Featured image by Sam Nystrom Costales
Danielle Sanchez, Executive Editor and Co-Founder of Historifans and Assistant Professor of History at Colorado College, attended Colorado Springs Comic Con in late August 2022. In addition to geeking out over all of the nostalgia, fan art, cosplayers, and merch, she had the opportunity to interview Omid Abtahi, who plays Dr. Pershing in The Mandalorian. Abtahi has appeared in Fear the Walking Dead, Argo, American Gods and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 2.
Editorial Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Danielle Sanchez: I obviously love The Mandalorian and am always fascinated by the ways that popular media depict academic research. In The Mandalorian, you play a researcher who is investigating Grogu. Your character seems to deal with some questions surrounding ethical research. How did you prepare for this role? Did you talk to researchers along the way?
Omid Abtahi: Since you can’t tell anyone that you are doing a Star Wars project, there is nobody to talk about these things with. So, what I did was rewatch all of the movies and picked out the episodes that were specifically about cloning and watched those again. That’s basically how I prepared for the role. Once I was on set, I went to Dave Filloni whenever I had questions.
DS: I am excited to chat about your arc on the Fear the Walking Dead because your character is a historian. What was that like for you?
OA: I loved it. I love history. I was in AP History in high school and I used to live in Texas.
DS: Wait! What? I was born in Houston and went to high school in Austin.
OA: Wow! We actually filmed in Austin. So, when I first came to America as a child, we moved to Houston. I learned a lot about Texas and US history.
DS: Wait, you still love history after taking history in Texas?!
OA: Well, I was a kid. I was there from kindergarten to third grade. Once I became an adult, I started to question some of the things I was taught in history classes.
DS: Oh, that makes sense. Totally fair.
OA: Yes. In elementary school, they taught me all about Texas history: the state flag and flower, the Battle of the Alamo, and everything else. Playing this role on Fear The Walking Dead brought things full circle for me. I started off as a kid learning about Texas history in real life and became a history professor from Texas in the show.
DS: Can you tell us more about your character, Howard, on Fear the Walking Dead? He was a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, right?
OA: Yes, and during the apocalypse, my character had an apartment filled with historical artifacts. One day, Victor Strand (played by Colman Domingo), finds me and is confused about why I have all of these things. I explain to him that I am a history professor and we ultimately decide to make history together as a way of rebuilding civilization. It was my character’s dream come true.
DS: So you built an archive?
OA: Yes, we had an archive. There were documents from the Texas Constitution, flags from the Alamo, and more. We took things from everywhere to make our own museum. You’re a history professor, right?
DS: Yes! I am a professor at Colorado College. I teach a bunch of African history classes and throw in a Star Wars course every now and then.
OA: Wait? Are you being serious?
DS: Yes. I teach a course that analyzes revolutions and warfare in African history and Star Wars. For example, we watch Rogue One, read The Wretched of the Earth, and analyze the use of violence in Algeria’s independence struggle. It’s a great class and I love my students. One more question: What did it mean for you to score a role in the Star Wars franchise, especially in terms of representation?
OA: It meant a lot. There were a lot of people who were happy to see not just a person of color, but specifically an Iranian, in Star Wars. The thing about Star Wars, though, is that you don’t have to take all of the stuff from Earth with you. In Star Wars, I’m not anything but that character from whatever planet he is from. I’m definitely proud to represent the community that I am from in real life, but it is also nice to just leave that behind and live in this world with everyone together.