‘The Actor’ Dazzles Series Mania Stage

For writers of hardboiled fiction, the private eye could act as a conduit, an unmoored guide moving freely across social ranks and situations. For director Nima Javidi – whose new series “The Actor” is the first Iranian production to premiere in competition at Series Mania – the thespian might play a similar role.

“Shakespeare said that all the world’s a stage,” Javidi tells Variety. “And that all the men and women are merely players, assuming different roles depending on their situations and what they want to achieve. I thought it was fascinating [to put performers in those private detective roles and have them], overcome obstacles, solve problems, and save themselves and others from difficulties by using their acting abilities.”

Led by Venice best actor winner Navid Mohammadzadeh (who recently anchored Saeed Roustayi’s Cannes-acclaimed “Leila’s Brothers”), “The Actor” follows Ali (Mohammadzadeh) and Morteza (Ahmad Mehranfar), two down-and-out performers with little to their names but a derelict theater for which they can barely make rent. Still looking to practice their chosen trade, the performing pair stage elaborate, costumed pranks, mostly paid for by Teheran’s rich-kid set. That is, until the duo catch the attention of a shadowy private firm that uses improv artists as investigators.

“This kind of role-playing in real life could expand forever, assuming so many different forms,” Javidi explains. “Unlike Sherlock Holmes, who uses his intelligence, or superheroes, who save people with their incredible strength, [Ali and Morteza] resolve their obstacles and accomplish their adventures by exercising their art. They act to save themselves and others from difficulties.”

Forging an intriguing mix of serial and procedural, and with a season order of 26 episodes, “The Actor” moves at a beguiling and deliberate pace, keeping viewers on-edge with an ever shifting tonal register. Like a scene partner — another “Yes And” party accompanying the two leads in bouts of make-believe — the series’ very style accentuates the roleplaying, extending notes of dread or humor or harrowing tension into one of the duo’s staged scenario, pushing forward more on mood than narrative all the way through.

“We’ve fallen into an abyss of repetition,” says Javidi, who came up from Iran’s auteurist filmmaking sector. “At least in terms of Iranian series production. So I think this series will offer audiences a new taste – to offer them something fresh and unique.”

Working with cinematographer Morteza Najafi, among others, Javidi bathes his series in a dim and moody glow that calls to mind Gordon Willis’ work on “The Godfather,” lending “The Actor” a broody visual grandeur that often cuts against the characters’ ridiculous antics as they try to evade creditors or pull cheap scams for paltry sums or enact elaborate real-World sketches. Careening headfirst into the staged reality of any new scenario, “The Actor” often plays as a valentine to make-believe.

“I take inspiration from the stage, from the actors themselves, and from the situations in which I find myself,” says Javidi. “The [further we go] the more we realize that all the characters are playing roles, and in my opinion, this is completely derived from reality. Now this story might be a bit more exaggerated than others, but in truth, everyone on this planet is playing a role.”  

Originally published at variety.com

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