Pakistani actor Ahad Raza Mir is back in Calgary, where he attended high school and studied acting at the University of Calgary, to play the title role in Hamlet: A Ghost Story. It opened Friday night.
You have more than 400,000 followers on Instagram, and lots on other platforms as well. Has social media and an obsession with followers changed the job description for actors?
Social media confuses the role of an actor. When I say, it confuses the role, it’s a question of defining what is an actor’s job.
I’m against the idea that you’re watching a show set in the 1940s, and you’re watching a beautiful performance and all of a sudden you see that same actor posting a picture of them having a coffee [on set] or whatever.
I just feel that association [with the world of the show] is important.
Sometimes, [actors] confuse social-media popularity with their own popularity.
If I talk about myself, particularly, I have my manager, my team – everybody is always saying please post, get more engaged in social media, my defence is always: That’s not my job.
I don’t want to confuse myself. An actor should just focus on the performance.
Will having a Pakistani actor playing Hamlet bring a new audience to the theatre?
I’m one of the very, very few South Asians who went to the U of C for my BFA. I know there’s so many [South Asian] kids who maybe wanted to pursue something like me – theatre or dance – and I think sometimes there’s a frustration that their parents won’t let them.
They want them to become a lawyer or engineer or doctor. I hope that by people coming to see the show, seeing a non-white Hamlet, seeing a Pakistani playing Hamlet – maybe there will be some Indian or Pakistani boy sitting in the audience and maybe he’ll tell his family, “Look! If he can do it, so can I.”
How did your career take off so quickly in Pakistan? Your original plan was to move to Toronto.
In the summer of 2016, I was potentially signing a film – I wasn’t even sure it was going to happen – and I got there and instead of landing a film, I got a TV show [Yakeen Ka Safar] and got a film from that and then another TV show [Sammi].
The first TV show just took off. It was very fast.
What’s your connection to The Shakespeare Company in Calgary?
[Shakespeare Company artistic director and Stratford veteran] Haysam Kadri. He’s somebody who’s also supported me. Even when I was starting my career back in Pakistan, he would invite me to come play a role in King Lear or the Three Musketeers and I would have to say, “I’m sorry, man. I can’t come, I’m doing this [TV series or that film role].”
It really means something when, at the end of the day, that call still comes to you. It makes you feel like you still have a home here – and this time, when he called and said, “I want you to play Hamlet,” I think it’s foolish to say no.
Can you apply some of what you’ve learned doing film and TV to Shakespeare?
What I’m trying to do in some sense here – especially I discussed it with our director Craig Hall – is all the stuff I’ve learned in film and TV. I’m hoping because we are playing the [intimate, 199 seat] Vertigo Studio Theatre, I’m wondering what I can do to internalize, make things a little smaller, and more intricate onstage.
You come from a show-business family. What did your father think about you coming back to Calgary to do a play, instead of staying there to do more movies and TV?
When I came to him and said, “Maybe I want to go and do Hamlet,” he said, “Go. And you better work hard." Nobody could have given me better advice.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Hamlet: A Ghost Story is at Vertigo Studio Theatre through April 13 (vertigottheatre.com).