FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Actor Nayab Hussain

FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Actor Nayab Hussain

Nayab Hussain is an actor born in Pakistan and raised in New York. After completing her doctorate of pharmacy, she took a leap of faith and moved back to New York to resume her career as an actor while working as a full time pharmacist. Nayab has worked with several notable actors such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rosanna Arquette, Poorna Jagannathan and Jeff Daniels. Most recently, Nayab worked on NBC’s “New Amsterdam” and with Tom Hanks in the film “A Man Called Otto.”

Nayab’s goal is to break the mold and defy stereotypes that have defined Muslim women in the world, as she has been able to do in real life. She hopes this will inspire the next generation of Muslim children to open their minds and hearts to the arts, and to not be afraid of “Log Kya Kahenge”—what people will say (adapted from https://www.nayabhussain.com/about). 

Nayab and I met over Zoom, were cast in the same movie as husband and wife, and have yet to actually meet in real life—but hopefully will later this year in a voiceover booth for an upcoming TV Pilot called “Foundations.”

I went into pharmacy, and it’s kind of like acting because you don’t know what customer you’re going to get.

– Nayab Hussain

(Nayab’s interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Shahjehan: What do you have going on this year that you’re excited about?

Nayab: So the year started off pretty good. You can catch me in the new Tom Hanks movie as Dr. Ellis. [Since then,] it’s been a little rough. There were no auditions [for a couple months] and then they’re starting to slowly pick up, which is good. I know there’s a lot of outlying circumstances right now with the pending writers strike and everything else going on. So maybe things have kind of slowed down. But I was actually able to shoot a role in a pilot in Atlanta, which I think will be coming out in the fall. I can’t really say anything about it now. And I have booked two new shows, and they’re totally out of my typical healthcare role that I keep getting cast in. 

Shahjehan: Healthcare is your typical thing?

Nayab: That’s my thing, I’m your neighborhood friendly doctor that comes in to deliver the news and then leave! So I’m glad that I’ve started to kind of break out of that shell and I hope it continues.

Shahjehan: Can you tell me a little bit about why you are my drug dealing actor friend? And what does that mean?

Nayab: Just being South Asian artists and doing anything in the arts is a no-no. But, I’ve had a love for the arts since I was really, really young because I grew up in New York and there was a lot of Pakistani Independence Day shows. And so I went to one and they had the kids participate. And I remember going on stage, and I still remember the vision of us standing on stage and then that curtain opened and then I just saw the audience. I fell in love at that point and I said, “This is what I want to do.” But of course it was hard because you don’t get that support that some kids get. It’s hard for everybody, but I feel like for us, it’s even a little bit harder because it’s not typical.

So I went into pharmacy, and it’s kind of like acting because you don’t know what customer you’re going to get. I’ve always had the joy of helping people how I can and pharmacy really allowed me to do that one-on-one. I was pre-med initially, but then I was like, “I just don’t wanna do all that school.” My dad’s a pharmacist, so I kind of knew what it was all about and I enjoyed it, but something in me was just like, “No, you gotta keep doing this acting.” So even through pharmacy school, I kept up with local theaters: I took classes, I did what I could. And then maybe 10 years ago I had that “what if” moment, like, “What if I’m all of a sudden 60 or 70 years old going, ‘Ah, I never gave this a try!’” So I said, “I’m going to keep going regardless of all the pressures we get from people.”

The more I’ve done it, the more projects that I’ve been involved in, my parents have kind of been like, “Oh, okay, I think she can do this.” And then actually it’s opened up a lot of people in the community—with younger kids, they’ve approached me and been like, “How do I get involved?” When I hear that, I’m like “This is what it’s for.” You’re letting people see themselves. And I don’t know about you, but I never saw that growing up. And I told myself, “Well, why don’t I get up there?” It’s just been a love of mine forever and you know, I’m just happy to be able to do it. But I need something to pay the bills right now too. It’s been a balance and actually with pharmacy, it’s really helped because I’m able to kind of be more flexible.

Shahjehan: What was your first “holy shit” moment when you realized “Wow I’m actually doing this”?

Nayab: My first role on an actual TV set was on “Law and order SVU” and I played a pharmacist, so I was like, “If I can’t book this role, I just need to give up on life in general!” I didn’t even think twice because of course [that’s] something I did all the time. [The set] was an actual pharmacy and [the] patient didn’t realize that the pharmacy was closed. They just walked up, gave me the prescription, and I was like, “Well technically I could fill this for you, but we’re not doing this right now.”

After that I got to do “Veep”  with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which was amazing. … It gave me the confidence to be like, “Oh, I can do this, but I really have to train myself.” It’s a different skillset because I did theater a lot before [but] being on TV is completely different.

Shahjehan: What’s been one of the harder parts for you or a challenge that you’ve had to overcome?

Nayab: It’s time really, because it’s basically two full-time jobs, plus three because I also have a young one. And unfortunately sometimes I don’t have the opportunity to audition because I can’t make the dates. I’d love to do more theater, but theater requires a lot and with my schedule. With work and stuff, it’s very difficult right now. [It has] been really difficult not being able to pursue it completely full-time, but it is getting a little bit easier [because] inside I’m just kind of like, “I’m not going to get these opportunities.” Before I was scared to be like, “What if I lose this job and then how am I going to pay the bills?” Now it’s more like, give it a yes, see what happens, you know? I think the older you get, the more you gotta do what makes you happy. And that’s kind of how I’ve been looking at it.

Shahjehan: Finally, who are some Muslim or Muslim-ish American creatives that inspire you?

Nayab: Riz Ahmed, definitely, showing Muslim Americans — well he’s British I guess — in a light that people don’t normally see. 

Sana Amanat created “Ms. Marvel,” which I absolutely loved and [she is] branching out in different fields of writing as well. 

My friend Aizzah Fatima, I’ve known her for quite some time. We actually got to do a play together in New York, and she’s been so supportive and I’ve just watched her journey from when she had “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” the book, which she actually told me she developed in Wynn Handman’s class, one of our old teachers. She created the movie “Americanish.” I was cast in it, but unfortunately [I was] 7 months pregnant at the time and it was getting further and further along. … But she’s always been so supportive and she’s doing great things. 

Hasan Minhaj — [you can’t] forget him.

And Imran J. Khan. He made this movie “Mustache,” which I had a chance to audition for as well. And it’s a really good script. So they’re coming. … We’re coming.

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