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Episode 5: The Life of a Working Actor with Amir Talai

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by Katherine Beck in The All American Biz
04/01/2021

Episode 05: The Life of a Working Actor with Amir Talai

Today we are talking with Los Angeles Actor, Amir Talai. Amir shares his perspective on the U.S. Film/TV industry and shares with us his journey as a working actor.

In today’s episode, I chat with Amir Talai about the digital age of auditioning, his time at The Groundlings and how improv has helped him as an Actor.

This episode will give you the insight into what it’s like to be a working Actor in L.A.

By the time you finish listening, you’ll learn:

  • What’s happening in the U.S. TV/Film industry right now.
  • Why every Actor should take an Improv class
  • 2 simple things every Actor should be doing for their career.

ABOUT AMIR TALAI:

Amir Talai’s day job is acting, which he uses to fund his passions– public service and traveling. He has a long list of credits but is most widely recognized from Fox’s short-lived LA to Vegas, hosting the bottomless party in Harold and Kumar 2, or his many national commercials. He serves on the board of the Story of Stuff Project, several SAG-AFTRA committees, and as a member of the MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition. His essays on #RepresentationMatters have been published by Vulture, BuzzfeedNews, and The Establishment.

CONNECT WITH AMIR TALAI

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LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Katherine Beck  00:00

You’re listening to the All American actors podcast, Episode Five. In today’s episode, I am going to be speaking with a very talented and very funny actor Amir to lie that’s coming up next. Ready to go behind the scenes and learn what it really takes to build a sustainable career as a working actor in the US film and TV industry. Join me Katherine Beck. You’re all American accent coach, as I give you the insight and inspiration to take action on your career, learn my best tips and tricks to performing with an American accent and hear from working actors and other industry professionals. To give you a comprehensive overview of this biz we call show them.This is the all American actors podcast. Before we jump into today’s episode with the Amir, I just want to thank you for listening and let you know that when you leave us a five star review for this podcast, you’ll get a chance to be featured as our start listener of the week. And I’ll even give you a shout out right here on the show. So if you liked this episode, go ahead and leave us a review. My guest today on the show I met about 16 years ago in an improv class at the Groundlings. And since the last time I saw Amir, he has really made a great career for himself as an actor. He’s worked on feature films such as marriage story, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Harold and Kumar to escape from Guantanamo Bay. He has also worked extensively in TV and voiceover as well. I’m really excited to share this interview with you. So let us begin. Welcome, Amir, thank you so much for being on the show with me. Let’s first start off by telling our listeners a little bit about who you are.

Amir Talai  01:52

Uh, well, I’m an actor in Los Angeles. I’m originally from San Francisco.You know, done a lot of comedies. Mostly that I did. I did sketch comedy when I was first starting out.And I would say,you know, people in the states might recognize me from either I would say like Harold and Kumar to was one of the biggest ones I did. What to Expect When You’re Expecting is another big one. I diddone a lot of commercials. So definitely people recognize me from those. You know, I act I tried to do good in the world. I try to be an activist where I can and and I thing and yeah, what else you want to know Katherine?

Katherine Beck  02:42

Everything Amir, that camera. So when did you decide to become an actor?

Amir Talai  02:47

Um, I think I decided to become an actor when? Well, I always wanted to be an actor. But I didn’t know that I could be successful at it. I didn’t plan to be successful at it. I didn’t expect to be successful at it. But over time, it just sort of became the thing I was doing. It was just that, okay, well, this is how I pay my bills now. And I don’t have to do the other stuff anymore. But I always I always figured acting would be sort of a fun thing I did on the side. And then lo and behold, I’ve been doing that for 20 years. So, you know, I think I’ve had the bug ever since like Middle School. But yeah, I just I was just taking classes doing little things and little things turned into big things. So you and I met at the Groundlings and what at what stage was that in your career? We first starting out still testing the waters, yes, comedy. So I had, I had been working in San Francisco for about three years or so after college as an actor. And in San Francisco, I was managing to pay like two thirds to three fourths of my bills with acting, which is great. But I but I was working about as much as any San Francisco actor could, and still not able to pay all my bills with acting. And so it was like, Okay, well, I’ve sort of reached the ceiling here. So let’s go to LA and try that for a while. And I didn’t, you know, I was like, I might be back here in two years or five years. But let’s see. And so when I got to LA, one of the first things I did was sign up for classes at the Groundlings, which by the way, the Groundlings are doing zoom classes right now. So I wonder, I wonder if they’re getting like international students, I suspect that they are which is a really cool thing, if possible.

