KARACHI: Born and raised in Karachi, Iqbal Theba is currently playing the part of Principal Figgins on the hit TV-series, “Glee.” A high-school musical about the school glee club called New Directions – the show deals with strong issues such as high school bullying, sexuality while at the same time, also dealing with issues of identity and relevant social issues.
Theba initially studied engineering but decided to take the plunge into acting and moved to Los Angeles after obtaining a degree in acting, with literally $37 to his name. Very active on Twitter and Facebook, Theba has also actively helped raise funds for the floods in Pakistan. Here, he talks about his love for acting, his hometown Karachi and what it is like to be a Pakistani actor in Hollywood.
Q: Tell us how you got the role of Principal Figgins on Glee.
A: I had done Nip/Tuck for Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy. When they were producing Glee they were looking for a caucasian actor to play the part of Principal Figgins. They met several actors but weren't too impressed by anyone. Then, I think it was Falchuk, who one day suggested to Murphy that they should let me read for the part. I met them and they liked what I did and I got the job.
Q: What nationality is Figgins? Clearly he has a South Asian accent…
A: He is supposed to be from India. How he got the name Figgins is still a mystery which might be dealt with in some of the future episodes. His first name has not been given out as yet either.
Q: You went to L.A. with very little in your pocket ($37 to be exact) – how did you make it? What kept you motivated throughout?
A: Well, I just have this almost illogical, crazy passion for the art of acting which kept me going. I am not and never was in it for money or fame. If you do anything because you have a passion for it then you will go through hell to pursue it which is what I did. People who do it for money or fame usually quit within a few years or even months.
Q: What made you want to be an actor?
A: I love the story-telling aspect of acting. By telling stories we try to find out and define who we are and also what we aspire to be. On a personal level, during a performance, I love to connect with other human beings (my fellow actors) in a way that I don't get to connect with people in real life. I get to love, hate, inspire, aspire and experience life to the fullest.
Q: Among some of the videos you have posted on Facebook, one was of Pakistan’s stunning win against South Africa (played in Dubai) – are you an avid cricket fan? Do you follow all matches?
A: I am more of a "Pakistan" fan than a cricket fan. I love Pakistan and I love to watch when Pakistan plays cricket. Win or lose I am always behind Pakistan. I have to admit that the recent corruption scandal in England involving Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif really broke my heart. It was very painful for me.
Q: When was the last time you visited Karachi? What do you miss the most about it?
A: I was in Karachi about a year ago in December 2009. I LOVE, LOVE Karachi. I love Lahore, too but Karachi is the only city in Pakistan that offers a glimpse of every part of Pakistan. And I don't mean just the ethnic variety but the religious variety as well. It is fairly common to see Pakistani Hindus in all walks of life something no other city offers. In addition to our Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushtoon, Balochi, Baruhi brothers and sisters, the city also has a good number of Tamil, Sinhalese, Bengali, Gujrati, Madrasi, Malabari, Marathi...etc speaking immigrants which makes it an amazing, interesting mixture of people. I know there is a lot of ethnic and political strife in Karachi but overall it is the most open-minded and accepting city in the country and I am very proud to say that I am from Karachi. What I miss the most about Karachi is its great restaurants and people who live there. Karachi Pakistan hai. It is a mini Pakistan.
Q: Why haven’t you performed a number or danced on Glee as yet?
A: Because, they have not asked me to!
Q: What is it like on the set of Glee? Is it all fun, music and dance?
A: It is a great set to work on. Great people, great crew. Basically, I go have fun and get paid. What a deal!
Q: Did you expect Glee to be such a phenomenal hit when you initially signed on?
A: I knew it will be a great show but I had no idea it will become such a crazy phenomenon.
Q: Who is your favourite singer on the show?
A: Matthew Morrison (who pays Will Scheuster).
Q: Do you feel there are more opportunities for South Asian actors in both film and TV?
A: Absolutely. When I came to Los Angeles back in 1991 there were no shows with regular desi characters and it was pretty bleak then. Now, there are at least half a dozen shows with regular South Asian characters. So, yay!
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak my mind. Much love to everyone in Pakistan. Please ask your readers to follow me on Twitter @iqbaltheba.