Arian Moayed of Succession Is Ready For His Backstage Nap
Arian Moayed is hitting his stride and soaking it up in between backstage naps. The stage, film, and television actor waltzed into the Hudson Theater’s Ambassador Lounge before the matinee of A Doll’s House, holding a half-eaten kale salad topped with a stuffed grape leaf. At a high top in the corner, he cracked open a lime La Croix to talk to me about the many hats he wears: Stewy in Succession, Torvald in A Doll’s House, Mark in You Hurt My Feelings, and, unexpectedly, high school drama teacher at Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS), where he embodies the “artist as citizen” philosophy that he champions through his nonprofit, Waterwell. Shortly before taking the stage in Amy Herzog’s updated version of Henrik Ibsen’s play, and days before the finale of Succession airs, Moayed spoke to me about Iran, his afternoon naps, leaving his characters behind on set, and how he plans to fill the Sunday night void.
MANDY TAHERI: The last time I saw you I was actually in your classroom.
ARIAN MOAYED: That’s right.
TAHERI: And now we are backstage at A Doll’s House. Where do you think you’re more comfortable? PPAS or the Hudson Theater?
MOAYED: Ooh. Both have a nice little home for me. Going to school, being in a classroom, gives me energy. [But] backstage is really the only place I have that I’m by myself right, where I need to relax right before the show happens. Both those energies are needed but for getting out into the world, I would say going into the classroom, that’s the best room.
TAHERI: What’s relaxing for you? Eating your salad and your La Croix?
MOAYED: This is true, and you can ask anyone that’s ever been in a play with me, I like to take a nap right before the show.
TAHERI: Did I interrupt your siesta?
MOAYED: No! Our show’s at 2.
TAHERI: So right after this it’s bedtime?
MOAYED: Well right after this we do a warm-up, from 1 to 1:15, and then I get into hair, get into the microphone and all that. And then at 1:40 I go give Jessica [Chastain] a hug before she enters and then I go into my room and lay down with the lights off. I usually fall asleep within two seconds.
TAHERI: Oh my god. And then, when you wake up, you go on stage?
MOAYED: Well, they say “Oak come to stage,” which is the actor right before me, so I hear “Oak” and I wake up and then I’m ready to do the show. It gets me out of my head. You know what I mean? It’s like “here we go, here we go.” When I’m sitting on the sides, usually I’m just trying to relax, trying to feel this level of focus and energy because it takes a lot of mental energy to go out there and be precise, especially in that last chunk of [the play], it’s so intense. So you really just need to make sure you are ready to go and you’re not thinking about like, laundry.
TAHERI: Obviously, we know you as Stewy, we know you as Torvald, but something that people might not know is that you’re also teaching and you have this whole other part of your life with the nonprofit you started, Waterwell. Can you tell me about that?
MOAYED: Well, it’s a belief that our work as artists is bigger than our careers. Our work as artists is to better the communities that we care about. And that actually is what the theater has been from the beginning, Aeschylus’s The Persians, the first play ever written. With that mentality, you can not only try to strive to be an excellent artist, but you can strive for engagement in the community. And if you think about it in those terms, what you can do is move the needle a little bit on forward progress, on trying to leave this earth a little bit better than we found it. And art is a real tool for that. In the Iran movement, Shervin Hajipour’s “Baraye” is the anthem for every Iranian across the globe; a piece of art did that. That’s responsive art, which is another thing Waterwell really believes in. Last year, we did this show called “Seven Minutes” about labor unions during the time when Amazon was becoming the first unionized factory in Staten Island. And all of the labor and union organizers came and saw our show, including Chris Smalls, and used the piece to talk about why it’s important. And that, in our mind, is what an “artist as citizen” is and what we can do.
TAHERI: Is that reflected in all the different characters you’re playing right now, in works that address these larger questions of gender dynamics, capitalism, patriarchy?
MOAYED: I think that you are hitting it on the head. The work is less about the character and more about the story in which this character lives. We could talk about that forever, but I’m less interested in the character of Torvald than I am in the story and what we’re trying to do today out there. And with Torvald, for example, I want to approach all the micro-cuts that men do on women all the time. And instead of going big and broad like male testosterone misogyny, we go to the micro, so people might even see themselves in that.
MOAYED: I mean, the character work is important too, but I just feel that that first part is way more important because I think I’m coming at it with an “artist as citizen” hat.
TAHERI: Do you think that Succession and its characters prepared you to play Torvald?
