St. Anthony’s Mettle
TV toughie Anthony Azizi shows us his sensitive side. We swoon. And buy coffee futures.
When actor Anthony Azizi purrs “Hello, luv” into the phone, I immediately consider canceling the interview, leaving my husband and heading for LA just in case Azizi really means it. Take me, I will say, flinging open his door. Whisk me off to a beach in one of the many countries where you speak the native tongue. (The Iranian-born heartthrob speaks four languages, count ‘em!) Alas, of his few remaining vices, catting around on his wife, comedic actress Cymbeline Smith, isn’t one of them.
Great. He’s got morals. In Hollywood, nonetheless. Remind me to thank my editor.
Azizi’s probably best known for his roles as a series regular on two acclaimed TV shows: Threat Matrix (where he played a former CIA operative) and, most recently, the Golden Globe-winning Commander in Chief, on which he portrays Vince Taylor, gay, HIV-positive chief aide to the country’s first female president. Heavy. But when you go to high school with The Rock, as Azizi did, you get tough by osmosis, ya know? Or maybe it’s just the caffeine talking, jabbing and weaving.
Wine X: Do you have java in hand right now?
Anthony Azizi: Literally, there’s something wrong with me. Even on set I’m known for needing to walk around with an I.V. dripping coffee. It’s bad. I’m so addicted. I need some help.
WX: That’s funny. I was wondering how you handled Hollywood without a vice.
AA: Yeah, I’ve got my coffee thing - bad. And I smoke once in a while, which is not going to work out for me anymore because my wife is counting my puffs. I can’t even smoke one cigarette at a party. My vices have dwindled to nothing. I’m losing! That’s why I’ve become a compulsive coffee drinker. That’s actually my only vice.
AA: I can’t cheat on my wife. I can’t drink. I can’t, I mean I don’t, use drugs. I’m so screwed. I should become a Zen Buddhist and just chant all day...my life has changed a lot.
WX: Has it changed since marriage?
AA: Yeah, marriage has a lot to do with it. And you just get older. It’s an interesting evolution, life. You never think certain things about yourself. The last thing I thought is that I’d be addicted to coffee and wanting cigarettes. I thought I’d be doing some crazy stuff by now, but life changes.
WX: Well, recovery is so chic in Hollywood. Let’s hear about the show. How’s Vince Taylor - your character on Commander - different from other guys you’ve played?
AA: Well, he’s the first gay, HIV-positive character of ethnicity on network television, which is cool. [He chuckles.] That was a shock to me, and to almost everyone on the show. I’m from New York, so I’ve played a lot of Philadelphia and New York tough guys and terrorists. To play this guy - who’s got a different center - has been great.
WX: It’s sort of astounding that this is TV’s first person of color with HIV.
AA: I agree. It’s insane. If you’re supposed to have representation, you have to take a serious look at what you’re trying to represent.
WX: Absolutely. And there are still so few Middle Eastern actors on TV. The ones we see, they still often come across as caricatures or stereotypes. Do you think this is changing? Improving?
AA: Hell no! And I say that because it’s a responsibility. My character [on Commander] was, and is, a main part of the story line. But not as active a character as before. Why has that happened? I’m the only one on TV right now, really, who’s playing this kind of character. Do people in Hollywood just not know how to develop stories around such characters? Are they scared to? Can white writers only write white? Black only black? Chinese only Chinese? Well, how about just a human writer writing for another human? To say ‘I don’t know how to write for this kind of character is just idiocy. We have to stop seeing each other in color...in differences. We need to start seeing each other as the same.
WX: It seems since post 9/11 Arabs have portrayed TV and films’ bad guys.
AA: I’ll play a terrorist. That’s fine. I think it’s important to have shows that present Arabs and Middle Easterners as terrorists. Why? Because they exist. People need to realize the negative influences of societies that are closed-minded about other races and cultures. The problem is balance. We talk about balance and fairness on TV... Fair and balanced, my ass. Where are all the stories of the Middle Eastern doctors helping victims of Katrina? My father was honored by the NAACP for working in communities where no one else would because of the racism involved. Little by little I’m starting to get edgy about the lack of balance. Which is why I started a film festival, the first of its kind, showcasing, exclusively, film on Iran or Iranian-related topics. And they have to contain the message of tolerance and show that Iranians are very tolerant, and that Middle Eastern people in general are tolerant and open.
WX: There are great films about women’s rights coming out of Iran, too.
AA: And they’re winning international awards because of the subject matter. Drawing attention to Middle Eastern cultures and its peoples allows these cultures to fight for what they need. Which is most definitely women’s rights. I believe it’s my fundamental duty to be a women’s rights activist. I want women to run the world. I want women to be the bosses.
WX: How does that affect your marriage?
AA: It makes me a better person...opened up my world and humbled me. I’ve become a better man. A better human being.
WX: Do you think we’ll see a female president in our lifetime?
AA: I’ll fight to my last breath to help that happen. That’s why I’m so glad I was given this opportunity on Commander. I hope my character grows and develops so I have a platform. Because I really am committed to these causes. In my lifetime I do believe a female U.S. president is possible. You know I’ll fight.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Tony Donaldson
SECOND SPREAD: SHIRT: JADED BY KNIGHT
THIRD SPREAD: JACKET: LATOUR JACKET BY ATTICUS CLOTHING
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