave that open.

But again, you can't have an Iron Man movie without The Mandarin references. That's why the terrorist group is called the Ten Rings [in the comics, The Mandarin wore a magic ring on each finger] and my character had an obsession with a gold ring with a red jewel that I wore on my finger. That's why I was twisting it and twirling it in the scene where I'm watching Tony Stark. So there is that linkage there and it is for the fans of the comic book.

It is not clear at the end of the film if your character survived or not. Has there been any talk about you returning for the announced sequel?

There hasn't been any concrete talk, yet. I think what they are trying to do is figure out what is the smartest way to go. My guess is that at some point The Mandarin needs to be brought to the forefront. What route they end up taking, we don't know yet. Those conversations are actually on going as we speak. Again, as we left my character, you can make the argument that he is dead. But if you also look at the parallels of what happens to my character and the way you see me in the last image, it is the same thing that happens to Tony Stark. Jeff Bridges character stuns him, his ear bleeds and then he's okay. So it's good to leave certain things hanging.

I think that as we go on in the next few months, as they get closer to figuring out what route they are going to take, we will know a little bit more about it. I was made aware that if this movie does well that there would be sequels, so that conversation started even before we were shooting. So there is a chance but not having the knowledge I can't confirm witch route it's going to go yet. It's only a month out and so much was hinging on this film doing well and of course it has. I think that we will know more soon and once we start shooting the second one we will know how the third one, if there is a third, will go.

Talk about your role in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek." What can you tell us about your character, Federation Captain Robau?

Well, you know we are trying to keep it hush-hush, of course. But what I can tell you is that Captain Robau is the captain of a Federation ship -- a ship that really hasn't been seen before in the "Star Trek" storyline. So it's something that people haven't seen yet. My character is kind of a heroic character, which I thought was a great change of gears for me, doing "Iron Man" and then somebody a little different like a good guy.

How well has Abrams done re-imagining this legendary franchise?

I think J. J., again like Jon, understands the genre well. He also understands the fact that there are die-hard Trekkies out there that want things done right. He respects that and yet he also wants to challenge it. So certain things will be conformed and other things will be challenged. I also think that he understands that there is a whole generation out there that has not grown up with "Star Trek." All the shows are done and there hasn't been a movie in a while, so there is a nice gap in between. I think he also wants to cater to that group so they can be introduced to this on they're own ground. So it's not like something their father, uncle or older brother told them about but it's something that they really discover on their own and get to own it themselves. He's created a very nice balance and the feel to the movie is something that I feel he has really gotten right.

Do you think that the hardcore "Star Trek" fans will be happy with the film?

I do. I think because it keeps the spirit of "Star Trek" alive and yet has something new to offer. You know, you piece information together to give characters history or future in this case. [Abrams] has straddled both of those things, the conformations and the challenges at the same time and I think he's done a very smart job.

You've worked with the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, in the past on "Alias." What was their script like?

They really are great writers. They really understand how to pull you into it. They know how to see that audience in the dark room and take them to a whole other reality. And that's what I like about the script. This "Star Trek" will do that and you won't have that separation of fantasy and reality. You will be transported there and energized right onto the deck of the ship. So it's very well done.

Finally, you were on an episode of "Lost" this season, "The Shape of Things to Come." What was that experience like?

I was on the set of "Star Trek" when they asked me to do this. I went to J. J. and asked him about it and he just said, "Trust us. Things sometimes wont make sense to you but just trust us. Just go into it and play it out and leave it up to us beyond that. Just go have fun with it."

You know, they play with timelines all the time on that show. I got to Hawaii and I did the scenes. It's so well run, the whole thing, it's run like a well-oiled machine. Michael Emerson [who plays Ben] was great. He was really in there doing his thing. It was a great little scene.

You mentioned how they jump around timelines on the show. Your character was killed in that episode. If they found a need to bring you back, would you be interested in revisiting that role?

I would be totally open to that. I think it would be a great thing just as an actor to build a character and kind of go in reverse. Rather than learning new information, having to unlearn old information. I think that would be almost an extecential kind of path to take, to know where your end is and build a beginning to it.

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Tags: star trek, jj abrams, iron man movie, faran tahir, lost

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