December 10, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
TORONTO - When discussing the off-the-wall antics of reality television, the modus operandi of many of its stars is to back away from onscreen transgressions and blame creative editing.
Not so for Reza Farahan, the breakout fame-seeker from OMNI's "Shahs of Sunset."
The out-and-proud gay star insists the drama is genuine and that volatile blow-ups among cast members are real.
"It's not a reality show based on characters that were brought together randomly — I had dinner with GG last night, I talk to Mike everyday, MJ and Sammy are in Coachella for a music festival together right now," Farahan says of his show's off-the-wall personalities, a collection of Persian-American friends who live lavishly in Los Angeles — or as they call it, "Tehrangeles."
"(Producer) Ryan (Seacrest) would call, email, text, check in but it was just to make sure we were happy, make sure we were OK, make sure that whatever feedback, whether positive or negative that we were OK with it. But it was never to steer us. There's no steering."
"Shahs of Sunset" focuses on the personal lives, careers and families of six Persian socialites. They include confirmed bachelorette Mercedes (MJ) Javid, party-crazed Sammy Younai, ladies man Mike Shouhed, trust-fund kid Golnesa (GG) Gharachedaghi and singer Asa Soltan Rahmati.
Farahan is a social butterfly who says he signed up to shed light on the struggles of little-seen Persian homosexuals.
And from the get-go, he vowed to dive whole-heartedly into the sensational series and bare intimate details about himself — both literally and figuratively.
In one episode, he invites cameras along to witness a colonic he gets with best friend MJ. Later in the series, he confronts his estranged father over their family's pained past.
"For me it was all or nothing," says the 38-year-old Farahan, who was born in Tehran and raised in Beverly Hills.
"You can't have expectations of wanting to bring about change in your community if you have one foot in and one foot out.... There's so much homophobia and it was either: not do it, or if I was going to do it, I was going to put it all out there. And that's what I did."
Farahan's no-holds-barred approach has already made him a fan favourite in the United States, where the show airs on Bravo.
His thick black moustache has even spawned a fan following and its own Twitter account: @rezas_mustache.
Farahan says he forgot about the cameras when he confronted his father during an emotional trip to New York.
"I literally break out into the ugly cry like I've never done before in my life," he says, insisting it was not staged for the show.
"And I didn't know what he was going to say. I didn't know if he would be receptive, if he wouldn't be receptive. It just so happened that the cameras were there when I had one of the most transformational conversations with my father that I've ever had in my life."
Farahan adds that each of his castmates have told him they regret things that have appeared on the show. But he has none.
"I'm Persian, I'm half-Jewish, half-Muslim and I'm gay. Basically I've dealt with a lot of stuff in my life and I don't sweat the small stuff," he says.
He dismisses early critics who complained the show perpetuates stereotypes of the rich and arrogant Persian.
Petitions demanding Bravo cancel the show emerged immediately after "Shahs of Sunset" debuted, with some angry viewers fearing it would ramp up racial tensions amid frosty political ties between the U.S. and Iran.
The show isn't political, but several cast members do mention their parents having to flee Iran after the 1979 revolution replaced the government with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
If anything, Farahan says the show attempts to dispel harmful stereotypes.
"We're humanizing a group of people that have been characterized and misrepresented as terrorists," says Farahan.
"If I'm a hard-working gay man who's proud of himself and his family supports him, I want to showcase that instead of what's been showcased since I got to this country, which is that we're terrorists, we all have camels in our driveways and we all own an Uzi, all of which are not true."
"At the end of the day we're not trying to represent anything other than ourselves. I wasn't elected by the Persian House of Representatives to represent my people and this is not a documentary on the plight of the Persian people. This is about six fun, fabulous people living in L.A., period."
"Shahs of Sunset" airs Sundays on OMNI.