Maz Jobrani was just 6 years old when he left his childhood home forever.
“As a kid in Tehran, I read Batman comics and played soccer in the streets, but during the Iranian Revolution, at times we’d have to run into the basement because of gunshots from the protests,” the Iran-born actor, 45, says in the current issue of PEOPLE. “My father was a successful businessman, went to New York for work in 1978 and told my mom to bring my sister and me to visit during our winter break. We packed for two weeks, but we stayed for the rest of our lives.”
Living in Northern California, Jobrani says he fell in love with acting in middle school.
“Doing school plays, I got to play all kinds of characters,” he says. “But when I started acting in Hollywood, every third or fourth audition was for a terrorist. I took a few of those roles but finally said, ‘No more.’ When 24 called, I said no, but then they told me the character changes his mind halfway through. Still, for the past 15 years, I haven’t done any terrorist roles.”
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Now, on his CBS comedy Superior Donuts, Jobrani is doing what he can to expand American’s views of people from the Middle East.
“On Superior Donuts, I play an Iraqi businessman. We debated whether the character should have an accent; I thought it was important that he did, because if you don’t know any Middle Easterners and he makes you laugh, that endears you to people from that background.”
“In my book I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV and in my stand-up, I’ve always shown how much Americans have in common with those from the Middle East,” continues Jobrani, who also produced the documentary Everything Must Change about his sister Mariam’s fatal battle with breast cancer. “You have to realize that the guy next to you is a different color, but he’s just trying to support his family and lead a good life, just like you are.”