As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.
The series continues with actor, writer, and director Arian Moayed, who is also the co-founder of Waterwell, a civic-minded and socially conscious theatre and education company. Best known for his roles in The Humans (Drama Desk Award), Guards at the Taj (Obie Award), Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Tony nomination), and HBO's Succession, he will next be seen in Netflix's Inventing Anna. With Waterwell Films, Moayed has written and directed the Emmy-nominated, short-form thriller The Accidental Wolf, which debuts as a Topic original series November 26.
Can you tell me a bit about The Accidental Wolf?
The Accidental Wolf is a new TV thriller that debuts on Topic on November 26. Starring the incomparable and singular Kelli O’Hara, The Accidental Wolf was written and directed by myself and produced by Damon Owlia, Jayne Sherman, and Gregory Franklin.
The premise is simple. The Accidental Wolf centers on Katie Bonner (O’Hara), who lives an unexceptional life. Married to a successful attorney, she cares for their newborn, and quietly exists in her Manhattan penthouse. One night, Katie receives a call from an unknown number. On the other line, a distressed man fights for survival as gunshots and explosions echo in the background. In his final moments, the caller pleads for the life of his pregnant and wounded wife, Tala. Deeply affected, Katie embarks on a journey to find her…and herself along the way. Before too long, the mystery of the unknown caller and search for Tala threaten to cost Katie everything. How far will Katie go to help a stranger?
With over 40 Tony nominations in our first season, the cast includes Kelli (this performance garnered an Emmy nomination), Mike Doyle, Sahr Nguajah, Judith Ivey, Laurie Metcalf, Brandon Dirden, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Denis O’Hare, Raul Castillo, Jayne Houdyshell, Reed Birney, Sarah Steele, Amy Landecker, Ben McKenzie, Michael Chernus, Frank Wood, Cassie Beck, Erin Wilhelmi…to name a few.
What is your typical day like now?
Most of what I do these days include these following items: Zoom, helping my kids with fourth grade social studies and/or sixth grade science experiments, back to Zoom, teaching high school seniors at our Waterwell Drama Program, Zooming, board-chairing Waterwell…and then Zoom.
What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Tough question. There are too many to mention. I’ll keep it simple. My family and I watched all Tom Hanks films (that were appropriate), and that has been beyond a highlight. From Apollo 13 to Forrest Gump to Castaway to Catch Me if You Can, I have to say…I’ve created some Hanks fans at House Moayed.
Personally, I May Destroy You, as well as Season 2 of Ramy.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
As a POC and immigrant from Iran that has deep ties in the theatre, thank you for asking. I wish all folks in our industry would ask more questions like this. In 2002, I co-founded Waterwell, an art and education company, dedicated to telling engrossing stories in unexpected ways that deliberately wrestle with complex civic questions. For nearly 20 years, we’ve worked alongside immigrant, veteran, student, and artistic communities in bringing creatively daring and emotional potent connections across real and perceived divides.
An example: In 2017, Waterwell produced a dual-language Hamlet set in 1917, Tehran, where I played the title character. During this time period, the Persian Empire was continually trying to Western themselves with suits, phonographs, new cars, electricity, and so on and so forth. At that time, Iranians were dealing with a spiritual and global crisis. Do we follow our ancient customs, traditions, and language? Or do they Westernize into a more global neighborhood?
This was not a color-blind casting process. This was actually a color-specific project. The Iranian and MENA (Middle Eastern North African) actors and designers came together to tell a very specific story about how we see the world. Ben Brantley of the New York Times mentioned that Waterwell is “exploring the existential crises that arise when national identity comes under siege, and it’s remarkable how neatly Shakespeare’s text accommodates such an interpretation.”
This is one POC story of thousands.
Waterwell was lucky enough to fund and produce it, but we all know these stories are the exception not the rule. That’s why we even have to ask the question—how come? Why aren’t more non-profits telling these stories? How come these dramas never see the light of day? Doesn’t fit a mandate? These stories won’t sell tickets? Who dictates what stories should and should not be told? Does that artistic director or executive staff empathize, listen, and engage to the numerous voiceless communities?
Maybe none of these questions I posed are the right ones, actually. I sometimes wonder if it should be even more direct.
Who do you need to hire at your organization that will bring these Black, Indigenous, POC, LBGTQ+, Asian, and voiceless stories to life? How quickly can you do it?
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
Watch old movies. Eat ice cream. Meditate. Read. Paint. Watch The Accidental Wolf on November 26th on Topic! (Seamless plug…if you ask me.)
How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Has that been helpful to you?
Creating, producing, writing, editing, and teaching. These are my engines that keep me moving forward.
Spending time with my family has been so rewarding and deeply satisfying. Watching them learn in remote school has been eye-opening, nostalgic, and annoying all at once. All of that has really kept the juices flowing, so to speak.
Oh and ice cream. You need ice cream for creativity.
Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
I’m currently working on a Christmas radio play called The Man in Red starring some friends from The Humans, Succession, and The Accidental Wolf. Working alongside singer-songwriter Butch Phelps, the question I wanted to answer in making this piece was, “What if the most hopeful person…loses hope?” I’m also outlining a history of my family and our immigration story into a memoir. From escaping Iran, moving to America, and growing up during the anti-Iranian fervor of the '80s, '90s and post-9/11 world, there is so much to unravel. The sacrifices that my parents made, my brother fighting in the Iran/Iraq war, my other brother living in the United States while the revolution of 1979 was happening, my sister arriving to America 17 years after we did…lots to explore.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
The Valerie Fund is an organization that has dedicated their lives in helping children living with cancer. My heroic nephew, William Rocco DiGregorio, lost his battle this past June at the age of 11. It devastated all of us, but remembering how much joy the Valerie Fund brought him are memories I hope never to forget.
And Waterwell could always use your help. We have a lot of good work happening right now including remote teaching public school students completely free of charge, producing 18 events in six battleground states to talk about immigration, and The Flores Exhibits, working alongside veterans with Fleet Week Follies, an annual celebration during Fleet Week. Please take a moment and support us if you can.