Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), in all his glory, has returned to “Homeland” — and there’s no doubt he’s going to leave quite a mark on Season 6, by the looks of things.
We last saw Javadi in Season 4, after he’d blown up most of the CIA and — after kidnapping and torturing most of the characters over the course of his career — eventually became a leader in the Iran military, an asset run by Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and key to Saul’s nuclear armament plans that have returned to focus in Season 6.
Beyond his work in film (“Iron Man,” “Crash,” “The Kite Runner”), this multi-talented actor has appeared in over 140 episodes of television, spanning soap operas, primetime dramas like “E.R.” and “The Sopranos,” and a good deal of comedy: Would you believe the same guy playing ultra-intense Javadi was once considered The Guy Most Likely to Succeed in Comedy by his friends? Or perhaps you remember the famous “backwards” episode of “Seinfeld” — yup, that was him playing Peter/Pinter, the groom whose dalliance with Elaine is revealed at his wedding.
Shaun took some time to talk to us about Javadi, his own favorite shows, the pleasure of binge-watching, and what it’s like to be an actor during this spectacular Renaissance era of television.
First, it’s wonderful to have Javadi back. He’s such a complicated character, and so interesting.
This is why I love Javadi. I was excited to come back. Multi-dimensional characters are really interesting, and he’s so complex. In Season 3, I saw the tweets about him… People had a hard time knowing how they feel about him, there was a love-hate relationship there.
This character would have been easy to portray as one-dimensional, but via the writing and your portrayal, he’s got such depth and complexity.
I always say, as humans, we are multi-faceted characters. If you are “bad,” there is still something good about you. And if you’re really good, some aspects of you will still be bad. We all have this. As far as Javadi is concerned, I talked to them early in the process, and I said, you know, I really would like to not make him a one-dimensional bad guy. He should be much more interesting than that. Therefore he came across at times as charming with Carrie, even flirtatious.
And in the finale of Season 3, in the scene between Carrie and Javadi, concerning Brody, he was actually a bit caring toward Carrie. He felt something for her. So it’s really cool to come back and revisit the character. I didn’t want it left up in the air like that — and the fans really made a push [for it], which I’m really appreciative of.
Obviously Javadi has a complicated relationship with Saul. How would you summarize Javadi’s feelings toward Saul, as we launch into the next few episodes?
They have an extremely complex relationship. There is a friendship there. There are moments where you’d think they’ve gone back thirty, forty years, and they’re in that phase of everything being OK, they’re happy, they’re good friends. And in these moments, you see why they have this relationship — because of this past, because they were such good friends before. But life has made both of them tough. Moreso on Javadi’s side. He has become a survivor. He will do anything and everything to survive. As much as he does have some feelings for Saul, he still feels Javadi is number one. He’s going to look out for himself before anybody else… [Their relationship] gets even more complex as we go on. I can’t tell you much, but it’s really interesting where this goes.
You raise an interesting point. Any character will put themselves first, it’s just human nature. So it’s perfectly reasonable that Javadi would do that.
Especially him. He’s in a situation where, ever since he was turned, back in Season 3, he has decided that he’s gonna survive this, as he has survived many other things. He puts himself in a position to make sure that he survives. Now his ultimate goal, as you may remember, was to get his money and just go away. The ultimate goal for him is still that — he is still striving to get to that point of retirement on an island, where nobody knows where he is – just to leave all of this craziness behind.
So his ultimate goal is really to find peace? At least peace for himself?
Absolutely. He has seen a lot, he has done a lot. His ultimate goal is to be at peace and leave all of this behind, but he cannot do it without his money. So the goal is to get that money.
In “Imminent Risk” (Episode 7, Season 6), Javadi calls his torturer an idiot and tells him to go to hell. He’s facing certain agony and perhaps even death. He isn’t assured of rescue when this begins to unfold. Tell us about where your character’s bravery comes from.
It’s because of what he has seen, what he has done in his life. He has done much worse than this to others. He is so good at manipulating people and understanding the situation. He is not only brave, but he’s smart.
Also, even at that point, when he’s being tortured, and possibly getting killed, he still feels he’s the one in power. That’s why he yells at the guy like that. He says in Farsi, “You have no idea what you’re doing and what I’m going to do to you.” Javadi is never scared.
That’s a fascinating character trait — another character who went through what he’s gone through could just as easily have been broken. Javadi went in the opposite direction.
I wanted to play him like that — I wanted him to always be strong. Back in Season 3, when Carrie comes to the interview, he thought he was going to turn her to become an agent for them — but unbeknownst to Javadi, she turned the tables on him. Yet even then he tries to prove, “I’m still powerful, and I’m still in charge.” He made a point of killing his ex-wife — just to prove to Saul, “I’m still in charge, I’m still the one with power, and I’m not scared.”
He’s somebody to be feared, but he’s also very valuable. He has a lot of information. He knows not a lot of people would want to knock him out, because he knows too much… If you know that you have value, then you’re not as scared. He’s not afraid of being killed, because he feels that — and he might be wrong, but — he feels he can use information he has against anybody. He’ll turn the tables on anybody, in any situation.