MOAYED: [Laughs] Funny. Um, not really, to be real with you. Well, they’re both about money, weirdly. I think Stewy lives in just another atmosphere. Stewy is a person that exemplifies some of the worst of those needs because he honestly says to the world that money is more important to me than friendship. But to answer your question, no, I don’t really think of them as similar in that way. I really think of them differently.
TAHERI: Tell us about your character in You Hurt My Feelings?
MOAYED: Mark is a sweet struggling actor who is getting up there in age and is going to start really trying to tackle the idea that he might not have the goods for this. And it’s a story about how honest you are with your loved ones. If your loved one reads your newest novel and you’re kind of like, “Well…”—do you tell her the truth? Do you not? It’s a little bit about the white lies we all tell each other. But it’s also a beautiful love story in the midst of all that.
TAHERI: How do you put these different characters to rest when you go home?
MOAYED: I don’t even think about them.
MOAYED: I leave it there on the stage. It takes maybe five to ten minutes, and then you know it’s gone.
TAHERI: So you’re just going to walk out of the theater today and Torvald’s gone?
MOAYED: Mm-hmm. I have a healthy relationship with that, in my opinion.
TAHERI: That is so impressive.
MOAYED: Maybe I shouldn’t say that I have a healthy relationship with that, but I don’t take that stuff home with me. I know a lot of actors that do. I try not to. In the process of rehearsing, sometimes that kind of comes home [with me], because I’m dealing with it longer in the day and I’m ingesting it. In A Doll’s House, there’s three very famous words, which I’m not saying right now so we don’t spoil it for your readers, but there’s this really amazing, crazy outburst that happens. And that crazy outburst, that only happened in week three or four of rehearsals. When it was happening, Jess and I were like “Something about this isn’t working” and then Amy came in and said, “I have a new addition, and it’s these three words.” I remember it like it was yesterday. And I looked over at Jess and I said, “I don’t want to say that.” It’s just so not my words. I don’t like the s-word, much less the b-word, and then I was just like “Oh god,” and for like three or four days, it started to dawn on me like “Oh, this is going to hurt me every night.” But once the play starts up and running, I really like to make sure I compartmentalize all that stuff. Actors have come up to me and said, “I don’t know if I can play a part like Torvald because he is so hated at the end of this thing.” And to be honest, I feel the exact opposite about that. I have no relationship with Torvald. It’s done. You hopefully don’t think he’s a complete fucking asshole and you think he’s a little clueless. And then when they applaud, when she leaves Torvald, I think that’s the real joy.
TAHERI: This is such a crazy moment for you, between A Doll’s House and your Tony nominations and You Hurt My Feelings and Succession. How are you feeling?
MOAYED: I’m trying to just enjoy it. What’s amazing is it’s just been a lot of hard work. And truthfully, the hard work is the thing. I just love that. Part of me feels that the hard work, the struggle, the insecurity of not knowing what’s going to happen, all of that has led to this moment, which feels sort of satisfying. Iranians have this thing of not wanting to express too much joy. “Cheshmet me zanan,” which means “the devil might wink at you.” But I really feel all of the work is a representation of the stuff I want to put out there, so I’m really just glad about that.
TAHERI: Well, since you brought up Iran, the last time I saw you you were wearing a Persian script t-shirt that said “New York.” And at Anna Wintour’s party, you were wearing another Persian script t-shirt that said–
MOAYED: “Mau me behrem,” which means “we will win.”
TAHERI: Tell me about that.
MOAYED: I’m going to rephrase that so it’s very clear. I think that the people living in Iran and that the Iranians living outside of Iran know that the end is near for the Islamic Republic and we have to put it out there that we will win this. And it might take a second, it’s not going to be easy, but they are fed up, it’s over. That’s what I think it means. It could also mean that the wheels of progress will win.
TAHERI: And lastly, what are you doing this Sunday for the Succession finale?
MOAYED: That’s so funny. We all were on this text chain because it’s Memorial Day weekend. I just found out that Jazz [Charton] and Kieran are in Poland and they can’t even see the last episode, J. Smith-Cameron and Zoe [Winters] and Dag [Dominczyk] and some others, were trying to find a watch party. But right now, nothing!
TAHERI: I’m assuming you watch every Sunday. How are you going to fill the void?
MOAYED: I was thinking about starting from the top and just rewatching the whole show every Sunday, pretending that it’s new.
TAHERI: Well, you’ve got to take your nap. Thank you for taking the time.
MOAYED: Gosh, this was amazing, please.