When Arian Moayed was performing “Death of a Salesman” his sophomore year at Glenbrook South High School, he never dreamed he would someday be nominated for a Tony Award.
But this year, that’s exactly where the 31-year-old actor found himself: Hearing his name called for Best Actor in a Drama for the play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” which also starred Robin Williams.
Back in high school, Moayed was immersed in the school’s theater community. He acted in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” volunteered at the radio station, took a film studies class and went with the drama club to see performances at Steppenwolf.
“There was so much art to be had. You just had to seek it out and want it,” Moayed says. “It really changed my life.”
His drama teacher, who came to see his performance in “Bengal Tiger” this year, pushed him to take acting seriously, and after graduating from GBS in 1998, Moayed studied theater at Indiana University, and from there he made the leap to New York. He acted, directed and opened his own avant-garde theater company, Waterwell.
And then “Bengal Tiger” came along. It ran in Los Angeles and New York in 2010 and 2011, and closed on July 3.
Moayed played Musa, an Iraqi translator who speaks to American soldiers in Baghdad. The play is unflinching, provocative and raw, and Moayed says the role was both physically and emotionally exhausting.
In one scene he kills a man and then screams at him as he dies. Each time he did it, Moayed says he’d run off stage panting.
“It was commanding,” Moayed says. “You were either doing it 100% or you weren’t trying.”
Although the show was controversial, Moayed says it deeply moved people and challenged their perceptions.
Moayed’s drama teacher from Glenbrook South came to the show. “She was one of the three people who really pushed me,” Moayed says. “So that was really cool.”
Now that “Bengal Tiger” has wrapped up, Moayed’s next big project is a movie called “This Island Made Me,” starring Campbell Scott, that is scheduled to begin filming locally in the fall of 2012.
The story, which Moayed wrote, is about an Iranian boy who lives in Glenview who wants his immigrant parents and older brother to see him appear in a holiday play at school.
“The coolest part of the story is he has a wild, vivid imagination,” Moayed says.
Moayed himself moved from Iran to Glenview with his parents and three siblings when he was 5 years old. Growing up, Moayed always felt accepted and assimilated, partially, he says, because his family lived in an apartment complex filled with other immigrants. “My upstairs neighbor was from Korea. My next door neighbor was from Taiwan,” he says. “I never felt different.”
Once he went to IU, however, Moayed started to feel like he stood out among a sea of whites.
Today, Moayed lives in New York with his girlfriend, actress Krissy Shields, and their two daughters, and he says the movie is for his kids.
“I don’t see many immigrant stories anymore [in Hollywood],” he says. “Being a Middle Eastern man and being a father, I want [my kids] to know these stories.”