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Houshang Touzie

From Theater to Hollywood

Houshang Touzie was born in Iran and is a very accomplished film and television actor, producer, and director. His interest in acting began at an early age while he was in school. He began performing in local theater productions and continued to do so for several years, until his professional acting career took off in 1982 when he portrayed a major character in the film, Ferestedah.

In 2012, Touzie was highly commended for his work in the Academy Award® winning film Argo, alongside Ben Affleck, who was also the director, Bryan Cranston, and John Goodman. Touzie also received high praise for his work in such films as, The Mission, America So Beautiful, and Checkpoint. He has appeared in numerous television shows including, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Punisher, Homeland, and NCIS.

Touzie married Shohreh Aghdashloo, an Iranian-American Academy Award® nominated actress, in 1987, and together have a daughter, named Tara Touzie, who was born in 1989.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, in a middle class but culturally rich family. I immigrated to the United States in 1979 and resided in New York City until 1985.

I was already an actor when I came to the United States and was very eager to pursue my career here. I was working at the La Ma Ma Theater Group, as well as doing a few bit parts here and there until a lead role in a feature film took me to Los Angeles. I started to get more and more work and I was being featured in movies and television shows. Right around that time, I also started my own theater group called Workshop 79. I chose this name to honor the theater group I was in back in Iran. The number 79 is the year it all came to an end in Iran. Soon after I started the theater company I met my wife, Shohreh, and a few years later we had a daughter together, Tara Jane.

These days I continue to write, act and recycle religiously out of my home in Calabasas.

What inspired you to become an actor?

My family loved to watch movies and they were also avid readers. My oldest brother was an artist, writer, and musician, and so in that artistic environment, I too started writing, mostly short stories, but also some poetry. Later I started doing impressions of my teachers or family members. My mother hated it and would always say, “Stop! God forbid you’ll become an actor!” I became an actor shortly thereafter.

What kind of roles do you prefer?

I prefer challenging roles with some substance and meaning. I don’t really mind if I play a hero or a villain as long as it is written sensibly and interestingly. If I have

to choose I would say I enjoy playing comedic roles.

Tell us about a time in your life when you had a very bad day but had to stil go on and perform.

Working as an actor in theater, I’ve had so many tough performance days! I remember when my father passed away, that was very difficult because I had to perform in a very comedic play. Then there was the time in 1994 there was the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. Shohreh and I had a sold out show and we still had to show up. We asked the ticket holders what they thought we should do and they voted unanimously that the show had to go on. So, we performed despite feeling multiple after-shocks during the performance. Thankfully nothing happened!

What are the most extreme physical and emotional changes you've had to make to prepare for a role?

When I get a part, I begin to study the character and the first thing I work on is their physicality. This really helps me get into character. I then think about what kind of hairstyle or body type would help me become this character. My biggest transformation was when I was playing the Shah of Iran in a play. Because he was a real person I had to change my appearance to fit his. For example, he had a slim figure, so I had to shed some weight and I also had to wear a prosthetic nose to capture his look. It was an uncomfortable process but in the end, it was worth it. That became one of my favorite roles I ever played.

When was your first role as an actor?

My first role as an actor was when I was only 17 years old. Ironically, I was playing the part of an old man! The character was a former wrestling champion in a small town. His story was that he was getting ready to wrestle for the last time.

What attracted you to begin a career as an actor?

Everyone in my family was an avid movie-goer, everyone except my mother that is. I heard all about famous movie actors like Humphry Bogart and Bette Davis long before I ever saw them on screen. I remember one of the first movies I saw in an actual theater was a Charlie Chaplin film. I think that’s where my deep-rooted love of comedy comes from. I had a moment watching Kirk Douglas in Spartacus where I realized I had to become an actor.

Which character has been the toughest for you to morph into?

As I mentioned before, playing the Shah of Iran was very challenging for me, but most recently I played a blind Afghani man on “N.C.I.S. Los Angeles,” and that was a real challenge for me. It was especially challenging because it was not a stage role but an on-camera role.

Please tell us about any new projects you are

working on?

I’m currently working on my next project, which is for television. I have a long journey ahead! I’m also writing a play that will be presented on international stages next September. I’m very excited about this play because I will have the opportunity to perform with my wife once again.

Please tell us about some of your past theater performances?  And do you have any new plays coming up in the near future?

Over the course of my career, I have written and directed 17 plays. Two were in Iran and the rest took place in the United States. All but one of my plays was written in Farsi, and one in English. I staged my first play in the United States in 1985 with only four performances in California. My next play was staged a year later with twelve performances. It traveled internationally and was a huge success. My third play had only two performances but my fourth play, which was staged in 1992, was staged over five hundred times all around the world. Unfortunately, Iran was not one of them. All together I have staged more than a thousand performances since leaving Iran.

Which charity causes are close to your heart and why?

My wife and I both love doing charity work. I have worked with the “Mahak” charity for years. They focus on childhood cancer. I like to focus on charities that help children. The closest to my heart is the “Mother Miracle” school in India. With my wife, we sponsor nine young women who are educating themselves. We do whatever we can and we are open to help in any way.

As an Iranian actor who has played many different roles in as an actor, which one did you feel you connected with the most and why?

There are two that come to mind immediately. One was a guest part on “Homeland,” season four. My character was a very powerful army man, the head of the revolutionary guard of Iran. Even though he was a very powerful man he would speak softly and behaved humanly. This is what drew me to this character.

The second was for the show, “Bones.” I played a politician whose son was killed in a mysterious way and who was determined to find out what happened to his son despite the difficult and painful path. As a father, I could relate deeply.

What are your future career plans?

Since I immigrated to the United States I’ve had this dream to build a theater for the Iranian community.I envision a theater where productions can be mounted all year long, by many different artists, and where I provide opportunities for actors, writers, and directors, to exhibit their work;

a place to bring the Iranian theater community together in Los Angeles, to strengthen it, and bring it into the next generation.

Photography by Brenda Saint Hilaire Photography

Makeup and Hair by Edward Hakopian

Location; Calabasas

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