And he’s sometimes very cruel, but he justifies to himself that this is just business.
Which raises an interesting point about what happens in this episode. Javadi is rescued from torture by Amir (Alain Washnevsky), who tells him how much he respected him when he served under Javadi in Iraq — because Javadi never asked his men to do anything that Javadi wouldn’t do himself. This gives us a wonderful glimpse at Javadi’s integrity, but then Javadi doesn’t hesitate to execute Amir soon after. So it’s just business?
It’s just business. It’s incredible for him to be able to do that. It’s mindboggling. It’s shocking! Amir just saved his life. But it’s just business.
It’s quite the moment when he says to Saul, “No loose ends — I learned that from you.”
Exactly… He throws that at Saul, that “you taught me this.” He is very good at justifying things. He is basically saying to Saul, don’t even think of complaining about this.
What would say is Javadi’s greatest strength, and what is his greatest weakness?
His greatest strength must be that he’s a survivor. He doesn’t panic, he’s very calm, he always is thinking ahead and he’s very good on his feet. He’s always trying to seize the moment. When he’s handed lemons, he makes lemonade. He will survive no matter what. It’s that confidence he has: “I’m going to get out of this.”
In Season 3, when Carrie turned on him so shockingly, he didn’t panic. He just took it in, took a moment, went outside, smoked a cigarette with Carrie. He was already thinking of his next move. He was just buying time.
His weakest attribute is probably that he considers himself be the smartest. You might think you know it all, but at some point, somebody’s gonna outfox you.
Obviously, you’re limited in what you can reveal — but are there any hints or teases at all that you can share?
I can just tell you it’s going to get very interesting. He’s going to be in contact with different people, different characters, and things are going to change drastically. I think the audience will really truly enjoy this.
I’m a fan of this show myself. I have asked them to not give me the scripts that I’m not in, because I just want to watch it as a fan.
So you were a fan of the show before, or…?
The way the show came to me, when Javadi appeared in Season 3, it’s a funny story. I was coming off a few films, and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to do TV again.” I’d done a lot of TV — I’ve done 140 episodes of TV. So I’d heard of the show, of course, but I thought, “What’s the big deal?” And my agent and some of my wife’s friends got really upset with me. They said, “What are you talking about? This is ‘Homeland’!”
My agent said, “Before you say no to this role, I’m gonna send you the first and second seasons. Watch it and then we’ll talk.”
So one night, my wife and I, it’s like ten o’clock, and we say, “Why don’t we watch one episode?” Then it’s six episodes later, it’s four o’clock in the morning! I say, “Oh my god, I’d better get this.” I’ve watched every season, and I’m very excited to be back, to carry this character onward. They didn’t want me to do a lot of press — they wanted the audience to be surprised that Javadi is back.
Your background in television is extensive. You’re appeared in so many TV shows, so many of them iconic — ‘Sopranos,’ ‘ER,’ ‘Seinfeld.’ Can you speak to that? Any memorable experiences you can share with us?
There are so many, my goodness. Funny enough, I started in TV mostly doing comedy and sitcoms. I was known as a comedic actor. My friends ask me, “Why aren’t you doing comedy?” They always thought I’d make it in comedy rather than anything else.
In “Seinfeld,” I’m in the famous backwards episode [“The Betrayal”] – I’m Peter a.k.a. Pinter, the groom who slept with Elaine, the one where they go to India for the wedding. That was such a fantastic experience. In “Just Shoot Me,” I played an Italian gigolo — that was so much fun to do. I even dabbled in soaps, on “The Bold and the Beautiful.” I had a meeting with the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” people recently… I originally did a lot of comedy.
TV has changed so much. The writing on TV? It’s so good. There’s so much amazing content that you can’t even compare, sometimes. The best writing is now happening on TV! Actors used to stick their noses up, and say, “Eh, I don’t want to do TV.” Such as some idiots like me [when Showtime approached]. Well, in my defense, I had done a lot of TV already…
These days, the shows are incredible. That’s why everyone is binge-watching — it’s like watching a long movie.
And of course, with TV, we have the luxury of really getting to know and love characters in depth.
Exactly. There are so many good actors on TV. The work that everybody’s doing is amazing. You really have to bring your A game. With a show like “Homeland,” they are amazing at picking actors that are so good. What TV used to be, and what we’re seeing now, it’s night and day.
Are there any TV shows, either past or present, that you are particularly passionate about, as a fan? Top five favorites?
I’m blessed to be really busy, so sometimes it’s hard, but I try to watch whenever I can. “Game of Thrones” is incredible. “House of Cards.” “Gotham” is great. “This Is Us,” I think it’s absolutely a gem. I would love to be on a show like that. My wife is in love with the show, and so am I, whenever I can catch it. I am mesmerized by it. The writing is so smart, so good. I think that is the best show on network TV right now. It’s so emotional, and beautifully written…
“Homeland” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.