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Anthony Azizi: 'Commander' Performance
by Andrew Davis
2006-04-01

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The name Anthony Azizi may not stand out, but he appears before millions as Vince Taylor, the female President's gay, HIV-positive chief of staff on the Geena Davis-helmed ABC series Commander in Chief. Recently, the very outspoken Brooklyn-raised Iranian talked about his role, advertising, and Brokeback Mountain.

Windy City Times/Identity: Anthony, I hear this is your day off.

Anthony Azizi: Well, actually, we have a few days off because we're trying to revamp our schedule. There have been a lot of changes since they've changed from Rod Lurie to Steven Bochco [ running the show ] . We go back on the air on April. [ Note: Script writer Dee Johnson is now running the show, according to Entertainment Weekly. Bochco remains an executive producer. ]

WCT: Is it tough dealing with so much uncertainty?

AA: Yeah. When we came out of the box, we were the No. 1 show on Tuesday nights, averaging about 16 million people. ( Before our hiatus, we had about 11 million watching. ) Rod Lurie had to step down—and whenever the show's creator steps away, something can happen to the show. Then there was anxiety over what would happen with the show. But, yeah, it's a tough game.

WCT: Do you think that people put too much emphasis on ratings and not enough on quality? I'm thinking of shows like Arrested Development, which has been cancelled.

AA: Well, I think the ratings system is defunct. Nielsen is a joke—and you can print that. Now, Nielsen is on the verge of being racially corrupt; it doesn't take [ minorities ] into account. I think the ratings are way off, anyway.

You could [ link ] every single home in America but some people would see that as an invasion of privacy. But I think that would be a truer way of finding out what people watch.

Also, [ centering on ] the 18-year-old demographic is a joke. When I was 18, I was broke, you know what I mean? Most people who buy are in their 30s and 40s. You see a Jaguar or Range Rover commercial ... how many 18-year-olds ( or 27-year-olds, for that matter ) do you see driving those? The whole ad system is nonsense.

Just because a show has good ratings doesn't mean it's a good show. Six Feet Under was a great show and it only had like three or four million watching a week.

What is 'Must See TV' all about? The only 'must' there was came from the musty smell of how bad these shows are. I have problems with TV because I'm involved with it. People should watch shows that are good, like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

WCT: Let's talk about your character. I understand that, at first, you didn't know that you character would be gay or HIV-positive. What have you learned from portraying this character?

AA: No, I didn't know that.

I know what's right—and what's right is that we have to learn how to love each other. You have no right to put someone down for their differences.

A guy walked into a [ gay bar ] in Massachusetts a few weeks ago and chopped up people. This is ridiculous, man. It's 2006. We need to love each other because of our differences. I learned that I can talk about those principles I believe in so much.

I've lost seven close friends to AIDS. My wife [ Cymbeline Smith ] is from Zimbabwe, which has the highest rate of HIV infection in Africa. It's a very personal thing that my character's HIV-positive—and that he's Palestinian. I'm able to address a lot of issues. I could bring up lots of things at the beginning of the season; hopefully, things will go back to that.

It's about taking people and loving them. My culture is really bad with [ being intolerant of HIV-positive individuals ] . In certain countries, they still kill and arrest people for their sexual orientation. That is bullshit.

WCT: [ Recently, ] a young woman was stoned in South Africa because she said she was lesbian.

AA: This is outrageous and we have to speak up! I'm not scared of these people and I'll speak up. You cannot justify that kind of behavior. It's indecent. If you want to bring in religion, God is the ultimate judge of someone's behavior.

WCT: What kind of feedback do you get on the street from people?

AA: Unfortunately, people haven't been taking note of the character because [ Vince ] hasn't been addressing issues since Steven Bochco took over. However, at first, the gay community was pretty excited; we even got a GLAAD nomination. My character has been dumbed down. That's their decision; however, as an artist, I was kind of upset about that.

WCT: What would you like to see happen with your character?

AA: I would like him to be active in the President's decisions. Now, I'm more like someone who's getting her coffee.

WCT: You're saying it's like he's been neutered, in a sense.

AA: Exactly. What a beautiful word you just used, Andrew. When they took the storyline away, it's like they weakened him and took away what his character is about.

I'd [ also ] like to see more about his personal life. They introduced my boyfriend but my boyfriend never came on the show.

WCT: Speaking of gay, did you see Brokeback Mountain?

AA: Yeah, but I didn't feel the hype. I didn't feel that those two guys loved each other; it felt like lust. They didn't seem like soulmates. What would've have [ convinced ] me is if they left their families. The fact that they stayed with the families showed me that their love wasn't that deep.

WCT: I thought it was a good film ... but Crash seemed to be better. [ Note: This conversation took place before the 2006 Academy Awards. ]

AA: Oh my God! What the hell is going on? We're on the same page, Andrew! I agree 100 percent. Also, I thought Transamerica was better than Brokeback Mountain. I don't understand the hype around Brokeback.

WCT: Who's been your favorite person to work with?

AA: I've worked with both Sutherlands, Donald and Kiefer. Donald is a legend. He has done so many different projects; he's a screen icon for the right reasons.

Geena is great and so is George Clooney. I worked with him in the movie Three Kings and George is such an outstanding man. Tim Curry is fun to work with; I also like Peter Coyote.

I had a series with Jamie Denton [ from TV's Desperate Housewives ] called Threat Matrix; I love working with him.

WCT: You've been on two of my favorite shows: Gilmore Girls and The Shield.

AA: Gilmore Girls is great. The relationship between [ the mother and daughter ] is great.

WCT: Who do you want to work with?

AA: I really want to work with [ director ] Spike Lee. I would do anything for him.

Also, I'd like to work with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Actually, Meryl's brother was my math teacher growing up. She visited us but I didn't know who she really was. Working with Ben Kingsley would be great, too. He's loco, man.


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