Curry Bear Interviews Glee’s Iqbal Theba (Principal Figgins)
Now there are a lot of new shows out this fall but I have to say that my favorite show has to be Glee on Fox. Glee comes on every Wednesday at 9PM. This show may seem like it’s about a glee club, but it’s so much more than that. It reminds me of the show Freaks and Geeks that was cancelled way too soon. Thanks a lot network executives. Glee explores the insecurities of being in high school and of following your dreams. I think there is a character that everyone can relate to on Glee. I relate mostly to “Puck” because I like to have sex with cougars and knock up cheerleaders. This show has heart, comedy and drama – the perfect combination for a great show. The best part about this show is the music. Every week they do an amazing performance to a popular song. Sometimes they even mash-up songs like they did for Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” mixed with Usher’s “Confessions”. I even downloaded the Glee version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.
I can go on and on about how amazing this show is but there is another thing about this show that caught my eye. Yes, one of our own has a key role on this show. Iqbal Theba, from Karachi Pakistan, plays the infamous Principal Figgins. Last week’s Glee had its highest ratings ever and I think it was because Principal Figgins got more air time. Let’s hope they keep putting him in more scenes. Once Curry Bear found out that a Desi (South Asian) person was on one of his new favorite shows, I did some research and I was blown away.
Iqbal has been around forever. If you check him out on IMDB, you will notice that he has been in just about everything and anything. When I realized this, I thought to myself he’s not one of these Desi people riding the coat tails of the success of a few Desis in Hollywood. He made those coat tails! This guy has been in the business before Desis were looking for “White Castles”, working in “Office’s”, “Lost” on islands, and trying to kill Jack Bauer.
When I look at his bio page and read about how he came to LA with nothing but a few bucks in his pocket and a boatload of determination, it really made me believe that anything is possible. He majored in Civil Engineering and had his whole life mapped out for him, yet chose the path less traveled, chasing a dream that could have just as easily never have been a reality. After years of rejection because Desi people were rarely cast in recurring roles, he finally landed a hilarious role as the principal on “Glee”. I think this show is going to be a hit and with that, so is Principal Figgins. That alone should fill South Asians with “Glee”.
Some of the roles he has been in include “Community”, “Nip/Tuck” , “Two and a Half Men” , “Chuck” , “Weeds”, “Kitchen Confidential”, “Las Vegas” ,”Arrested Development” , “Alias” ,”ER”, “The West Wing” , “Friends” , BASEketball, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, “Family Matters” , “Married with Children” , “Ellen”, “Roseanne”, “Sister, Sister” , “The George Carlin Show” ,The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, “Mad About You”, Indecent Proposal and others. Now check out what Iqbal had to say as he sat down with Curry Bear to have this interview.
1. CB: How did it feel to be the only student actor left out of the summer stock theatre in college, and now act on a popular Fox television show that bleeds awesomeness like a virgin on prom night?
Iqbal: Well, I was extremely disappointed to say the least. But, I also had a bullheaded, blind desire and love for acting. Nothing could have stopped me. You should also know that the reason I became an actor was because I loved to act and not because I thought I was massively talented or brilliant or anything. It is wonderful being part of Glee. But, I don’t have the “aren’t you sorry now?” attitude towards people who rejected me in the past. I am not out to prove anything to anyone or make anyone regret not hiring me. I am an actor because I simply love it.
2. CB: In your experience, what has been the hardest thing about acting?
Iqbal: After I arrived in LA I began to realize that there aren’t very many good parts that someone like me could read for. Auditions with good material were hard to come by. It was very hard for me to deal with. In fact, I still have to deal with it, even though things have improved a great deal now.
3. CB: Your new show Glee is amazing. Did you go through a rigorous process to audition for Glee?
Iqbal: No, I did not. I had done Nip/Tuck last year for Ryan Murphy and co. so they knew me and my work. I did have to audition, only once though, for the part along with a handful of white actors.
4. CB: Well I am glad you were the one that got the part. If you could be any other Glee character for the day, who would you be and why?
Iqbal: I would love to play Emma. Because she is deeply in love with someone. As an ethnic so called “character actor” I long to play someone who loves someone of opposite sex deeply and who longs to be loved.
5. CB: For years the brown man would only get cast as a taxi driver, terrorist, and the occasional doctor. Did you ever think you would get a role playing a principal?
