Actor Name: Faran Tahir
Ruslan is Uzbek; he has some Russian influence. He is part of a rebel group in Uzbekistan rising up against authorities and corporations because their water is polluted from an oil pipeline that is leaking and causing people to die. His own brother died from poisoning of the water. Finally, Ruslan is left with no other option but to take a different road by kidnapping the CEOs of the oil companies to bring attention to the issue.
Faran Tahir Interview
Q: What languages do you speak?
A: I speak English, when I have had enough coffee. Urdu, the Pakistani language. Hindi, the Indian language. And I speak Panjabi, the regional language shared by both. I speak those fluently and have comprehension of Arabic and some Persian.
Q: Tell us about growing up in Pakistan and your heritage.
A: For better or for worse, I am a fourth generation person in the arts. We call my middle brother the black sheep of the family because he is the accountant. Everybody else is in the arts – actors, directors, writers. That is what we do. The family’s lunch and dinner conversations are about film, theater and books. My father and mother are both actors. Father was the director of the National Pakistani theater, I literally grew up backstage and my father was the principal of the Pakistan television planning institute and my mother had a radio show for 35 years and my grandparents were playwrights. One of the plays my grandfather wrote is one of the most produced plays in south Asia and Pakistan. It is the history of people who have been in this for a long time and staying true to our own passion.
Q: Could you describe your character, Ruslan Denislov, and his crimes?
A: When I was offered this, I think the writing is really smart and intelligent on the show and I look at the list of guest stars. A lot of people are not doing this for exposure -- Alan Alda is doing it because there is something a little more than that. There is a challenge and a level of sophistication in the writing. When I reread the character that is what I liked about it. What I loved was although his actions were criminal his reasons were not. He was not just a “bad guy.” There was more to him than that. When you make bad guys it is very easy to make them one-dimensional -- today I am going to wake up and be really bad and in this particular case his actions were deplorable but he had his reasons.
Q: Who is he?
A: Ruslan is Uzbek; he has some Russian influence. He is part of a rebel group in Uzbekistan rising up against authorities and corporations because their water is polluted from an oil pipeline that is leaking and causing people to die. His own brother died from poisoning of the water. Finally, Ruslan is left with no other option but to take a different road by kidnapping the CEOs of the oil companies to bring attention to the issue.
He feels so helpless. The only avenue he now has to bring attention to this is through some violent means. So he starts kidnapping them, and you start to realize that people like Reddington, Liz and Ressler assume he is a really bad guy, but they eventually realize who this character really is by the end. Reddington says: ‘What you have done is amazing, and you will have to pay a price. But when you are done you will be able to leave this country.’ A lot of the blacklisters are killers, but in this particular case, Ruslan can survive.
Q: Why do you think Reddington has targeted your character?
A: Ruslan kidnaps a CIA undercover agent and that brings attention to him. Reddington realizes who he is because they already know each other. But when Reddington actually brings Liz and Ressler into the situation and they see that Ruslan is not doing this for personal gain, that there is a larger altruistic motivation, they allow him to find a way to help his people. And that is why I was so excited to play this role because it brought that layer to it. He is shades of gray rather than black and white.
Q: How did you prepare to portray this character?
A: Some of it was just digging a little bit into the Uzbek history; they had been under Soviet rule. There have been a lot of factions who have pulled and pushed the country and a level of uncertainty where alliances and allegiances lie. On a different level, one of the things I wanted to keep in my mind was how to keep this character’s humanity. There is a part of him that can shoot a guy without batting an eye and part of him that is true and not self-piteous.
Q: Do you think anyone will ever be able to outsmart Reddington?
A: That is a very interesting question. It would be a really great episode or an arc for someone to go mano a mano with Reddington and test his mettle. In this particular case they actually join forces and help each other out. He is instrumental in getting the undercover CIA agent released and at the same time Reddington becomes his representative to negotiate on his behalf. It would be really interesting if someone could outsmart Reddington. That I would love to see!
Q: What is it that appeals so much to actors about playing villains?
A: Immediately it frees you from just trying to prove that you are nice. There is deliciousness in playing a villain. You do whatever you feel like doing. There is a freedom to that. There is a challenge to finding this negative freedom a villain evokes in people. How do you find that entry into someone’s mind? Without an effective villain there is no effective protagonist. It is the contrast of the dark and light that makes any painting vivid. The conceit is going to be about the antagonist and protagonist.
Q: What is it like working with The Blacklist cast?
A: Absolutely a treat and I am not just saying that. There is a level of give and take, which just pulls you into that kind of family for a week or two. You can see the focus that they have, which is not about themselves but how to make the scene and story the best they can and this willingness to collaborate and be very free with each other and how they help each other out. James is a consummate actor and he brings all of it every day to the set. His eye for detail, his level of being completely open so you can actually have a dialog for the scene. What is working for you? How could I help you out here? That is music to any actor who hears it. I worked basically with James, Megan and Diego, and it really was an exhilarating experience.
Q: What was your experience like on set?
A: We were lucky we had Andrew McCarthy who directed it. He is a wonderful director because he is also an actor. He does not have to give you a dissertation about your character. He can give you little hooks and he will trust you enough to catapult the actor to the next level. Everybody kept their focus and it goes to the leadership on the set.
Q: Can Ruslan return?
A: I think there is a good chance. You never know. We know he is one of the only ones who has survived. It could be really interesting if at some point he can come back as some aid and accomplice and friend to Red which could be an interesting twist on things because there are times that Red also needs help. That would be an interesting twist.
Q: What would you like to add?
A: This is the second season, and when you look at the list of people who have come on board, to me it really speaks to the quality and level of the show. It is becoming a phenomenon very quickly not because of marketing; it is because of the content. You cannot spin unless there is something to spin. I really love it. Who knows? Maybe he (Ruslan) will come back for one reason or another.