Omid Abtahi has finished his work on American Gods and has a resume that includes Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Mentalist, and 24. Next: a role as Hawkman in the animated series Justice Society: World War II. It’s a film that reunites all the stars, including Matt Bomer and Stana Katic, but more importantly, it’s a film that brings Abtahi back to war – making him an iconic hero who helps pave the way for the golden age of superheroes as a member of the Justice Society. It’s a cool job, especially after years of being stuck in roles defined by 9/11, says Abtahi.
In the film, Bomer plays Barry Allen, a time-traveling superhero known as the Flash. He ends up in the 1940s where he meets Jay Garrick and his team of heroes, including Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This is the first time that some of these characters have played along in the DC Universe cartoons that have been airing for over a decade, and the first time that fans will see one of these characters in the new continuity created by the recent arrival of Superman: The man of tomorrow.
To be honest, I’m not that familiar with the world of superheroes, whether it’s DC or Marvel, Abtahi said. At the same time, I knew he was an iconic figure, so you really want to do your job well. They really want to show respect for the history of this franchise and this particular character. All you have to do as an artist is respect it, put yourself in the background, then let go of everything and deliver your interpretation of the character.
Abtahi is an actor who works in live action fairly regularly, but he says it’s his ability to fit into any type of character, regardless of background or even type, that attracts him to animation projects.
I was lucky enough to be cast [in live action], but what appeals to me is that you’re not limited to physical appearances, the actor explained. There’s no world where I’m gonna be shot as hawk, is there? But in the world of voiceover, you can be anyone, as long as you can connect with the soul of the character and deliver a voice that convincingly embodies that character. You can have any color you want. In the world of voice-over, you can be anyone, which is why I do it. It’s nice.
As previously mentioned, Mr. Abtahi takes particular pride in creating a body of work that allows him to express himself beyond the stereotypical roles to which many Middle Eastern or Arab-American actors are limited. He’s not the only one, he says; Abtahi believes there are more opportunities in the world for Middle Eastern actors and less one-dimensional terrorist roles than when he started working on shows like JAG and Out There 15 years ago.
Abtahi admitted that it is very difficult to play roles that are not defined by the events of 9/11. Studying these characters outside of their religion, outside of all the 9/11 circumstances, is wonderful. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been able to play some very good Middle Eastern characters, and I’ve been able to play characters that aren’t ethnic. So yes, I’m very happy that the company and this industry are moving in that direction.
Superheroes are definitely role models, and some actors have said that playing such a role can change the way you see yourself as an actor. Abtahi rather sees it as a kind of web in which all factors are interconnected. So maybe it’s not that if I can play a superhero, any model is possible, but rather it’s the empowerment of the changing landscape that suddenly makes superheroing an opportunity for non-white actors.
The reason I was never attracted to superheroes is because I never saw myself in that world, either as a person or as an actor, Abtahi said. It’s like all these things are closed to you. But then again, isn’t it great to play characters who do nothing but inspire people?
Justice Society: World War II comes out in digital form on April 27 and two weeks later on April 11. May, on DVD and Blu-ray.