** Read my interview with Iqbal Theba aka PRINCIPAL FIGGINS! inside **
Iqbal has played many roles in television and film including “Community”, “Two and a Half Men”, “ER”, and “The West Wing”. He is known for playing Principal Figgins on the hit Fox television show, “Glee”. I chatted with him about the show, life as an actor, and of course words of wisdom from the principal himself! Find him on Facebook at the “Iqbal Theba Page”!
NEAL: You have done so many television and film roles, but for those who are unfamiliar with your back-story, tell us in a nutshell how you wound up in Hollywood.
IQBAL: Born in Karachi, Pakistan on December 20, 1963. Started college as a Freshman at the University of Oklahoma in 1981. Studied Civil Engineering at first and have a BS in Construction Engineering Management. Hated my job in a Construction Company in Oklahoma City, so, Went back to the University of Oklahoma in 1986 and majored in Acting. Spent a year in NYC and moved to LA in 1991. Waited on about a million tables in the process.
NEAL: You have quite a story of how you arrived to Hollywood! There must have been some pretty hard days struggling to make it in show business. Was it hard staying positive?
IQBAL: I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. I have seen pretty bad days during my struggling actor days. In NYC, at least a couple of times, I didn’t have enough money to buy food and I went hungry. But, I never pitied myself and never gave up. My passion for Acting helped me survive.
NEAL: When you first started out, did you ever dream you would be on such a big television hit and being in some of the biggest movies and shows out there?
IQBAL: Of course I dreamt of all those things. But, there was a time when it all seemed so improbable.
NEAL: Speaking of “Glee”, can you tell us what a typical day for you on the set is like?
IQBAL: Well, I LOVE going to work on GLEE. I basically show up at Paramount Studios, which is within walking distance from where I live (can you believe my luck?!), and check in with the second AD. If the shooting is going according to the plan then I go to make-up and hair which is a formality for me… because I don’t like wearing make-up or hair gel or anything. I had requested during the Pilot shoot that they just powder my face with anti-shine and simply comb my hair right before all the takes. The agreed. So, I don’t really spend anytime in the make-up chair. Sometimes, I have a lot of free time at my hand if they are running behind. So, I drink tea and hang out with the other cast members, producers and the crew. The show has the friendliest and the most fun people and it is never boring.
NEAL: Are you amazed at the success of the show?
IQBAL: I know it might sound cocky or arrogant, but, I knew this was going to be a hit when I read the script for the Pilot. However, I feel truly Blessed and Lucky that I am part of this amazing show.
NEAL: Obviously music is such an important part of the show. Why do you think people respond so well to the music? How do you think that has changed the way the story arc is written each week?
IQBAL: People respond to music because it conveys something that cannot be conveyed in prose or just words. GLEE works because it’s characters sing only when they must and words wont express their true feelings. I don’t think the story arc changes because of the music. I think the writers write a good story and then pick the music according to the character’s need to express a particular feeling, emotion or a point of view.
NEAL: On “Glee”, the show deals with some heavy issues: teen pregnancy, being gay, high school drama, etc. When you looked at the script for the first time, were you surprised about how the show was able to keep things light while getting their important messages out there?
IQBAL: What’s brilliant about GLEE is that it never lets itself wallow in any situation or a point of view, be it grief or exhilaration . It doesn’t try to “milk” an issue or a feeling. It deals with issues without cheapening the subject matter. And that aspect of the show wasn’t as glaringly obvious until I saw the Pilot because the way they edit the show and the use of background music or lack of it.
NEAL: Can you reveal to us anything that will be happening in this season?
IQBAL: Well, I would love to tell your readers exactly what’s going to happen… but, I cantJ. All I can say is that great episodes are ahead and I hope you all continue to watch the show. Oh, here’s something you may not know… we finished shooting 13 episodes back in early July. We are going to start shooting the 14th episode on Jan 6. So, between mid December and early April no new episodes will air, assuming they continue airing new episodes till mid December.
NEAL: What new projects do you have lined up?
IQBAL: Well, there is a Pilot called Ghosts/Aliens for Comedy Central that I just did. If it gets the green light then it will shoot in the summer of 2010. I also have a recurring role on the NBC show “Community”. I am also in the process of developing a feature Film for myself but that’s in its very early stages and I cant tell you anything about the story or subject matter at this point.
NEAL: If you had to give advice to any aspiring actors, what would it be?
IQBAL: If you are serious about becoming a working actor then make sure all your energies AND money are spent in the following order of priority… (1) Pursuit of Acting. (2) Food. (3) Roof over your head…… Your determination to become a working actor is the most important tool that you have.
NEAL: Do you think nowadays, more actors who are minorities are getting film/television roles? In regard to minority actors, do you think there is a trend in more diversity in television and film roles?
IQBAL: There is more diversity now than before, more so in TV than in Film. Films are still very rigidly cast. Principal Figgins was written for a white guy but they cast me. It would not have happened in Film.
NEAL: Being a minority actor has its pros and cons. For you, do you feel it helps you gain roles in Holly or at times works against you?
IQBAL: Being a minority works in my favor when it comes to smaller parts. But, I usually don’t have a prayer when it comes to bigger roles.
NEAL: To date, what has been the most surreal moment of being in Hollywood? I guess, your “Hollywood moment” –and why?
IQBAL: I think “surreal” moments happen to people who didn’t have to struggle for too long. For someone like me who has spent a couple of decades in pursuit of Acting everything is… well, it is what it is.
NEAL: To go along with that question, what has been your favorite role to date and why?
IQBAL: Figgins of course! I find it quite challenging because Figgins has to be played with the right mix of someone who is an authority figure but who is also very insecure about his own strengths as a person. It is a very fine line to walk as an actor.
NEAL: As Principal Figgins, you have the tough job of keeping some sanity and trying to dispense words of wisdom to your school. Any last words of wisdom for the readers?
IQBAL: Live your life with Intelligence, Compassion and Passion. Aaaand, please join my Fan page on Facebook “iqbal theba page” and support me and Principal Figgins.
Remember to catch Iqbal in Glee on Fox!