Fayssal Bazzi. (Photo: Amelia J Dowd)
Actor Fayssal Bazzi’s father is Lebanese and his mother is Syrian, so for much of his career he was determined to avoid being typecast as Arabic characters, particularly criminals and terrorists.
After scoring the lead role in Mark Grentell’s comedy-drama The Merger, he has enjoyed a higher profile and portrayed a diverse range of characters.
“I just want to play characters whose ethnicity is incidental and I’ve been lucky to be able to do that in the past few years,” he tells IF.
Earlier this year he played the son-in-law of Damon Herriman’s seedy night club owner in the second season of FX/Foxtel’s Mr Inbetween, created by and starring Scott Ryan and directed by Nash Edgerton. That was his second collaboration with Herriman following Abe Forsythe’s 2015 Cronulla race riot drama Down Under.
Currently he is in Adelaide shooting Stateless, Matchbox Pictures’ six-part drama set in the early 2000s at an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert, commissioned by the ABC.
Bazzi plays Ameer, one of four strangers whose lives intersect in the show co-created by Cate Blanchett, Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie, scripted by McCredie and Belinda Chayko and directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse.
Ameer and his family had escaped the Taliban in their native Afghanistan and were trying to reach Australia by boat when they were detained. “Ameer is a man who wants the best for his family and doing all he can to make them safe,” he says. “Everyone can relate to that.”
The other three are Yvonne Strahovski as an airline hostess who is escaping a cult-like self-improvement group, Jai Courtney as a young father who is trapped in a dead-end job and Asher Keddie as a bureaucrat who is caught up in a national scandal.
Blanchett is playing one of the leaders of the self-improvement group along with her husband (Dominic West).
Fayssal Bazzi and Doris Younane in ‘M4M’ (Photo: Izaak Todd).
In M4M, Paul Ireland’s re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which premieres at MIFF, he plays Farouk, the protective brother of Lebanese Muslin Jaiwara (Megan Hajjar). Farouk is no saint but is trying to make a better life for himself and his sister in a new country.
The cast and crew were devastated when co-writer/actor Damian Hill died two days before filming was due to start. The shoot was delayed for two weeks while everyone regrouped and Bazzi is especially grateful to Hugo Weaving for changing his schedule at such short notice so he could play the lead.
The actor was asked to play a manager of Harrod’s department store in the live action section of Will Gluck’s Peter Rabbit. He was disappointed to learn his scenes did not make the final cut but happy when he was called back to do the voice of Mr Tod the fox.
Bazzi and his family emigrated to Australia in 1986 when he was three and a half after a rocket hit their Beirut apartment, fortunately while they were out.
At his first primary school he found it tough to learn English due to an unsympathetic teacher and as one of the few immigrants he experienced racism and bullying.
Changing schools was a game changer as his year 2 teacher encouraged him to mime to indicate what he wanted. He was so good at that, she told him, he should be an actor.
At 15 and a half he enrolled in a three-year course at the Actors College of Theatre and Television in Sydney .
After graduating he did four or five plays a year, perhaps most memorably This Blasted Earth: A Christmas Miracle, a colonial drama musical at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, written by Travis Cotton and Toby Schmitz, with songs by Tim Minchin. Ewen Leslie was among the cast.
He made his TV debut in All Saints followed by East West 101, the first series he’d seen which reflected multi-cultural Australia. He’s played guest roles in Crownies, Chosen, Top of the Lake, The Letdown and Rake.
Reflecting on his career, he quotes an old saying: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”