Alumni Spotlight: Izad Etemadi
Posted: Jul 4, 2023
Posted: Jul 4, 2023
Born in Germany and raised in Victoria, BC, Izad Etemadi is an alumnus of the CBC Actors Conservatory at the Canadian Film Centre. Represented by the Characters Talent Agency, he plays Josh Tartakovich on Orphan Black: Echoes (AMC), Kevon on Revenge of the Black Best Friend (CBC), and Simon on Overlord and The Underwoods (CBC/Nickelodeon). Other on-screen performances include Ghosts (CBS), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu/MGM), Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+), Odd Squad (PBS Kids), Bajillionaires (Family Channel), and TallBoyz (CBC), as well as several national commercial campaigns.
In 2022, Izad originated the role of Samuel in the new Canadian musical Grow (from the producers of Come From Away) at The Grand Theatre. He returned later that season to play the leading role of Buddy the Elf in Elf: The Musical. Since 2014, he has written and starred in several solo comedy shows that have sold out across the country and earned Izad awards including the 2016 Broadway World award for Best Independent Production and the 2017 Emerging Queer Artist Award from Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. His new comedy special Izad Etemadi: Let Me Explain was developed in residency with Green Light Arts.
As a writer, Izad is working on shows in development and production with Shaftesbury Kids, Wilbrain, and Border2Border Entertainment. His short film Plant Daddy won the 2023 Queer Your Stories Short Film Competition through outACTRA and will have its debut at the Inside Out Festival. His work uses comedy to explore issues of queer identity, immigration, body image, and the terrors of being a millennial.
We recently caught up with the actor, writer and comedian to discuss his unique storytelling and what’s next for the multitalented creator. Read more in the spotlight below.
Let’s start at the beginning. What first piqued your interest in a career in acting / film and TV?
It all started for me when I was in Grade 7. I was given the O Holy Night solo at the Christmas choir concert that we performed for a retirement home. As my angelic voice soared out of my pre-pubescent self, I knew that this was what I was destined to do. Perform – not work at a retirement home, which I did end up doing for 4 years in high school, at that exact same retirement home too. Anyways, choir led to drama class, which led to community theatre, and somehow I ended up with a diploma in musical theatre. I love putting on a show. I love making people laugh. That is the greatest feeling in the entire world for me, and I will chase that feeling until the end of days.
When I was younger, it was all about the stage. More than anything, I wanted to be on Broadway (still do, and I’m available). When I moved to Toronto on a whim 9 years ago, I got more and more interested in Film and TV – but I was terrified of it. Because I was a “theatre person” and everyone always told me I was being “too big.” Which, yes, I absolutely was. You couldn’t pay me to watch my self-tapes from back then. But I figured it out. Thanks to awesome coaches like Angela Besharah at The Lighthouse and of course, my time at the Canadian Film Centre. Now, my career has become a beautiful mix of the screen and the stage.
What surprises you most about your job(s) in this industry
Everything is always changing and anything can happen in an instant.
Your short film Plant Daddy won the 2023 Queer Your Stories Short Film Competition through outACTRA and had its debut at the Inside Out Festival. Tell us about this project – how it came to be and what this success means to you.
Plant Daddy was a real labour of love! During the pandemic, a friend of mine and I were helping each other transition from playwriting to screenwriting. I personally had gone down a bit of a pandemic plant obsession, and the script naturally came to us. My plant babies are all still alive and thriving thank you for asking. When our brilliant director, James Cooper, came on board, I suggested that we apply for the QYS competition; I had a feeling that it was the kind of project they were looking for. And, apparently, I was right. Trust your gut people! We were working on a very tight budget and timeline but we brought together such a talented and dedicated crew that worked so hard to bring this piece to life – including CFC alum Katherine Fogler, Daniel Montiel, and Kalaisan Kalaichelvan.
It’s always exciting to see an idea of yours come to life and I’m really proud of what we created together. Plant Daddy gave me a chance to showcase a different side of me, a more serious one. My career so far has been a lot of comedy, which I love and there’s plenty of laughs and absurdity in this piece, but it was really nice to have an opportunity to get serious and dig deep. I can’t tell you the amount of plant puns I had to delete while writing this.
You completed the CBC Actors Conservatory at the CFC in 2022; can you tell us some of your most memorable moments as a resident of the program?
First and foremost, it was getting to meet my fellow residents – Blessing, Christef, Janet-Rose, Katherine, Leighton, and Zara. These people are AWESOME!! Witnessing everyone do such inspiring work was thrilling. Everyone was so committed, compassionate, and caring. It was a really wonderful environment to allow yourself to be vulnerable and grow as an artist. Especially during the 3 weeks that we spent doing the work of Lindy Davies. That is something I’ll never forget and will keep with me in everything that I do.
Next up would be watching my close-up on the big screen at our showcase. That was such an amazing experience – despite the wild blizzard that just had to take place at the same time. I remember being worried that people weren’t going to get what we were trying to do with the character of Babak or that no one was going to think it was funny but turns out they did. Coming from the stage, I am used to being on the receiving end of an audience’s reactions/responses but for this, I was in the middle of it all, engulfed in their laughter.
This year marks the CFC’s 35th anniversary and 35 years of empowering Canadian creators. Can you share if/how the CFC has helped inspire and empower you as a storyteller?
During my time at the CFC, I really learned to trust myself and to bring more of myself to my work because I am (and we are all) enough – at least that’s what I pay my therapist to tell me. This industry can be so chaotic, and having had six months to connect to myself as an artist and purely focus on my goals was game-changing. I left my residency feeling really confident in what I have to offer this industry.
As an Iranian-Canadian creator, can you speak to the importance of representation and authenticity in storytelling
Representation is absolutely vital but it’s important that it’s part of the story that’s being told and not just a box that’s being checked. I’ve very rarely seen myself represented in the shows I watch. A few times during the residency we got to bring in our own material to work on, and I brought a couple of scenes from Ramy – one of my favourite tv shows of all time. It’s about a Middle Eastern millennial navigating through his life in North America, and while our individual identities are very different, there is so much in that show that is inherently part of my experience. Through that, I was able to show even more of who I am as an actor because so much of my identity already existed in the text.
Does your Iranian heritage play a role in your artistry? If so, how?
When it comes to my writing, my Persian Pride absolutely plays a significant role in my artistry – it’s often a big source of inspiration for me. Especially as a queer Iranian that has spent the majority of their life in Canada. I find there’s a lack of representation for people like me, and often, what’s out there tends to lean towards the heavier side of things. I am passionate about contributing new stories, characters, and voices, that highlight the joyful and hilarious sides of this experience because it doesn’t always have to be dark and traumatic.
What’s your advice for aspiring creators? What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t focus on what everyone around you is doing. The only thing you can control is what you’re doing and the quality of work you are putting out into the world.
What’s the most interesting series you’ve watched recently? What’s next for you?
The Other Two. I have been a mega fan of this show since day one. When I was in college, I used to watch YouTube videos of Helen Yorke singing musical theatre songs on repeat, and last summer I got to work with Drew Tarver on an episode of Ghosts. Their work on this show is incredible and I feel like this past season they let it all out. They were not afraid to go all the way, and then some, with every choice that was made.
In the fall I am going to Halifax to work on The Play That Goes Wrong at Neptune Theatre and am planning a tour of my new comedy solo show Izad Etemadi: Let Me Explain, which just premiered this past May. There are a few other things in the works but I probably shouldn’t talk about them yet!
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