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Arian Moayed on ‘You Hurt My Feelings,’ Succession,’ and Importance of Arts

May 23, 2023


Honesty is the best policy. Or is it? In Nicole Holofcener’s upcoming comedy You Hurt My Feelings, a loving couple — author Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and therapist Don (Tobias Menzies) — find their affectionate marriage cruising some rocky terrain when Beth discovers Don has been lying to her, ostensibly to spare her feelings. Not helping matters is Beth’s sister Sarah (Michaela Watkins), who routinely lies to her husband Mark (Arian Moayed) about how good an actor he is, and doesn’t see the issue with a little marital dishonesty, if the intention is good.

Collider’s Arezou Amin sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with Moayed to talk about working with Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus, and staying motivated in a world that can be as thankless as the arts. They also talked about creating a backstory for Succession’s Stewy Hosseini, A Doll’s House, and the importance of art as a social message.
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ARIAN MOAYED: Hello, I’m imagining that you’re Iranian?

COLLIDER: Yes, I am, well-spotted! First-ever interview I’ve done where someone’s got my name right on the first try.

MOAYED: I’m sure. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Yeah, relatable! So, You Hurt My Feelings, the movie – you did not, obviously, hurt my feelings – what about it spoke to you?

MOAYED: Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfus were the two main engines. I’ve seen Nicole’s work since the ‘90s, Walking and Talking and pieces throughout, and I grew up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I grew up with that show, Seinfeld. I wanted to understand how they made all the jokes, I was obsessed with it. [Laughs] That was the first thing. I also know with Nicole’s work, you’re gonna get something very honest. She’s looking for really honest, simple, tragic, hilarious people, so those are the reasons.

Touching on that – it’s very honest, very tragic – the arts in general can sometimes be so thankless as a profession, and I think that’s something that the movie touches on really well with Mark and, obviously with Beth. So what do you think, in those moments, is the key to staying motivated?

MOAYED: God, that is a great question, isn’t it? [Laughs] You just need little pieces of validation along the way. So sometimes, like a good audition could be three weeks of positivity, you know what I mean? But sometimes you get only an audition once, you know, every six months. So then, all of a sudden, you’re putting a lot of eggs in that validation basket, which might not kind of come through. So, I think one way of doing it is just trying to get more at bats, I guess, to try to get out there more, so you can take the hits more. It’s a tough thing. I teach, I teach high school students, and have so many actors that quit at 23, 24, 25, and I get it because it’s too hard, or they don’t really love it, and so, it’s a hard thing to kind of just know what you are supposed to do, it’s tough.

Image via A24

I can imagine a lot of people getting real down real quick. So obviously you are a successful actor, but did you ever hit that point like Mark did, where you’re just like, “Is this path worth it? What’s the point?” I’m sure you must have.

MOAYED: Oh, yeah, totally. I’ve been doing this for 21 years, and most people only see me for six of those 21 years. Yeah, no, oh, totally. I still have those feelings sometimes, if I’m being honest with you. I mean, the feeling doesn’t go away, it’s too real. I know friends of mine that are geniuses, Emmy-winners, Oscar-winners, that do one play, get one bad review, and want to run away. It’s so real, it’s so hard. It’s a tricky beast trying to be an artist in this world, you know?

I think that’s something the movie, like throughout the whole thing, just captured so well, how everything can be.

MOAYED: So, so well. Yeah, exactly.

So pivoting just a second for Succession, one of the projects people recently know you for, and the slightly terrifying Stewy Hosseini, were there any kind of offscreen elements that informed how you played him? Did you make a backstory beyond what we already know?

MOAYED: It was all just kind of shared. I mean that by, Jesse [Armstrong] and I had a conversation about him being Iranian and when he came over, and all that. But after we had that conversation, I was very honest, I was like, “Whatever we decide here, it doesn’t have to be talked about in the show.” I think part of what I was really hoping for is that we can leave him being Stewy Hosseini and people just accept him for what he is. That happens to be Iranian, and at that level. I think that’s not defining him, which that was very important to me.

I’ve known Jeremy [Strong] since he was 19, or I was 19 and he was 20, or something, and a lot of these actors are in the theater community, so I’ve seen them around and we’ve hung out and things. And so, a lot of that backstory is just feeling safe in this environment to act in the best way that you can, and that was done pretty quickly because of how we all kind of knew each other.

You kind of had that bond, it’s just in a different context now.

MOAYED: Yeah, exactly, exactly, exactly.

