Peter Macdissi Unpacks Farid’s Traumatic Past
By Allie Waxman
HBO: Who is Farid and what is his central struggle this season?
Peter Macdissi: Farid is many things: He’s a psychiatrist; he’s Muslim; he came to this country when he was 8 years old with his own pressing demons, so he has a lot of issues he needs to deal with. As the show progresses, things unravel for him until he hits rock bottom.
HBO: What does Ramon coming into Farid’s life mean to him?
Peter Macdissi: Most of us need somebody to witness our pain in order to heal. Ramon’s appearance in Farid’s life is huge for him because it makes him confront issues he wasn’t ready to confront. Having Ramon witness that journey is groundbreaking.
HBO: What do you think his career choice says about him?
Peter Macdissi: I don’t want to go to the cliche of saying that every psychiatrist is sort of screwed up, but what’s interesting is that Farid chose to be a psychiatrist for obvious reasons.He thought that dealing with his personal issues on a mental, intellectual and cerebral level would make him feel OK. Little did he know that would not be enough for him to heal. But his choice to become a psychiatrist is a part of his attempt control things because it’s very scary for him to just let it go.
HBO: Why does he anglicize his name to his patients?
Peter Macdissi: Are you surprised he would? His name is ethnic, and he wanted to fit in in any way shape or form. The way he behaves, he eats, he walks — he just wants to blend in and hide his cultural identity, and by the end of the show we know why. It’s to cover his issues and trauma.
HBO: It still feels like he has love for his mother despite what he went through. Can you explain?
Peter Macdissi: Their relationship is complicated. At a young age she forced him to go through something that is completely appalling, atrocious, horrible and painful, but nevertheless she was the only mom he had. So when he hears that voicemail, there are many feelings and many images that go through his mind. It brings him to that traumatic incident, and feelings of getting hugged, carried, kissed and fed by his mom as well. That relationship is very primal.
HBO: Is it possible to separate that trauma with his feelings toward religion, or are they intertwined?
Peter Macdissi: You know what’s interesting, I think on an intellectual level he knows that it’s separate, but emotionally, we know that it’s not for him. We function on two levels: intellectual and emotional. We are human beings, we think we know right from wrong, but emotionally, we have what I call the lizard brain. If we regress to the lizard brain, we find out it’s not the same as making an intellectual choice and I think that’s the point: He hasn’t organically dealt with his trauma.
HBO: Can you talk a little about filming the scene with the cat-o’-nine tails?
Peter Macdissi: It was thrilling to do. It was hard because you have to conjure up a lot of complicated, complex, self-loathing, self-deprecating feelings, as well as a moment of ecstasy. As an actor could you ask for more? It was enthralling really to just do that scene.
HBO: But the big rug-pull with that scene is that Layla walks in.
Peter Macdissi: Layla walks in and she’s mortified. She expected something was about to happen because he’d been flipping out progressively. Navid sees him, bloody and gross, and he’s sort of shocked and they leave.
I do think Farid saw it coming and he knew that she would leave him after, but it was beyond him; he just couldn’t stop at that moment. He’s heartbroken and devastated but his only concern is keeping his son safe. Reading and watching the episode as a producer is heartbreaking.
HBO: What’s his relationship like with Navid?
Peter Macdissi: He loves his son like there’s no tomorrow, but because of his trauma and his past, Shokrani is a very very fearful man. He’s living in constant fear based on what happened to him, so he projects all that fear onto his son. He is fearful something bad will happen to him and I think he is completely right about that because this is a dangerous world.
HBO: Do you think there’s something to Farid’s connection with Ramon?
Peter Macdissi: To me, of course there is. To have Shokrani and Ramon connected is just unusual because they come from two different places. But it tells us that there’s a connectivity,a wholeness to people that somehow most people are not aware of. What it tells us is that we are all connected, we are all one.