Read our exclusive interview with Afghan-American actress Azita Ghanizada, who is set to portray Rachel, a lab tech with hyperactive senses, in SyFy’s upcoming series ‘Alphas.’ The show follows a covert government agency that hires superheroes who have mental/psychic abilities to hunt down their enemies. Besides rising to fame in America as a television actress, Ghanizada also works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help refugees in her native Afghanistan. Ghanizada discusses with us, among other things, how she prepared for the role of Rachel, and why she wants to help the UNHCR.
Shockya (SY): You are next set to play Rachel Myer, a lab tech with hyperactive standard senses, on the upcoming Syfy series ‘Alphas.’ While you have also guest-starred on an episode of ‘Ghost Whisperer,’ your portrayal of Rachel in ‘Alphas’ is your first starring role in a sci-fi series. What type of research did you do to prepare before you began filming?
Azita Ghanizada (AG): Rachel’s last name is to TBD – when I got cast in the role, the writers shifted things around to fit in better with me. To be honest, I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare, in television you get cast so quickly in things, that you have to just be really available to understanding the character as a part of you – I rearranged bits of myself and found the qualities that Rachel & I shared and brought them to life. I also watched as many of Zak Penn’s films as I could, and did some research on Echolocation and telescopic sight .. trying to find human ways to give Rachel an IN into her hyper senses.
SY: Since you don’t have much experience in the sci-fi genre, what ultimately convinced you to take the role of Rachel?
AG: Ultimately it was something that the agents and managers were fighting for me to get seen in ~ Rachel is a bit conservative and shy ~ casting really knew me as more of an outgoing person, but there is a sensitivity to her that I related to, the need to fit in, the need to have her voice be heard, but to struggle with that. On top of that, Jack Bender, Zak Penn & David Strathairn were all involved – it is an actors dream land of creative’s that are at the top of there game and also classy, super intelligent and generous.
SY: ‘Alphas’ follows a covert government team that hires superheroes who have mental/psychic abilities to neutralize other Alphas. Rachel is described as a lab tech with hyperactive standard senses; how are her senses different from the other Alphas’ senses?
AG: Well, we’ve got someone who can push people, a man with hyper kinesis and another with intensified fight or flight and someone with the ability to read streaming data ~ all the senses differ in a real drastic way, and the way each character uses them to solve these crimes and find these Alphas is unique. Rachel isn’t the aggressive one in the bunch – well at least not yet – she’s finding her footing in how to use these gifts that have been actually a curse for her at home and her community – this team actually applauds her gifts and for the first time she’s brave to start using them in a positive way, and its starting feelings of empowerment. Her senses are so extreme she can taste, small, see, hear things that no one else could.
SY: The Syfy Channel has achieved fame with several other of its original scripted series, including ‘Eureka’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and its spin-offs. Why do you think viewers are attracted to these types of shows?
AG: Those shows kicked ass, and the characters are so well brought to life by its actors. Syfy is a genre so special to millions of fans and the network gives its writers and shows the chance to grow.
SY: Besides ‘Ghost Whisperer,’ you are known for guest-starring on several other diverse television series, including ‘NCIS: Los Angeles,’ ‘General Hospital: Night Shift’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ What is it about television that you find most appealing?
AG: TV is a blast, I get to become other people, and get to find parts of myself that I haven’t explored yet and bring them to life. Plus, I learned English watching television, so for me as far as I can remember I wanted to be on TV. I just had never seen anyone that really looked like me, and definitely not any Afghan actors on American television … so to be able to get to work on all facets of TV is a ridiculously incredible gift for me.
SY: Besides your television work, you are also actively involved with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the UN Refugee Agency; for UNHCR, you recently organized a fashion show at the Montage Beverly Hills to support the estimated 20 million victims affected by last summer’s flood in Pakistan. Did you feel compelled to join these causes, as you came to the U.S. as a refugee from Afghanistan when you were a child?
AG: We came to the US when I was a baby as political refugees ~ and for as long as I can remember I have been quietly supporting different ways to bring aide and create awareness to the struggles for those in Afghanistan as well as the refugees that have fled. The women and children in particular face extreme difficulties. Assisting those from my native country is just engrained in my blood and my heart – whatever small voice I’m given, or tiny platform I willingly want to use it to give voice to the hundreds of thousands without a voice.The event this year was actually organized by Hamed Wardak, another Afghan National who spends much of his time championing the UNHCR. Hamed reached out to me to band successful Afghans together to create more awareness for the work that the UNHCR does for the millions of Afghan Refugees.
SY: What can the public do to become involved in the relief effort?
AG: The UNHCR works mainly from donation and the public can help tremendously-small donations like $20 can provide a wool blanket to someone who may die due to disaster and weather conditions, $100 can provide a tent for an entire family to live in. The work of the unrefugeeagency.org and womenforwomen.org is unparalleled in its outreach to those from Afghanistan. And its small donations that are manageable for anyone to do like $20-100 that can greatly impact the work of the charities.
SY: Do you have any other events with the UNHCR planned?
AG: The next event planned is actually with Women for Women, to support the 100th Anniversary of Womens Day with Women for Women ~ they will be gathering thousands of women in NYC and globally to march across the bridge is support of the courage and strength and beauty of women all over the world. http://www.womenforwomen.org
Written by: Karen Benardello
Photo Credit: Sergio Rodriguez