Image via HBO

As an actor, if you’re jumping between genres to something super grounded, like You Hurt My Feelings and then upcoming House of Spoils, which is like more on the horror side, is that something that you feel when you’re performing, or does it just kind of distill down to the truth of your character and the genre doesn’t really come into it?

MOAYED: You mentioned four things that, you know, completely have different mindsets. But let’s talk about You Hurt My Feelings. You Hurt My Feelings, Nicole has written truthful characters, and they have to be really deeply truthful. We know that it’s funny, we can’t worry too much about all the jokes all the time, we have to worry about making it so truthful, you know what I mean? And we have Nicole. So as she is the writer-director, it’s very easy for us to lean into her. But, for something like House of Spoils that you’ve just mentioned, we’re also telling a psychological thriller-horror, you know what I mean? So we also know what genre we’re in, so you’re trying to be truthful, but you’re also trying to live in the world of this story.

I was told this when I was doing Inventing Anna, by like the Shonda [Rhimes] team, that I act a little bit like a writer because I’m really interested about the truth, and I’m also interested about story and what the story does to a thing. So, in A Doll’s House right now, Torvald is notoriously a real kind of hated character in the theater, and that’s a tricky thing. At the end of this story, Nora has to leave, and we want the story to be that this is some sort of moment of strength and power and exuberance, and so in that scenario, I as the actor know that I have to be, also, somehow defeated. So I’m thinking as a writer as well as an actor, and also trying to find the truth, so it just depends from project to project. A long answer to your very simple question.

So you mentioned you’re thinking as an actor, as a writer – you are also a director. The Accidental Wolf Season 3 just came out, are you eyeing another chance to sit in the director’s chair, maybe once things calm down post-A Doll’s House?

MOAYED: There are a couple of things in the works for me as a writer and director that hopefully the world will find out about soon, yeah! I think that’s a big path of where I’m trying to move towards.

Image via A24

I want to circle back to A Doll’s House for a second, I’m going to tie these two together. You’ve been a very vocal proponent of the ongoing freedom movement in Iran, something obviously very close to my heart, and I want to know, because there’s not much people can do beyond amplification, what role do you think art plays in keeping causes like this alive?

MOAYED: It is the most essential portion. Art is the most essential portion for forward movement in society. The only two things that we have in society to look back on are all the wars that we fought and all the art that has survived. Those are the two things that have remained since the beginning of time, the art and the wars. And so really, I have dedicated my life with Waterwell, my nonprofit, and with causes like Women, Life, Freedom, to say that art is an essential tool for that forward momentum, maybe the most essential. Because if you get people with a piece of art to understand the plight and the hatred that women have under the Islamic regime, and you get people to empathize with that and understand and put themselves in those shoes, you start to see a world that you didn’t know anything about and start realizing, “Well, that is unjust,” and art is a very easy mechanism for people to do that because we are in the game of empathy-giving. That’s what we do. We’re gonna empathize with our characters in the theater and film and TV, and your job is to care about them in some sort of way, or not.

And so, I think it’s very essential, and I think so much of the movement and the revolution has been happening because of the iPhone and videos that people have been making, and making little pieces of art that’s come out of that. I think the most important one being the song, “Baraye,” which Shervin Hajipour was imprisoned for and just recently won a Grammy for this social action song. That is the new anthem of the Iranian movement, without any question. Every Iranian knows every word of that. A piece of art did that, right? I think it’s essential.

So tying it back, to kind of wrap it up with You Hurt My Feelings, for the creative types that go see it, what are you hoping that their takeaway will be walking out of the theater?

MOAYED: I’m in love with these two couples. I really am in love with these couples. I think they are navigating some tricky waters with healthy expectations, they’re doing it well. And what I hope people, creatives, take out of it is– It’s funny… what do creatives take away? That was your question, you said creatives. I think we all have to get ready, we have to have thicker skin, we have to be able to take stuff, you know? [Laughs] I think that might not happen in any short lifetime, I think because we’re just also imperfect people, but I think it’s one thing that we can all learn, just to make sure that we can hear it from the ones closest to us. I guess I’m really speaking to myself.

Which I guess is important. You want to have that kind of connection with your character, right?

MOAYED: I do, but my wife also, even if she doesn’t like it, she’s just gonna give me a couple of weeks of just love, just like, “Okay, great. That’s fine, that’s awesome.” I prefer that, I prefer that.

You Hurt My Feelings is in theaters May 26.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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