Katherine Beck  04:44

I think are because from my perspective, being over here, I’ve had a lot of actors say they’re doing this class in LA on zoom and that class in LA on zoom. So it’s really exciting now how international actors can now take classes like you and I took class, but on zoom.

Amir Talai  05:02

Yeah, I did a couple Groundlings shows over zoom recently, and a couple of the actors were in Bangalore, India. And that’s one of the very few silver linings of this whole thing is that we’ve actually found ways to connect with people around the world in ways that we never would have thought to before. So anyway, I, uh, yeah, the grounds is one of the first things I did, and it was really important for my development. And, and my both my both my artistic and my professional development, right, I met a lot of people there, made some connections, you know, people who I continued to work with and collaborate with after the Groundlings there. So yeah, that was one of the first things I did and one of the most important things I did.

Katherine Beck  05:55

And how did you find that your improvisation training helps set you up then for auditioning and getting those roles?

Amir Talai  06:03

I think that the more trained you are in improv, the less likely you are to feel very sort of precious about what you do in an audition. And I think that’s incredibly important. I think one of the most important skills to have as an audition owner is a sense of ease, comfort. So I just think that improv even if you don’t want to be an improvisational actor, which most people shouldn’t, I think it’s I think it’s extremely valuable to to help you be a good audition, or Yeah, I 100% agree on that, for sure.

Katherine Beck  06:52

So, in terms of auditioning in LA, what have you noticed? Obviously, it’s been a crazy year. Have you noticed any sort of changes over there? You know, because I’m in Sydney. So it’s a bit different here. But in terms of LA because it’s sort of like the, you know, we think of LA is having the bulk of the auditions. Now what’s happened? What have you noticed in terms of the amount of in the room auditions, you have to zoom auditions to self tapes? How’s it changed over there for you?

Amir Talai  07:21

There is no longer people keep saying, well, the new normal is blah, blah, blah. There’s not a there’s not a new normal yet. So people keep looking for the new normal, but the but the conditions in the conditions are changing. So quickly and massively, that there isn’t really a new normal to be had, right? You know, there was this, there’s a feeling that like, Okay, well, there’s not going to be any production in the state. So pretty much everything was going to move to like, Canada and South Africa and Australia. And, and that lasted for about a month, right? until people were like, let’s figure something out. And then it was like, Oh, actually, you know, what the numbers are coming down in the States. So so let’s go ahead and, and follow through with productions. And I was like, oh, holy shit, the numbers are exploding in the state. So let’s pull back. So it’s just like, you know, there is no pattern to be discerned yet. And then, and now we’re gonna have a whole new normal with the vaccine coming out. Right? Which, you know, that’ll, that won’t change things immediately. But it may change certain people’s behavior and beliefs in the short term. So who knows? You know, as far as what auditioning are happening remotely? Well, first of all, there’s nothing there’s nothing live. But the auditions I have been getting have been overwhelmingly self tapes, with an occasional live audition. And sometimes a self tape initial audition, and they live. Me and when I say live, I mean zoom or something like that. callback. So yeah, so that’s what it’s been like lately, but who knows what it’ll look like by the time this podcast airs. You don’t then

Katherine Beck  09:16

Yeah, exactly. Have you, I’d be curious to know have you worked on set at all this year?

