Even as a child, Anthony Azizi knew he wanted to become an actor. Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he was one of those kids who was drawn to the footlights and began writing and staging plays at the age of eight! Sometimes it’s a calling that cannot be ignored. Although he pursued the creative arts throughout high school, he was accepted at Muhlenberg College on a soccer scholarship but soon had to drop out due to an injury. Fortunately, his first love was waiting and he soon returned to acting, starring in Muhlenberg plays. Anthony was soon nominated for the Irene Ryan award for his portrayal as Sam in The Miss Firecracker Contest. After college, it was off to New York City where he hit the theatre circuit, working at the famed Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Thirteenth Street Reparatory Company. He got his first notice there in a play called Three of a Kind and his career was off and running.
Once he moved to Los Angeles, he didn’t waste any time starring in movies like McHale’s Navy, Three Kings, and For Richer or Poorer. He also has an impressive television resume with guest star spots on The Shield, the West Wing, Gilmore Girls and 24. He also had a recurring role on the hit TV series Lost playing Omar and now he has a guest spot in NCIS Los Angeles where he will play Adanam Al-Ahmadi in The Recruit (4X02).
We had a chance to sit down for a revealing chat with Anthony Azizi and we are excited to welcome him into the pages of NCIS:LA Magazine!
What drew you into acting as a career at such a young age?
Every kid has an imagination and is influenced heavily by the media so I loved entertaining people and making people laugh. I was a funny kid. I loved the arts and saw plays at a young age because I was so close to Philly and New York. I was also surrounded by people in theatre. Bill George and his wife were friends of mine for years that had a theatre troop in in Bethlehem (Touchstone Theater) and they always need child actors so every so often I’d get a call and I’d be involved with them and performed at their theater. I was also involved in school plays even though I was very much an athlete…I played soccer. I never thought I’d do this professionally because I came from a family of physicians; my uncles and dad were physicians. See I thought I was going to be an athlete, but I got hurt at Muhlenberg College on a soccer scholarship but I wound up not playing because I got I injured and my knee couldn’t take it. So I ended up in the theatre program at Muhlenberg to do something with my time and that program was on the cusp of just blowing up because it’s now one of the best theater programs in the country. That era had a lot of actors that went off and did some great things (Daniel Dae Kim, Dwayne Johnson) which now attracts people to the school. So I got a good education there and when I graduated, a friend of mine called me up and said there might be a play I would be right for and I auditioned for the play and they gave it to me and I was stuck in New York for four months. I didn’t think I was going to be an actor, but here I am!
I’ve done a lot since then, I was the first Iranian to be on a network series and that was in 2003 on Threat Matrix. I was shocked because there are a lot of Iranian actors now but when I started there was like four of us at that level. I had no idea what the business was all about, I had no one really to consult with. If you were an Italian actor you had Al Pacino or Robert Di Niro and they have become film stars but for me there was nobody and I had to look to. So I didn’t know if this was going to be a viable way for me to make a living and even now I say “What were you thinking?” I’ve had a lot of success in this industry but I still struggle just like a lot of actors because it’s a tough game. It wasn’t until I started my own theatre group that I got the right attention. I was able to get an agent after that who saw my work through the theatre company. Two months later I came to LA and very quickly I started getting roles and I was very lucky at the open mindedness and in particular with Bryan Spicer who is one of the executive producers of Hawaii Five-0 now. He believed in me and he gave me my first real break in a remake of McHale’s Navy. I said to Brian: “How did I wind up in this movie with all these actors…Ernest Borgnine, Tim Curry, and David Allen Greer? He said you’re the best and I had the power to make it happen. That really got the ball rolling because that was a very big supporting role in a big film. Tim Curry was so helpful too. He literally guided me through my performance because I had no idea when I showed up on this $60 million dollar set what to do but everybody helped me through it. I was lucky to get so much help.
You bring with you a very impressive television resume as you get set to star on NCIS Los Angeles. What was one of the shows you enjoyed working on the most?
I have to talk about Lost. What a series that was! JJ (Abrams) is one of the foremost guys in the industry. He has vision and I think he’s a wonderful man and he is very carrying about his actors and his writers. When you see people like that who are brilliant and humble and do their job… it’s just special. JJ has always been supportive of me and he gave me a part on his show Person of Interest and they had the faith in me because it was a very complicated role and they took a risk without having me go in and read for it. They really respected and understood me as an actor and that’s special that they believed in what I do.