Since 2009, Pej Vahdat has played Muslim scientist Arastoo Vaziri on the long-running television show “Bones” and like his character, Arastoo, the 34-year-old actor is an Iranian-American Muslim who immigrated to the US as a baby with his family.
In this interview with BuzzFeed, Vahdat talks about the challenges of being a working Muslim actor in Hollywood. “Of course there were those terrorist roles,” he recounts about early day auditions which, along with “the bodega owner and the taxicab driver was the majority of the stuff you would be seen for, unfortunately.” But he was ecstatic to land the recurring character on Bones and says it was “incredible that he’s a brilliant scientist helping people solve crimes, and not committing them.”
Bones creator Hart Hanson talks about the creative process with creating the character of Arastoo. “You started to think, ‘Wow, these moderate, everyday Muslims are facing a tough world,’” says the Bones creator. “A predominantly white culture views Muslims as the Other. It just seemed to have squeezed up into the zeitgeist, and at the same time, there was good, increasing pressure … to increase diversity.”
An episode in Season 8 is among Vahdat’s favorites. In the episode, a Caucasian intern assumes that Arastoo would feel uncomfortable investigating a death related to the 9/11 attacks. In a memorable speech, Arastoo admonishes his fellow intern, saying: “Those horrible men who hijacked those planes hijacked my religion that day, too.”
Vahdat says that many fans have since told him that the episode has opened their eyes because they never thought how a Muslim person was also affected by 9-11. “A lot of them really woke up and said, ‘Oh my god, yeah, he’s American, and he was affected by this, just like me.’”
As for Bones, this is the final season and Vahdat is both thankful for the role and hopeful about the depictions of Muslims and Arab-Americans moving forward. “People are influenced by television, good or bad, and let’s make it good.”
Interested in learning more about writers of Muslim characters? Check out our story here.