‘Homeland's’ Shaun Toub: ‘When You Meddle in People's Affairs, It Might Come Back to Haunt Us’

The Iranian-born actor tells TheWrap that it was “uncomfortable” representing a ruthless killer

As Emmy voters mull over their nominating ballots, TheWrap spoke to Shaun Toub, the Iranian-born actor who played the ruthless Iranian security chief Javadi on last season's “Homeland.” The polished, gentlemanly Toub talked with WaxWord about feeling “uncomfortable” playing such a cold killer and the eerie feeling that life in the Middle East has been imitating art.

What do you retain from last season's “Homeland” plot? What I take away is the incredible intensity and ruthlessness of your character…
ST:  A lot of people were confused by him and not sure whether they love him or hate him. The way he would deal with Carrie (Mathison, played by Claire Danes), you'd see moments of affection and charm, and it would be very confusing. Do they love Javadi or hate Javadi? This is what I wanted to achieve.

What did you draw on to create the character?
The fact that I've lived all over world, went to school all over world… it helps. You draw on experiences. Certain characters who are so far away from who you are are very uncomfortable. The scene with the ex-wife (when Javadi murders his ex-wife in a U.S. suburb) was very, very uncomfortable for me. I attempted to talk them out of it: Can't we not be so brutal? Can we do something else? But once the decision is made and you are there to play the part, you have to be a game player.

As Lawrence Olivier said, why don't you try acting?  I try to go to a place where I believe this guy. I didn't want to be so unbelievable, loud, emotional. He was very cold, as if it was just a job. I was doing that to get back at Saul (Mandy Patinkin) after what he had done. I knew he cared about my ex-wife. It wasn't even against her, it was just a payback.

Also read: Showtime's ‘Homeland’ Adds ‘Life of Pi’ Star to Cast

Is it painful or uncomfortable coming from Iran and representing a person like Javadi when you know the relations between our two countries?
Absolutely, it's always uncomfortable. I'm very careful about the roles that I do. In my work, I need to know whether there are dimensions to the character. We all have a lot of bad and good in us, and it just depends which is more.

So yes, it is uncomfortable. But I felt we are telling a story, after all. It's not the reality of life. Although, life seems to be following Homeland with the soldier we got out, Bowe Berghdahl.

It's just entertainment, but I'm very thankful if something I do makes people think.

Do you get feedback from Iran?
People enjoy the show. Javadi turned out to be interesting for them, because it's not that he's a nasty, one dimensional guy. They have the foresight to see it's entertainment. It's a risk.

Can you travel to Iran?
I have travelled to Iran and have had no issues so far. But the character turns out to be interesting. He's very complex, there are moments you see the humanity.

Also read:‘Homeland’ Shifts Production to South Africa for Season 4

Javadi is smart.
This is a chess game he plays with Saul. And they were buddies before. The world they live in is different from our reality. How they operate, it's a chess game constantly.

So what's up with next season?
They're in South Africa as we speak. I'm not going back to the show — they did a whole reset. I had a pilot with NBC when I signed up for “Tin Man.” I don't know what prompted the rewrite of whole storyline. I'm interested to see how they maneuver last season into the next. It's a surprise to a lot of people. Everywhere I go, everyone is shocked. The story was left up in the air. Javadi was left out in the open. I was even surprised at reactions that the character received. Homeland is a monster.

What do you think when you see real-life events beginning to mirror the show?
That's what is so strange about Homeland. While we were shooting, people started asking me, “How did you know what's going to happen with Iran?” How do you know what's fact and not? These writers are geniuses. It was life imitating art. It happens a lot. And with what's happening with politics now and in the Middle East, it's pretty scary, pretty sad. But very interesting film and TV series can actually predict what's coming.

The situation there is very very sad. Especially these past few days in Iraq. It's difficult to watch. Everyone is very concerned.

Also read: Laila Robins, Corey Stoll Join ‘Homeland’ for Season 4

What about Iran and the US suddenly being politically aligned?
Yes, it's very strange and very complex.  What I've said for years is we have to be very careful about wanting to change people's ways. We are a young country here. We don't understand the history of a 3,000 year old country; the complexity. Sometimes we have to be very careful of meddling in people's affairs… it might come back to haunt us, and it has.

Sometimes you've got to let people figure it out for themselves. Sometimes the situation is not the best, but if you try to change it, you very well might make it much worse than it is. And today, it's unfortunately so.

The politics of the world is a complex thing to maneuver.