“So you saw the heckler!” says Arian Moayed with a laugh as he sits in the Ambassador’s Lounge at the Hudson Theatre, where two nights before a woman watched a performance by the now Tony nominee A dollhouse to tell the actor to take off his costume. “There’s a debate in the production about whether she yelled at the character — like, take off your proverbial costume — or just laughed at me,” he says. Moayed is used to the extreme intimacy of the theatre; his Broadway debut was opposite Robin Williams in 2011 Bengal tiger in Baghdad zoo (he also got a Tony nomination for that), and now he performs this stripped-down, set-less Henrik Ibsen adaptation with Jessica Chastain eight times a week, an experience he describes as “spiritual.”
He’s also unfazed by a certain level of fan interaction – his role as Stewy on Succession has made him something of a god to viewers in New York. “Hedge fund brethren will hold me back. They think they are my friend,” he says. “They say, ‘Let’s go to the bathroom, Stewy.’ That kind of vibe. I just have to say, “Wait a minute, I have kids and a non-profit theater company (Waterwell)! That’s not me.” ”
He came straight to this interview after re-recording the dialogue for Succession‘s series finale. He describes himself as in a state of denial about the whole thing. The cast group text still fires up each week when episodes go live, and many of the actors have come to watch A dollhouse. “The reality is we’ll never all be in the same room together again,” he says. “So now is the time to tell everyone how great they are.”
Two days before Succession airing for the last time (on May 28), Moayed’s next project will debut. In You hurt my feelings, Nicole Holofcener’s highly anticipated second collaboration with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, he plays an actor with chronically low self-esteem – a spiritual polar opposite of Stewy’s roaring power player. The film’s central conflict begins when the character of Louis-Dreyfus, a novelist, overhears her husband telling Moayed that he doesn’t like her new book. “If you have three hours to spare, call my wife,” Moayed jokes when asked about his own need for approval from his loved ones. “I misunderstand everything. But at the end of the day, if something (I’m in) is bad, she’ll lay me down and hold my hand and look me in the eye and say it’s not working.
At 43, Moayed — who was born in Tehran, Iran, and emigrated with his family to the Chicago suburbs when he was 5 — vividly remembers his early acting days, when his agents sent him out for specifically Iranian castings. “I said I wouldn’t do terrorist roles because it’s not representative of who I am and I didn’t want my parents to see me in that shit,” says the actor. He adds that he likes scripts with strong opinions: A dollhouse‘s exposure of secret misogyny, Succession‘s removal of hedonic capitalism. “I truly believe that art is a tool we can use to advance progress and humanity,” he says. And there is no arguing – or rather: bothering – about that.
This story first appeared in the May 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.