For some actors, what they do is strictly a job. They may be great at that job, but at the end of the day, it is still just a way to collect a paycheck. For others, acting is a way of life -- an art form. One that they continue to finesse, fine-tune, and strive to perfect. Actor Erick Avari falls into the latter category -- with roots in the Stargate franchise that date back to the original film fifteen years ago.
Avari was gracious enough to speak at length with us about his body of acting work. In the interview, he discusses how he ended up in the industry, how he landed the role of "Kasuf" in the Stargate feature film, reprising that role for SG-1, his feelings on conventions and the fans who attend them, his personal obligations and beliefs as an actor, and much more!
This interview runs over 45 minutes and is available in audio. It's also transcribed below!
GW: This is Chad Colvin and I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with actor Erick Avari. Erick, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down for a few minutes and chat with me.
EA: It's my pleasure, Chad.
GW: How is life in LA? What have you been up to?
EA: It's hot. It's smoky. There are fires. [Laughter]
GW: That's kind of normal this time of year, isn't it?
EA: Yes, it is. It's a frequent occurrence. So we take it in our stride. But, the allergies start to act up, so if I sound stuffy it's not my personality. It's just me! [Laughter]
GW: You sound fine. Has the work situation in LA ... I know with the economy being what it has been the last several months that things have been a little bit tighter, there haven't been as many roles around, and stuff like that. Are things starting to get better?
Avari's roles have ranged far and wide, from a Libyan representative in seaQuest DSV ...
EA: Well, I must confess, I've had a stream of work, which is good. And what's even better is a lot of it's been interesting, very interesting. Interesting scripts and so on and so forth. But, you're right about the economy and what has certainly taken a hit are the paychecks. But there are fewer big-budget movies and now those are starting to come back up again. But, I must confess, I did not particularly miss them until it came time to pay the mortgage. [Laughter]
GW: Exactly! You have to earn a living.
EA: You do, you do.
GW: You've been a big part of the Stargate mythology over the years, but you've been acting for decades. For those that aren't familiar with some of your work, could you talk about some of your previous projects? Maybe some of the ones you're most proud of, ones you've enjoyed the most? Over the years you've done a ton of genre work. I remember you even back in the mid nineties while I was growing up then. And I was a huge Star Trek fan back then. I know you did Deep Space Nine, you did seaQuest, a lot of genre stuff.
EA: A lot of genre stuff. And, yes, I feel like I'm going to be tooting my own horn here, but I've done a lot of different genres. I started out doing Shakespeare as a child actor and going to schools and performing eight or nine scenes, abbreviated versions of the full-length plays. And it was essentially to get school kids to take an interest in Shakespeare and see that he wrote to be performed, not to be read.
So that was really my introduction to the industry, if you will. Or the business. It's where I caught the bug and, beware, once you catch it, you never lose it. But I went on from there. I've had to start my career on three different continents and two different coasts. So, each time it's been sort of a start-up because a lot of people, when I came to America, didn't care what I had done in India or in the U.K. for that matter.
And then when I moved from New York to Los Angeles, in fact there was a little bit of the sense of ,"Well, he comes from the stage, I don't know, he might be too theatrical for film and TV," so on and so forth. So you've just got to prove yourself all over again.
So, it's been a fairly circuitous journey, but you know, I always believed that it's not the destination. It's the journey that's really what's important. As far as that's concerned I certainly can't complain. It's been a very, very interesting ride and I get to do what I love, for the most part. And that is a blessing. I'm always very, very thankful and grateful for that.
GW: It's a ride that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
EA: Well, from your lips to God's ear.
GW: Is there something about the sci-fi and fantasy genre that you're drawn to, as much as you've done over the years?
...to a Klingon official in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
EA: Yes, and it wasn't particularly apparent to me in terms of the depth that sci-fi offers. I remember watching Star Trek at one of my part-time jobs in college. That was the best job I had through college. Mainly it was picking up garbage out of the student union and buffing floors and things like that.
