Doctor, lawyer, engineer—these are the professions so many parents hope their children pursue. Arian Moayed’s parents were no exception.
“I think they were nervous as hell,” Moayed, BA’02, says, when asked what his family originally thought of his acting aspirations.
Moayed and his family immigrated from Iran to the U.S. in 1986. He was raised in Andersonville—a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.
Growing up, he had a knack for making people laugh.
“I was in ESL classes until fourth or fifth grade. I was Iranian and my name was weird. But if I could make people laugh, it kind of made everything okay,” he says.
While the IU alum isn’t necessarily known as a comedy actor, his comedic timing is undeniable. Maybe because he’s rubbed shoulders with some of the greats, such as Robin Williams and Bill Murray.
But long before he was starring in the Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Broadway alongside Williams, Moayed was on the IU Bloomington campus.
At the age of 18, all Moayed wanted was to be on stage.
“My whole philosophy was that I needed to do a lot of shows to be good at acting. I ended up doing [roughly] 15 shows at IU,” he says, adding proudly that he was the first student to perform in both the Ruth N. Halls Theatre and the Wells-Metz Theatre.
Moayed also socialized with the improv group Full Frontal Comedy.
“I never got into the group, but all those guys became my friends,” he says.
It’s how Moayed met Tom Ridgley, BA’01. In 2002, the two friends co-founded Waterwell—a group of artists, educators, and producers dedicated to telling stories that wrestle with complex civic questions.
“We had the desire to create theater that would help better society,” Moayed says.
Of course, Moayed is proud of his stacked IMDB credits list—HBO’s Succession, Netflix’s Inventing Anna, Disney+’s Ms. Marvel—as well as his 2011 Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) and his 2022 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Succession). But he’s practically beaming across the phone when talking about his work at Waterwell.
A career highlight, he says, was serving as executive producer of Waterwell’s Blueprint Specials production in 2017. The 60-person production—comprised of veterans and professional actors—took place on the Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier from World War II that now functions as a museum in New York City.
The Broadway-style musical—originally written by Frank Loesser, who penned the iconic Guys and Dolls—was created in 1944 at the request of the U.S. War Department.
“The war department thought it was important to have musicals written by privates to be performed by soldiers [in] battle during their off time—to boost morale in some of the most dire situations,” explains Moayed.
Since launching Waterwell, Moayed has capitalized on the opportunity to tell the stories he feels are important—all without the opinions of networks or studio executives interfering.
People are buzzing about his latest creation,The Courtroom, after it premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Written by Moayed, the film tells the story of a Filipina immigrant who faces deportation and permanent separation from her American husband and newborn child after mistakenly registering to vote.
“[Conveying] my perspective on the world, it’s a big portion of what I want to do with my life,” he says. “Our job as theater professionals, actors, and people of the stage is to build empathy inside of the audience, so that we can all feel and feel for others.”