Arian Moayed is perhaps best known for playing a slimy adviser to the powerful – and powerfully corrupt – billionaire Roy family on “Succession,” which earned him an Emmy Award nomination for guest actor in 2022. And he’s now nominated for his second Tony Award for playing one of theater’s most disdained patriarchs in “A Doll’s House” opposite Jessica Chastain.
But in reality, he might just be one of the nicest, most humane and well-liked guys in entertainment today – and he’s got the seems-to-be-everywhere working actor’s resume to prove it.
Starring in Amy Herzog’s revival of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” as Torval, the sexist husband who ultimately sends his wife, Nora, out the door, Moayed manages to make himself not exactly likable, but somehow more understandable.
“The consciousness came less about how he would be perceived, and more about what [director] Jamie Lloyd and Amy Herzog wanted to do,” Moayed told TheWrap. “Which was really to tackle the microaggressions that men have on women. We felt it was important that when men see the show, they can’t easily say ‘that’s not me.’ Society has deemed upon them these rules and we can help them find relatability with that.”
Of Torvald, he added, “I see him being more clueless, and I told Jamie, ‘If you want me to play him like a monster, I’m not your guy.’”
Under Lloyd’s direction, the Broadway production at the Hudson Theatre, running through June 10, is condensed and severely minimal, leaving just the emotional guts of the original 1879 text. There is no set, no props – simply a group chairs for the characters and their interactions.
“The audience members are coming with their own DNA, and it’s amazing how different their world views are,” Moayed said. The actor, who is Iranian-American, reflected that audience members with a similar background have been interpreting it differently.
“Iranians think it’s about the Iranian revolution. To them, it’s a much bigger thing,” he said. “Someone who comes who may have been left by a mother as a child sees it another way. It’s so raw, so you’re going to fill in the blanks.”
Moayed remembers the rehearsal process as a surprisingly succinct and productive one. The cast came in off-book and ready to work, and they were afforded five weeks before previews instead of the more common three.
“We came up with the blocking and we all had trust in each other,” he said. Together, he, Chastain and their costars found “a simple, organic, non-pretentious unveiling of this play.”
Still, no performance is the same.
“The last character is the audience. Sometimes it’s the tensest, scariest night and some nights it’s the best comedy on Broadway. Jessica and I and the others have to navigate that,” Moayed said. “It can change the performance. There are moments I know they are so hating on me, and then Jessica’s circling around telling the others, ‘You can’t disrespect my husband.’ It somehow makes us both more sympathetic. Still, they hate me at different times on different nights.”
Then there’s Stewie Hosseini on “Succession.” The actor describes him as an “honest shark.”
“He will tell you to your face: ‘I like you and we should hang, but I am only doing this for money,’” Moayed said.
Most of his scenes on the series are with Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy – a performer who will coincidentally be following in Moayed’s Broadway shoes next season when he stars in another Herzog adaptation of Ibsen, “Enemy of the People.” Asked about Strong’s much-publicized intensive form of acting (some call it Method), Moayed only had praise.
“He’s so there and hungry and working f–king hard,” he said. “It’s life and death for him. Whatever his method is, it’s working and it’s serious. It brings up the game for the rest of us.”
Moayed may have a cheerier disposition than the characters we’ve seen him inhibit recently, but at age 43 and married with two children, the Iranian-born actor’s own life has been as eventful as any he’s played. He was six when his family left Iran and moved to Chicago. He was bullied at times, “had my bikes stolen” and watched his own parents struggle to learn a new language. He eventually studied acting and moved to New York.
Often after the “Doll’s House” curtain, Moayed would address the audience with a story of his own, a pitch for donations to The Actors Fund: “I will tell you one micro-story,” he’d say, “of an immigrant family of four that couldn’t make ends meet, and the Fund gave them two months’ rent to get them back on their feet. That family was mine.” The audience gasped and cheered – and donated.
Aside from acting, the other big chunk of Moayed’s life is about giving back. He is a founder of The Waterwell, a community organizing, arts and education company, which has also taken over the acting component for the Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS). He still teaches there, not only the tricks of the trade, but how the performing arts can help young people face challenging issues today. Former student Lily Corvo told TheWrap that Moayed “inherently knew our gifts, like performing before a camera, even before we did. He was always persistent in his patience.”
One of Waterwell’s projects was “The Courtroom,” based on an actual refugee case, which was made into a movie that played at Tribeca. Another project, “The Flores Exhibits,” had what Moayed recalled as “60 written testimonies of children at the border, which our young actors read.”
“That’s why we got to see what was actually going on in the detention centers,” he said.
As for the 76th Annual Tony Awards and Moayed’s second nomination – his first was in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” in 2011 opposite Robin Williams – he said he’s “really honored.”
“I tried to bring something new and fresh and original,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to win, and I don’t really care. Just being in the club is what matters.”
Michele Willens’ “Stage Right..or Not” airs weekly on an NPR affiliate.