Faran Tahir on Being the First Starship Captain of Pakistani Ethnicity

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Paramount Pictures

Faran Tahir, seen here as Raza in ‘Iron Man,’ will be taking on the role of Capt. Robau in director J.J. Abrams’ yet-to-be-released ‘Star Trek’ flick.

Faran Tahir, who played a most convincing villain in the recent “Iron Man,” also shared his thoughts with The Post and Courier on becoming the first Federation captain of Pakistani ethnicity. This, for the new “Star Trek” film, which is already in post-production for a May 8, 2009, release.

The former East Indian tennis star Vijay Armitraj, very much a nonactor, had a fleeting part as a starship captain in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), and we’ve had Asians, Europeans, Latins, African-Americans, American Indians and assorted off-worlders play Starfleet skippers. But this is the first featured role for someone of Middle Eastern origin.

Tahir, who was born in L.A. to two of Pakistan’s most respected stage and screen actors, says the real meaning is in the fact that his nationality is not especially significant.

“There is meaning in the context of today, 2008, but not in the context of the 23rd-century setting of the movie. To be cast without that (ethnicity) being an issue is very freeing. The description of the character, as written, was not a Middle Eastern or South Asian man, so the playing field was wide open. I was cast literally in five hours.”

Tahir plays Capt. Robau in J.J. Abrams’s highly anticipated (and highly secretive) new picture, which also stars Zachary Quinto (as Spock), Chris Pine (as James T. Kirk), Karl Urban (as Leonard “Bones” McCoy), John Cho (as Hikaru Sulu), Simon Pegg (as Scotty) and Anton Yelchin (as Pavel Chekov), along with some established leading actors like Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood and Winona Ryder.

Any prominent role in this series is something of an iconic one to many fans. Tahir agrees, but says the main thing to keep in mind about this Trek is that its real target is a potential new generation of fans.

“The thing about this movie, what it does well, is create the bridge between the whole ‘Trek’ saga and the fresher look of this film. There’s a generation that did not grow up with ‘Star Trek.’ I did and so did a lot of my friends. Although we know what this entire saga is about, it gives an opportunity to younger audiences to own a piece of it, too. Which is wonderful — one more conversation piece between age groups.”

Writer-director Abrams, by contrast, grew up more a fan of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo than of Kirk and Spock. But the creator of TV’s “Lost” and “Alias,” with big-screen credits like “Mission: Impossible II” and “Cloverfield,” says the 11th film in the “Star Trek” canon was “an opportunity to take the characters, the thoughtfulness, the personalities, the sense of adventure, the idea of humanity working together, the sense of social commentary and innovation, and apply it in a way that felt genuinely thrilling.”

He is not, however, making the film solely for old-line Trekkers.

“The whole point was to try to make this movie for fans of movies, not fans of ‘Star Trek,’ necessarily,” he told an interviewer recently. “I feel like this is so unlike what you expect, so unlike the ‘Star Trek’ you’ve seen. At the same time, it’s being true to what’s come before, honoring it. I can only tell you the idea of the universe of ‘Star Trek’ has never been given this kind of treatment.”

Moneypenny. Jane Moneypenny.

Until now, we never even knew her first name. Miss Moneypenny, stalwart secretary to M, head of the British Secret Service, was also the longtime foil for 007’s jokes and jibes. She yearned for more from Mr. Bond, at least in Ian Fleming’s novels and the films of Cubby Broccoli & Co.

Now she’s done with being the passive, wistful office flower, and is ready (albeit from the Great Beyond) to tell the real story behind the placid surface. Thanks to a cache of diaries left to her inquisitive niece Kate Westbrook, the only women’s-eye view into 007’s world (apart from the female narrator of Fleming’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”) has come to light.

“The Moneypenny Diaries” (Thomas Dunne Books) arrives just in time for the 100th anniversary of Fleming’s birthday and the release of the latest Bond book “Devil May Care,” by Sebastian Faulks. How about Cate Blanchett in the lead for a Moneypenny movie?

Edited by “Kate Westbrook” herself, “The Moneypenny Diaries” reveals exactly what happened to 007 during those gray days between “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “You Only Live Twice.” More importantly, it reveals the heretofore unchronicled adventures of the woman behind the man. “Secrecy runs deep in both her personal and professional life,” Westbrook explains. And that life has gotten rather complicated. “The gentleman she’s been seeing has been acting strange, a mole has been found in ‘the Office,’ and a mysterious stranger has turned up who claims that her father, presumed dead since World War II, may be alive.”

Meanwhile, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Moneypenny must come to 007’s rescue. In the process she hides out with Bond in Havana, meets JFK in the Oval Office and, wholly against the spy code, writes it all down.

Toss that on your hat rack.

Killer ‘Bs’

Some movies insist on our attention despite their ignoble births, squalid childhoods and questionable adulthoods.

First there was the “The A List,” the National Society of Film Critics’ guide to the best films. Then came “The X List,” the society’s touchstone for the sexiest. In October we get “The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love,” edited by David Sterritt and John Anderson.

An unwieldy title, but the content is sublime, focusing on 35 critics’ picks of the “most offbeat, unpredictable and idiosyncratic films … that fall outside the mainstream by dint of their budgets, their visions, their grit and occasionally — sometimes essentially — their lack of ‘good taste.’ ”

These movies may have had limited first-runs, but they’ve won over audiences throughout the world at art-house cinemas, festival revivals, dorm rooms, midnight-madness screenings and even — gasp! — in mainstream multiplexes.

Some selections, however, are odd. One doesn’t think of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” for example, as anything like a “B” movie. Nor was the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in that category. At least not the way Hollywood has defined it since Day One. That said, there is much to enjoy and chew on here, thanks to Sterritt, a film professor at Columbia University and current NSFC chairman, and Anderson, a critic for Variety, The New York Times and Newsday.

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