Iqbal: Well, of course!! I can and will play all kinds of roles. I am the most optimistic guy you’ll ever meet. I have always believed that people in this country, even Hollywood people, are fair minded and over time will begin to understand and accept people like me. But, as “brown people”, or whatever you wanna call us, we also have a responsibility to get up and be counted. We have to have actors, writers, directors…. etc in the industry. When I started out in LA in the early 90′s there were hardly any actors of South Asian decsent who one would see regularly on TV or film. Now, there are at least half a dozen shows on TV that have South Asian actors as regulars. I would like to think that I was one of the first of a handful of actors who laid the ground work for that. Amazingly enough, people who cast commercials were much more open to the idea of casting someone like me than compared to TV shows and film. I did a crapload of all kinds of commercials and became a familiar face. And you cannot underestimate the positive impact a friendly brown face can have by appearing in people’s living rooms all across the country.
6. CB: It says you are from Karachi Pakistan. Are you Muslim? If so was it difficult to keep your faith in a town such as Hollywood?
Iqbal: Yes, I was raised as a Muslim and I am very proud of my Muslim heritage. But, I am a Muslim more by tradition than by faith. I like to associate myself with great Muslim philosophers and scientists who over a thousand years ago contributed a great deal to the cause of learning. I see Islam as a movement that encourages higher learning and speaks for the poor and the less fortunate among us. I also believe that all the religions are like different languages trying to express the same truth, the same longings. So, I never really have to try hard to reconcile my Muslim background in Hollywood or anywhere else.
7. CB: I read that you came to Hollywood with nothing but $37 dollars in your pocket. What drives a man to take such a huge risk?
Iqbal: As I said earlier, love for Acting. But, I must admit it was scary as hell. Let me tell you something else that I don’t tell very many people. From the summer of 1986 when I decided to become an actor till the end of 1994, for eight long years, every morning after I woke up, for the first five minutes I would be paralyzed with absolute fear. I could not move in my bed. All I could think was what IF I am never able to make a living as an actor? What IF I am 75 and still a waiter?!?! My whole body would get cold. Then I would finally find the strength to leave my bed. Once I left the bed I would be okay, ready to face the day.
8. CB: What was the strangest role you ever played?
Iqbal: I played a rich bad guy in CHUCK (NBC). The role itself was great and written well and not strange in anyway. But, in a couple of the scenes I had to wear just a Speedo surrounded by scantily dressed women. Now, you probably know that I am the hairiest guy you’ll ever see and that made me very uncomfortable and I felt very strange. But, I did it and I didn’t look embarrassed or nervous in the show. Phew!
9. CB: These days there a lot of Desi people on television. However, you were making waves in television before any of these people were on TV. I personally think a lot of it has to do with you laying the ground work for years. Do you think these Desi stars are benefiting from actors like yourself, who always had to take small roles for years because Hollywood was not ready for Desi actors?
Iqbal: Hehehe…. I just looked at this question! …. I talked about it in one of the questions above… I know it might sound a little pretentious or something, but I do believe that me and a few others did lay the ground work for younger actors. Back in the 90′s, Jeff Gerard the commercial casting director, used to tell me “you’re the only Indian actor I know who works all the time!”. I had an interview with an agent around 1994 and he told me there aren’t very many roles for people like me. I told him I am going to change that. And he said that that was a very arrogant thing to say. There were a few other wonderful Indian/Pakistani actors at that time but I worked more than anyone else at that time. I didn’t have some social agenda when I became an actor. But as soon as I arrived in LA in March 1991 I began to realize the odds and also the impact someone like me can have on the industry.
10. CB: Now you are on a show called Glee. It is the best new show of the season! In fact, it is one of my new favorites. And this show is about singing. Can you sing? And what is your favorite song (Desi or American)?
Iqbal: I can’t claim that I can sing but I can carry a tune. I don’t have a single favorite song. But I love the old Indian/Pakistani songs. One of my favorite being ” aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum tum milay to viranay…. from the movie “Chori Chori”. It was filmed on Nargis and Raj Kapoor. And I love Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for his music and his humane Sufi Philosophy. I also love the B-52′s, Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse….
11. CB: You were in an episode of Community where you were Abed’s father who was not supporting his dreams to go into the entertainment business. You did an amazing performance and it made me think if any of that hit home? How did your parents feel about you leaving home to become an actor?
Iqbal: They were very upset because I was throwing away a four year “professional” US degree and pursuing something that makes no sense. But, eventually, to their credit, they understood that I really loved it and they stopped complaining.
12. CB: If you have any advice for us South Asian dreamers, what would it be?
Iqbal: Work at your craft and don’t let the fear of failure stop you.
13. CB: Do you think they will ever do a Desi song on Glee?
Iqbal: Anything is possible on Glee. Personally I am hoping they do a Desi song.
PS: Special thanks to Goose Fraba who sent me some of these questions.