Amir Talai  09:22

Almost. I booked something. I booked something and I had to be tested the day before my fitting and then I have the tested on the day of my fitting for my shoot day. Right. So when they got the test, all good. went in and got the fitting all good. On the way out, got the test for the shoot. Before I did the test, they were like shoots been pushed someone got COVID so so that whole shoot so I didn’t even have to do that test that day because they’re like cuz you’re not shooting this week. Thankfully, I was able to get my fitting done, because it was in a different sort of zone from what was happening on set. But the my shoot, the shoot part of my job has been pushed to January. And right now it’s mid December, right?

Katherine Beck  10:15

Wow. I had sort of a similar experience it was for a voiceover not on screen and I actually got a call for a voiceover job. And the day before was a Sunday, I came down with a cold. And so I had to call my voiceover agent Monday morning and say, I’m sick, I obviously have to get a COVID test. I will rush to go get one and then I will let you know the results. Well, the voiceover they had to go on with the show. So I got recast. And I ended up losing the job. You know, it’s interesting these days, what us as actors voiceover talent, we have to endure Now sometimes losing jobs or getting postponed because of the circumstances. We just have to battle on.

Amir Talai  11:01

Yeah, I’ve done a few voiceovers a lot from home and then a couple in the studio. And it was a very, very strange to go into the studio and sort of like tucking through a back door not see anyone and then leave. And I presumably they came up and cleaned up after me. Cleaned up all my Corona that I sprayed all over the booth. Yes, super weird. What was I gonna tell you about? You just made me think of something?

Katherine Beck  11:32

Well, I was going to ask you because I did notice on your IMDb that you’ve done a fair bit of voice work. So have you had to do different types of character voices or accents in your acting career?

Amir Talai  11:45

Yeah, it’s funny. One of my very first professional audition was in general for a big for big theater in, in San Francisco. And the casting director at the end of my audition goes, Hey, I’m just thinking about another show that we have coming up. Do you do an Indian accent? And I literally scoffed at her. I was like, yeah, if you look like me, you better I didn’t think. But um, but yeah, I think, you know, it’s funny, because when you look, Middle Eastern Indian, Israeli, you know, North African, um, you’ll be expected to do all of those accents for various auditions. And so yeah, so I’ve, you know, I’ve played Indian characters, and Arab characters, Persian characters. I don’t know, that I’ve ever played Pakistani, probably played someone from Afghanistan. And particularly in the early days, you know, in the in the sort of decade after 911, when there was a lot of very specific sort of terrorism related stuff. Producers didn’t care, what you look like, as an author, and they also didn’t care if your accent was passable. They just close enough with good enough for them? I think that’s changed to a certain extent. I think it’s harder for someone who’s, I would say, like Israeli to get cast as Pakistani and vice versa. You know, if you look at what’s his name is Naveen Andrews, who played Siede on last. I mean, he couldn’t read more South Asian to me. And meanwhile, he’s, I mean, like, he just his face screams South Asian and I don’t mean that positively or negatively. It’s just freakin obvious to me. And he’s playing like a rocky guard on last. And I think that was like one of the last major like, that’s, that’s terribly inaccurate sort of moves. I haven’t been asked to do British or Aussie. And then I think in voiceover Yeah. I mean, I think I’ve done accents all over the place for sure. Yeah, I’ve still done I still done India. I think the last Indian accent I did in voiceover was not too long ago, maybe a couple years ago.

Katherine Beck  14:20

Right. And so it’s interesting that you’ve been expected to have all these other accents as part of your repertoire. What’s your process then if somebody asks you to do an accent for an audition? Or let’s say it’s on the spot in a voiceover session? How do you prepare for an accent?

