Hope is a thing that everyone wants during this pandemic. The world has been on lockdown with seemingly no end in sight. I’m a student and an aspiring actor wanting to hit the ground running with various acting projects once I graduate, but the future looks hazy. I feel lost, but seeing Hollywood shift to DIY productions via YouTube and other media is intriguing. It seems like they have hope for things to bounce back, and they’re extending that iteration to others. I love seeing my favorite artists embrace kindness and positivity. Someone who upholds these sentiments is Ali Kazmi, a Canadian-Pakistani actor with a hefty portfolio. He has starred in a wide array of Western and Pakistani films and TV shows such as Beeba Boys, Taken, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Jackson Heights, and Baaji.

I met Ali Kazmi in the very first panel on Maheen The Globe. It was around the start of the pandemic when the global film and TV industry was at a standstill. But Ali had faith in things returning to normal and in actors looking to break into the industry when it happens. It was so refreshing to see someone radiate positivity amidst a global crisis and want to mentor new talent struggling to get their foot in the door.

It’s ironic that he typically plays stone-faced and cold-hearted gangsters, notably in ‘Beeba Boys’ and ‘Jackson Heights.’ In real life he is an open, warm, kind and funny person. Not only that, but he has some solid takes on life and growth in a pandemic. Read more of Ali Kazmi’s story below.

2019, Karachi. Ali Kazmi shooting “Baaji.” Photography: Tapu Javeri

How did you get your start in acting? Did you go to school?

My parents Rahat and Sahira Kazmi are stalwarts and legendary artists in the field of acting, writing and direction. I grew up in the wooden paneled halls of Pakistan Television Studios with the best of the best surrounding me with their artistic brilliance. I started my career in acting at the age of two. When my mom (director) couldn’t find a kid to put in her plays, I was that kid. But that being said, it can be a lot of pressure on someone absorbing so much from some of the best in the field, and I will give full credit to my parents who are such lovely humans and true artists at heart who always told me to follow my gut.

They always said “it’s the art and the gut-wrenching hard work to achieve it that matters. Not fame or money, those are just by products. You always have to give it your best, no matter what the odds!” My father always said “to achieve great art you must appreciate great art. The day you stop learning and questioning, you are dead!” These sayings stuck with me and inspired me to become an artist.

By the time I was in my 20s, I was an established actor. I was trying to step out of my parents’ shadows and take the legacy to the next level, but there were no film schools in Pakistan. I studied dramatic arts at the National Academy of Performing Arts, but I wanted to be a global artist and make my parents proud, as they had given me so much. So I decided to move to Toronto and make it into an adventure. Sometimes to achieve what you need to, you must get out of your comfort zone and that’s what I did.

I moved to Toronto, enrolled in Toronto Film School to study direction and production, and started from scratch!  Louis Baumander, Neelam Mansingh and many more were my acting coaches. My goal was to become a more well-rounded international artist who does film, TV and theatre. Then my journey began! I worked odd jobs while in school, auditioned for everything under the sun, mopped the floors and printed scripts for the studios I get to perform in today. What we do is a strange combination of hope, hard work, timing, luck and destiny.

Tell us about your latest film, ‘Ishrat.’ What was that like to work on?

My latest project is ‘Ishrat- Made in China’ which is a wonderfully weird action comedy 6 years in the making. It is the brainchild and labor of love of an old friend and colleague, brilliant actor Mohib Mirza and features a superb ensemble of cast and crew from Pakistan and Thailand. It’s a film with a unique cast and message! We wrapped it up just as the pandemic was beginning and while I made it back to Toronto, a lot of cast and crew were stuck in Thailand due to the COVID-19 flights closures. It ended with a bang no less.
The other film I had the pleasure of working on recently was ‘Funny Boy’ a coming of age story for a family in Sri Lanka based on the novel by the same name written by Shyam Selvadurai. The film is directed by my mentor and internationally famed director Deepa Mehta. It’s my second time working with her after ‘Beeba Boys.’ She is a force of nature and her films always speak volumes and represent topics and genres untouched by most. So I can’t wait for you all to see the spectrum of work I have waiting for you in 2021!

What does a typical day of shooting look like for you? How do you balance your work and family schedules?

A typical day of shooting really depends on which part of the world I am shooting in. In Pakistan and India, the filming times are longer and in Canada and the USA they are more controlled. It’s due to culture, the style of film you are making and the depth of the project.

Balance and time management are the true key to life, so I try my best to do that. I plan shoots around family vacations and vice versa. I am a super hands-on father as I believe it’s a beautiful time to grow with your children and I don’t want to miss that! But as we grow and try to learn how to juggle, we must time our film-life properly, to adjust our family life, because to me I am nothing without either of them! My family and my work are both of extreme importance to me but if at the end of the day if you haven’t lived a life full of experiences you have no art to share!

So one must give time to be with family. I have an amazing wife without whom I would be truly lost, and two incredible boys whose love makes me strive to be a better human. I’m always learning, experiencing, and growing as an artist as a by product. So you can’t have one without the other is my view in convenience, inconvenience and unconditionally!

What advice do you have for struggling actors in the pandemic? How can they get started right now?

I have tons of advice, but to follow it is the tough part! Hope, belief and hard work on your craft are the pillars of what we do. Tune your skills and take opportunities no matter how big or how small. You never know which one will be the one to catapult you into the ether!

Always be ready in mind, body and soul because life waits for no one. Take any opportunity you are given, it could be the one to take you where you need to go. So approach all your work as a fresh new canvas, ready to explore! Young actors have the best tools that we never did. Create monologues on YouTube for the world to see so you have something to show and back up your words. Don’t shy away from good short films and commercials, puff up that Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and learn about the classics!

It’s imperative to appreciate all art to truly create art. Work on your health and fitness as best as you can because the body is a temple for the mind. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. Once you have created a small portfolio for yourself, getting a good agent and manager should be easier. I know it’s a pain sometimes, but it’s important for them to get you into the doors you can’t open. Don’t ever worry about the color of your skin, your accent or your uniqueness. That is your power! Go forth and conquer! The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our minds to grow sharper.

Tessa Hoyos is the writer of this article. She covers beats business, culture, wellness and fashion at Maheen The Globe, a Seattlebased, independent global media outlet.