Actor and producer Mani Nasry on encouraging diversity in his new film

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Mani Nasry is an actor and producer who stars in, produces and directs the feature film ‘We’, which took over five years to make. The film follows Ethan, a man with big ambitions and an even bigger heart, as he searches for love in the years following the death of his parents. Mani Nasry brings authenticity and life to the leading character of Ethan, acting alongside a diverse cast. 

Here Mani talks about acting with well-known names such as Dean Cain, and how that inspired him to go his own way; why producing is a dream for him; and how he’s giving a voice to under-represented communities.

Photo credit 14 FILM

Who inspired you to become an actor and why?

The three films I was most inspired by were Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Elem Klimov’s ‘Come and See’, and Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon A Time In America’. These movies were like dreams that you entered, fascinated and captivated. I started my journey by training as an actor at Equity Showcase Theatre in Toronto and headed to New York and Los Angeles to learn the art of theatre and cinema. 

Once I returned from the US in 2002, I landed my first major role, a $5 million film called ‘The Glow’ with well-known actors Dean Cain and Portia de Rossi. In Canada, you only get the leftovers, the leading part is taken. There is a lot of politics and it’s very Caucasian, there’s not much room for diversity. I knew that in order to be a leading actor, I would have to become a film producer. I was accepted into one of the most competitive film programs in Canada at Ryerson University and studied cinema for five years before I started producing and directing my first feature film, ‘We’. 

Tell us more about ‘We’.

‘We’ took over five years to make. The film follows a character by the name of Ethan… except his name isn’t really Ethan, it’s Ahmad – he is hiding his true identity. He has lived a lie and has lost his identity being raised in Canada, he doesn’t know why his relationships are not working and he’s trying to find himself. 

Ahmad was torn away from Afghanistan because of the war with the Soviet Union, and brought to Canada, losing touch with his culture and religion. He doesn’t know if he should marry a Muslim girl or a Canadian girl. The film shows the beauty of Canada, and of individual cultures and religions, but exposes the complexities when they come together. 

The film ‘We’ is fully improvised on a 200-page script. We had 32 union actors working without pay, which had never been done before in Canada. But the film allowed people of different ethnicities, backgrounds and religions to share the screen by giving them leading roles. Actors from Iran, Afghanistan, China and Venezuela, as well as indigenous Canadians, took central roles in the film.

“The film is about finding the treasure in everyone and not passing judgement on people.”

Mani Nasry

All for one and one for all, united we stand. 

Photo credit 14 FILM

You are also working as a producer, how is that working out?

Producing and directing gives you the ability to dream your dreams throughout the day. As a producer, you get to create life’s coming attractions, spectacles and fantasies. Sometimes you create work that will fight for justice, a kinder world and peace among us, but it takes great determination, courage, perseverance and confidence. Our film ‘We’ gave us the opportunity to change the narrative and highlight that we are human beings too, even if we are from the Middle East. We need a chance to speak up and change the false picture the media has created.

‘We’ is out on Vimeo now.

Featured photo credit: 14 Film