Amir Talai  14:38

Um, I would say that I’ve done a lot of preparation over the last 20 years. Such that I don’t have to think too much about it anymore. Indian comes very, very easily to me because that’s that’s one that I’ve been doing. I would say since like right out of college.I’m also really lucky in that I have a very, very good ear. Because I grew up speaking four different languages and singing. And I think that just that tunes you in. So I’m, I’m an incredibly good mimic. And I also like I can discern accents. I mean, I’m not always great at certain accents, like, I’m not great at, for example, a German accent. But I can, I can clue into it more quickly than than most people, you know. So, you know, at this point, I don’t do too many other accents other than Persian, and occasionally Arab, which is not far from Persian. Now that catches with various Arab accents. People say, I’ve heard people say, like, Oh, well, you know, an accent from someone from Afghanistan is going to be different than someone in Syria or Kuwait. And it’s like, Yeah, yes, and no. It’s, the fact is, their accents going to depend a lot more on their schooling, and the pop culture they consumed than their geographic area that they came from, in the Middle East. Right, my dad and my uncle are both from Tehran, but one of them was educated in San Francisco, and one of them was educated in London. And so their accents are super different. All of which, all of which leads to, you know, you can see two people in the St. Louis, you know, from the same place on a on a TV show, and they might have very different accents. And some people might call that unrealistic, but actually, it’s realistic.

Katherine Beck  16:55

Yeah. And that’s what I try to express to my international actors when they’re trying to find the American accent. I say there’s not one specific way to sound American. Because when you go to the US, everyone sounds different. Because our makeup is different. Our history where our parents grew up, our education, our financial status, all of that tells us how we speak today. And our accent is ever changing as well. The accent that I have today is not the accent that I had when I lived in LA when I met you is not the same accent that I had when I grew up in Chicago, my accents changed because I’ve changed. And I think that’s the really cool thing. And I think you’re so right on is that there’s no one specific way to sound like that country.

Amir Talai  17:46

Yeah, it’s I mean, it is tough. You know, like, my wife is from Philly, but she’s, so she, you know, I would say 15 years ago probably had a pretty thick Philly accent. But she’s been in California for about 15 years now. And sometimes I hear a very specific sort of California up speak at the end of some of her sentences. And I’m like, Wow, that’s so California. That’s so not Philly. Now, that being said, you know, if someone from Australia were to play an American, it’s difficult to say, Well, I’m going to play this woman as someone who’s from Philly, but spent the last 15 years to California, because what could that’s good. Just gonna end up confusing them.

Katherine Beck  18:34

Yeah.

Amir Talai  18:35

Which will lead to all kinds of problems with their accent.

Katherine Beck  18:37

Yeah. You got to make it easy on yourself.

Amir Talai  18:40

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Katherine Beck  18:42

So I’m really curious, because you have had quite a nice career that you’ve built for yourself in LA, you’ve been on quite a few shows, and have a nice, you know, resume of great movies that you’ve worked on as well. What is it like to be a real life working actor in LA? So someone who goes from job to job to job pretty consistently?

Amir Talai  19:06

What’s it like?

Katherine Beck  19:07

Like, have you ever had that feeling where you worried about this as my last job? Or do you ever have those insecurities that ever pop?

Amir Talai  19:17

Oh,

Katherine Beck  19:17

These days? You know, cuz you worked quite a bit.

Amir Talai  19:20

I do. I do. There are times Yeah. And I think that a lot of it just comes down to sort of faith. You know, that it’s almost religious, but but not I think I have a little more proof you know, but uh, but but people of faith, just go I just believe I just believe in that’s enough for me. And for me, I just believe that I’m not done working. Now. You know, I do have a bit of a track record to operate from right that I haven’t stopped working for 20 years. So it’s unlikely that my next job will be my last job.Course it’s possible, but, but I have faith that it won’t be my last job. That being said, You know, I also have faith in myself to, to be able to pivot if I need to. And if I, if I stop working in acting, that’ll suck, but I’ll figure out a way to move on, you know, we might not have the safety net in America than we then y’all do in other countries. But, you know, I’ll figure it out. And fortunately, I have I have a wife who has a job too. So there’s that.

