The Iranian-born actor and comedian Maziyar Jobrani – known as ‘Maz’ to most people – is a major hit in the U.S. That’s thanks mainly to his stand-up act, but also to minor parts in Hollywood movies such as The Interpreter (starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn). ‘Maz’ has just released his first independent movie. It’s called Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero. It’s co-written by the comedian, and directed by Jonathan Kesselman.
The main character is a man by the name of Jamshid Fakhredinpour. Out of sheer love for America, he travels to the United States with his mother. His adventures begin from the very first day . . .
Mr. Jobrani spoke to us at a recent London screening of his film.
KL: What made you get into the movies after doing stand-up comedy?
MJ: I’ve always had ideas for screenplays. Everyone has a story in Los Angeles. Even when you go to court, the judge, the attorney and the accused each have a story. Together with my co-writer Amir Ohebsion, I had the idea of creating a character reminiscent of Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther. That was always my goal. It just took several years for me to reach a point in my work where I was able to achieve it.
When you decide to make a movie, people won’t necessarily like it in the beginning, and they may not want to invest in it. People knew me, so we were able to find some help, but it was and remains difficult.
KL: Why “Amerikan Hero”?
MJ: Because the film’s main character – Jamshid Fakhredinpour – absolutely loves America. You know better than I do that America excels at spreading its culture around the world. It’s thanks to American movies that people all around the world fall in love with America.
Jamshid, the film’s main character, also loves America, and he believes that America will reciprocate that love. But as we see in the film, it’s not that simple, and the story becomes a little complicated.
“Mamal Amricayi” is also the story of a young Iranian who loves America and dreams of travelling there. Jamshid Fakhredinpour actually makes it to America.
KL: What was your message with this film?
MJ: Growing up before the Revolution, I saw lots of American movies on television: Rocky, Spiderman, plenty of others. I loved American culture. Many of my friends watched American cultural exports such as Rambo and Arnold even more than I did, and fell in love with them.
Actually, they were in love with a dream. Many people see America through this dream. Reality turns out to be different once they get here.
One of our other objectives was to make an American movie with an Iranian hero – something we hadn’t seen anywhere else until now.
KL: Thinking back to ‘The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour’ and your other shows, it seems that you’re always looking to fight stereotypes.
MJ: Absolutely. After the Axis of Evil tour, I had a few independent projects, and one of them was called ‘Brown and Friendly’. Many Iranians didn’t appreciate the fact that I described us, as a people, as brown. As far as they’re concerned, we’re white. Americans, on the other hand, mix us up with Arabs and Indians, and portray us negatively on television.
After that, I had a couple of other shows: one called ‘I Come in Peace’ and another called ‘I’m Not a Terrorist’ but I’ve played one on TV. If you look at my shows’ titles, you’ll notice that one of my artistic and comedic goals is to break with clichés. We Iranians are not used to Hollywood portrayals of us, and I’m trying to tell Hollywood that we’re different from their presentation.
KL: What was your reaction when you saw Jimmy Vestvood on screen?
MJ: I really like the character of Jimmy Vestvood, because he’s like a child. He still lives with his mother, who nags him regularly. They even fight sometimes. So he’s a likeable character.
Of course, I’m very different from Jimmy Vestvood. I grew up in America, whereas he arrived recently. Jimmy likes America so much that he blindly accepts every aspect of it. Maziyar Jobrani, despite his love of America, knows that the place has a lot of problems.
KL: Did you relate to Jimmy Vestvood’s character?
MJ: I wore Jimmy’s clothes and started to speak with an accent. He naturally turned into a happy and funny person.
The good thing is that this film is completely independent and that we had total control over its making. We had a chance to play with it a little after filming, and even to try out different forms.
KL: Are you trying to convey a message with this film? I found it interesting that you mention gay rights in it, as well as war, terrorism, and the other clichés you touched upon earlier.
MJ: I’ve always seen myself not just as an American or as an Iranian, but as both.
Iranians were persecuted by the American people, particularly when I first came to America: it was at the time of the Revolution and later the hostage crisis.
In my view, when you’re part of a group that’s been persecuted, you need to be supportive of all groups. Blacks, Mexicans, gays: I always like to stand up for these communities. I know that in our own community, being gay is not accepted. But homosexuality is not a bad thing and we must accept it. Our community needs to progress; sometimes our thinking can be outdated.
I like to place issues in front of people, as if I were holding a mirror up to them and asking them to look at themselves.
KL: Holding a mirror up to Iranians or up to Americans?
MJ: Both. Americans really don’t know us very well. I recently had the privilege of performing at the White House in front of the First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama. USA Today wrote about the event and posted it on its site. When you looked at the comments, you realized how little they really know about us. For instance, because there was a reference to Nowruz at the White House, they immediately started saying that Obama was still busy collaborating with Muslims – even though Nowruz is not at all an Islamic celebration.
KL: Peace seems very important to you. You refer to it in all of your shows.
MJ: As a child, I never liked watching my friends get in a fight, and would always get in the middle to separate them. Later, I hated war, and I still do. When America wanted to attack Iraq, I was among the people who took to the streets in protest against the war. War is not a good thing. It creates a lot of misery. But I know that there are people in America who want a war with Iran.
I don’t support the Iranian regime, but I don’t want a war with Iran. I hope that the people of Iran will have more freedom, and that Iranian youth will have more opportunities. I support evolution, not revolution.