Amir Talai is a 34 year old American actor of Iranian origin. He’s just celebrated his biggest role to date playing Patel in ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ alongside Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock and many more stars.
Born and raised in San Francisco, he studied Communications at UC Berkley but couldn’t let go of his ambition to perform.
Ten years ago, he moved to Los Angeles. He has scored parts in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, ‘Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo’ and several television shows.
DFI: How did you get the role of Patel?
Talai: A friend of mine auditioned for it and said: ‘Are you auditioning?’ I hadn’t heard anything about it so I called (my agents) and within a day I had an audition.
DFI: What did you have to do in the audition?
Talai: I did some of the dialogue from the movie. They encouraged me to improvise a little bit.
I had one audition with the casting director alone, and one with the director. I probably spent about half an hour in the waiting room and six or seven minutes in the audition room. It’s often pretty quick.
This role didn’t have a lot of big stretches of dialogue, it was more a line here and there. It wasn’t like ‘Can this guy nail the dialogue?’ It was more like ‘Does he have the right feel for the character?’
I rarely feel nerves. The only time I feel nervous is if there’s something I really, really want but I am not sure I’m capable of.
DFI: How many auditions do you go to a week usually?
Talai: From three to fifteen a week, if you’re counting commercial auditions. Right now, June is pretty slow so I would have four or five…February, March and April are a really busy time.
DFI: The film’s a comedy but there are some sentimental moments about parenthood. Which three qualities should a father have?
Talai: Patience, because there’s always going to be something you’re not ready for, fun and listening skills.
DFI: What was Chris Rock like to work with?
Talai: Opinionated and hilarious, on camera and off. He’s just one of the most fun co-stars I’ve ever worked with. He’s always looking out for everybody else on set, he’s down to earth. He’s not a wall flower, he’s not shy. But he’s the ultimate team player and just a great guy to work with.
DFI: Was there a lot of improvisation on set?
Talai: If you’ve got Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon and Rob Huebel, you’d be a fool not to let them improv a little. They did and they were so funny. It was certainly a challenge for me to keep up with them.
DFI: How did you get into acting?
Talai: I’ve always been a little bit of a clown, goofing off and making jokes since I was a toddler. In the back of my head I thought it was something I wanted to try. When I graduated from college I thought I would go into advertising and try to act on the side and see what happens.
I realised that advertising is an extremely demanding job that wouldn’t allow you to do anything on the side. I decided to jump into acting and give it a go.
DFI: You’re an American actor with Iranian origins. Has this affected your career?
Talai: It’s evident to anyone in casting that I’ve got a little bit of a funny name and somewhat darker skin. It’s natural that they see me as Middle Eastern first. That’s not to say that all the roles I get are specifically Middle Eastern.
A friend of mine once said to me: ‘What percentage of the work you get is because you’re Middle Eastern?’…I asked her: ‘What percentage of your roles do you get because you’re a woman?’
I’m not interested whether (the role is) Middle Eastern or not, I’m interested in whether it’s an interesting role.
DFI: Do you follow Iranian cinema?
Talai: More than the average American, but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly knowledgeable about it.
I saw ‘A Separation’, it was amazing, truly stunning. The ferocity of the acting and the storytelling blew me away. I often find Iranian actors so impressive; I have trouble in spotting the seams in their acting. A lot of times I feel like there are some American actors that I can really see what they’re going for.
DFI: Is there a role you dream of playing?
Talai: Oddly enough, I’d love to play a terrorist. A lot of Middle Eastern guys don’t say that, but no one buys me as a terrorist. That would be an interesting challenge for me.
DFI: Which film do you wish you never bought a ticket for?
Talai: The last two movies I walked out of are ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Across the Universe’.
DFI: And you’re recent favourite?
Talai: ‘Your Sister’s Sister’.
DFI: What’s your advice for young actors?
Talai: If you’d be happy doing anything else, do that instead. The overwhelming odds are that you will fail as an actor. If you feel like you will not be able to live with yourself if you don’t try, then try as hard as you possibly can. Don’t do it half way.
Published on DFI's website on 20th June, 2012