Katherine Beck  20:33

Well, that helps. That definitely helps as well. Yeah. And also probably a really strong team behind you as well supporting you, in terms of managers and agents.

Amir Talai  20:45

Yeah, yeah.It is extremely reassuring that I’ve got a team of Gosh, 12 to 15 agents, who none of them have dropped to me yet. Right. So just at a base level, they believe that the investment is worth it. So that’s a really good sign. Right? Because they’re professional agents.

Katherine Beck  21:14

Professional agents, right.

Amir Talai  21:16

Ostensibly, they know their shit, so, so the fact that they, the they think I’m still worth it, at the very least I’ve got 10, 15 people still on my side.

Katherine Beck  21:25

Amazing. I just want to wrap it up, unless there’s anything else that you want to talk about. But I always think it’s really interesting for my international actors to get advice from working actors that are in LA that are in the business right now, for anyone that’s just sort of starting out or wants to break into the US film and TV industry from other countries, what sort of advice would you give them?

Amir Talai  21:50

Well, so I don’t have any sort of international specific advice, because it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, I don’t have the experience to tell people in in Sydney or Auckland, or, you know, Bristol, what it’s like, relative to where they live. But I can say that, I think the most important things to do, as a beginning actor, no matter where you live, are to do two things connect and create. So you should be creating something as much as possible. And it’s up to you what that is. And, and so that could be creating short videos, long videos, scripts, sketches, plays, whatever, right? That’s creating. And then you should also be connected, right? And you can connect with fellow actors, representatives, producers, directors, in a million different ways, right? You can connect by creating, you can connect by networking, schmoozing, if you’re into that I’m not. But some people are good at it. And if you’re good at it, do it. Right. You can connect by being in class. And, you know, I don’t know if this is the case outside of the US, but in the US, across all businesses, not just Hollywood 50% of people get their job from someone they know. Right. I think it’s the same for Hollywood, if not more. And I think that I think that I suspect that it’s similar in other countries as well. Right. So that’s what connecting is about. And and frankly, creating is a way to connect to people on involved with your project as well. And also creating is just really good for your artistic development. Your soul. Right? So you, you know, you want to do you want to do both. If you’re if all you’re doing is connecting, I think you’re selling yourself short. And if all you’re doing is creating, I think you’re you’re not being as productive as you could be.

Katherine Beck  24:28

That’s such great advice for anyone who’s an actor, that find balance between creativity and the business side of things, which often we forget one or the other or it’s not in balance in sync. This has been such a joy to speak with you, Amir, thank you so much for taking the time to spend with us. I really appreciate it. And I wish you all the continued success in your acting career. And thank you so much.

Amir Talai  24:54

Of course, Katherine. Thank you. This was fun.

Katherine Beck  24:57

Thank you so much for tuning in today. I hope you enjoy today’s interview just as much as I did. And hey, if you’re ready to start working on your American accent and really following your dreams, then let’s get to work. I am hosting a free five day American accent challenge starting January 11. We’re going to be working in depth together on your American accent so you can feel confident and ready for any audition that comes your way. Just head over to my website, Katherine beck.com slash challenge to register and I will see you there at the challenge. And if you ever have any questions for me, you can always find me on Instagram that’s at Katherine underscore back. underscore, send me a DM. Let’s chat. I would love to hear from you. Especially if you have any questions or topics you’d like to hear on the podcast drop me a DM and let’s chat. And coming up next time on the show I am going to share with you why most actors failed at mastering the American accent. And I’ll share with you how not to fail at mastering the American accent. And make sure to share the show with all your actor friends. Let them know what’s coming up next time and invite them to tune in with you and learn how to become an all American Actor so you can be the working actor you dream to be. Until then go practice your American accent and I’ll see you back here next time.

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