You may know him as the dedicated and romantic forensic scientist Arastoo on the Fox series Bones, or even as Kumar Mukherjee on Sneaky Pete, but Iranian-American actor Pej Vahdat’s latest project, Magnum Opus, will see him smash cultural stereotypes when he takes on the role of an American hero embroiled in a national security leak.
Magnum Opus, due to be released in the US and Europe in 2017, is a thriller that pits Desert Storm vet turned artist, Daniel Cliff (Adam J. Harrington, TURN: Washington’s Spies, CSI), against U.S. intelligence. When he releases a series of paintings inspired by Dante’s Inferno, a counter-intelligence director shows up to confront Daniel, and secrets from their past thrust all involved into a hellish journey of spies, betrayal, and government retribution. If you’re thinking Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks style activism then you’re on the right track.
For Vahdat his role as art dealer Sean Dabashi presented a chance to resist stereotypes of majority-Muslim nation immigrants in the wake of recent U.S. immigration policy shifts. As an Iranian-American actor whose parents fled Iran for the United States in the late 1970s, Vahdat acknowledges his early career found him typecast in terrorist roles.
He says, “I played these roles and was miserable. Now, I’m lucky enough to say, ‘No,’ to these characters when they’re offered to me. If it was a really good role, I’d consider it—after all, no one says Robert de Niro is a mobster because of his roles. But I’d rather play Sean, the smart-guy art dealer in a spy thriller—not the terrorist.”
When the current administration imposed a travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority nations, Vahdat’s family was directly impacted. Members of his family were prevented from entering the United States and had to cancel a family wedding. His grandfather, who lives in the United States and relies on medical treatment here, has postponed a visit to his daughter in Iran for fear of not being able to reenter the country.
His role in Magnum Opus brings different psychological challenges into play for the actor, however. Vahdat explains:
“Sean Dabashi is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever played. He’s an art dealer—but so much more than that. As the story unfolds, it’s apparent he’s nervous—second-guessing the situation he’s put himself in. He also wants to please, and I can personally relate to all of those qualities. What is revealed at the end of the movie will definitely leave audiences with something to think about afterward.”
Magnum Opus marks the debut of director Kevin Elliott and screenwriter Scott Stoddard. In addition to Vahdat and Harrington, The film also stars Louise Griffiths, Clark Johnson, Norm Lewis and Dustin Ingram.
In addition, the film features the signature “Oilgraph” paintings by artist Kevin Rolly.