At 3 o'clock I got to sit in the audio-visual room and hand out headphones to students who would come in. Once I was done handing out the headphones, I basically got to watch and what was on at three o'clock was Star Trek, back in the day when there were only five channels on TV. So I watched Star Trek religiously and with a double pleasure. Because I was actually getting paid to do just that. Not a lot, but again, it doesn't matter.
I thought, "now there's something I could do. I could see myself being cast in something like that." All the actors seemed to have a classical, theatrical background and there was a style to their performances that I was very familiar with. So, I took an interest on that level, a purely altruistic level. "Well, there's something there for me."
It wasn't 'til many years later, I was actually going out to do a convention in Vancouver where I was committed to doing a one-man show, which at the time I hadn't written yet. Nothing like a deadline to get you on your horse and get the creative juices flowing. And when I was writing this one-man show about my journey, basically, of how I came to America and got into the business, I started to realize that in fact I had always been political although I never quite identified it as such.
I was an English major. I'm very interested in text and character, and Shakespeare certainly was something that we studied extensively along with Chekov. The great playwrights of the world. I found that they all commented on our society, or their society that they lived in. And this to me was particularly interesting, because in essence you did have to have an eye for politics. Because that is what ultimately was affecting the lives of the people that lived in that era.
And it's really through sci-fi that one is able to comment politically, socially, and talk about matters of race, gender, religion -- well not so much religion. Race and gender certainly, through sci-fi. You could remove people from being embroiled too deeply in the minutia of politics enough to be able to see the big picture.
GW: Some of the best sci-fi, and especially some of the best classic Star Trek, were so many allegories to things that weren't really able to be discussed on television at the time.
EA: Exactly right.
GW: And Star Trek especially used sci-fi and different methods of telling that story in order to get the points across without it being something that the censors or the powers that be would be able to stop them from doing.
EA: That, and they were able to tell it in an interesting fashion. And, again, just far enough removed where one was able to see the bigger picture. I think that, to me, is the most powerful element of sci-fi.
It certainly tickles the imagination, and in doing so it removes some of the barriers and social norms that we put on ourselves, that society does. And I find sci-fi fans are among the most progressive, broad-minded ... I don't want to use the word liberal, but progressive probably is the best word to describe sci-fi fans. And it's always a pleasure to meet and talk to fans of sci-fi because you always get a refreshing and interesting perspective on things.
" I always believed that it's not the destination. It's the journey that's really what's important."
GW: Well, actually we'll talk about that in a little bit. You have the distinction of being one of only two actors, along with Alexis Cruz, who played the same role in the Stargate feature film and then again reprising that role for SG-1. How did your casting for the role initially come about?
EA: You mean on the film?
GW: On the film.
EA: Well, my agents called and sent me out this project. They said "Look, there's really no script and they're not making the script available just yet, so it's essentially improve, and you are a character on a remote planet and you don‘t speak any English." "Well, that's interesting and can you give me any details?"
They sketched me in very briefly and peripherally on the set up. I went in for the audition and there were a lot of people. The building was teeming with actors. I noticed I was by far the youngest by at least 20 years. And I said, "What the heck am I doing here?"
But anyway, I walked in and they had just finished lunch so I was the first one up. And the guy who was the reader -- very often producers will hire people to read opposite the actor, and in this case there wasn't anything to read -- he was there to basically improvise and play off of me. He was finishing his lunch and he was eating what I believe was a Kit-Kat bar.
And the candy bar-eating scene kind of unfolded right there. Both Dean [Devlin] and Roland [Emmerich] were just rolling on the floor and they offered me the part. One of the things that Dean had said was, "We really love you to be in your sixties or seventies." I said, "I'm afraid I can't comply." I believe I was under forty at the time or just about forty. So I sat in the make-up chair for several hours every day getting made up to look like what I look like now. [Laughter]