FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Actor Zeby Khan

FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Actor Zeby Khan

I’ve been having a lot of fun getting to chat with other actors, so I’m thrilled to bring you this week’s FBF with Zeby Khan. Although Zeby and I have never met in real life, we recently both had roles in Bassim Tariq’s TV proof-of-concept “Foundations” and we realized he’s seen me playing at a Kominas concert or two. We did try to meet up once but the poor guy ended up getting COVID, so it’s awesome to finally get to talk to him.

Zeby Khan is a New York City based actor, performing in feature films, short films, television and commercials. He’s passionate about South Asian representation in the industry and takes part in several organizations helping to bridge that inclusion gap. His short film “The Everyday Show” is currently in film festivals. Zeby is looking forward to pursuing more acting roles — all while continuing to push for South Asian representation. When he’s not acting, Zeby is spending time in the kitchen fine-tuning his chef skills and in boxing gyms all in the pursuit of his two dream roles, a chef and a boxer (adapted from zebykhan.com)

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

Shah Rukh Khan is the reason I became an actor, and I think Riz is the reason I’m still an actor.

– Zeby Khan

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

Zeby: I’ve got three small co-star roles coming out. I’m very excited about that. This is the first year that I’m gonna try to make my own content as well. I’ve had this idea for a music video for Riz Ahmed’s “Once We Were Kings” … since the song came out. My roommates have a production company, so they’re gonna help me do that. … I think this is the year that I try to make my own stuff.

Shahjehan: That’s awesome! 

Zeby: I think we need to start creating our own content.

Shahjehan: I’m 100% familiar with that. As far as your acting, what got you started?

Zeby: I remember very vividly my parents taking all of us to watch “Devdas” in theaters. And I remember the scene where he grabs the flame with his hand and it was like the theater synergized, and everybody was like, “Oh, oh, oh. How did they do that? Did he really beat down the flame with his hand?” And I remember just thinking, this feeling, this is what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know it was called acting. I just knew that I wanted to do something that would elicit [that] sort of response from people. 

I was a big Shah Rukh Khan fan and then went to school a couple weeks later and there was a play my drama club was doing. … That’s when I was like, “Okay, this is acting. This is what I want to do, you can be whoever you want to be.” And then I wanted to be everybody, but then soon realized I couldn’t actually be those people in real life. But I could play those people. … And so that was the journey that led me to wanting to be an actor.

Shahjehan: I know we’ve both been at this for a while. What’s been one of the harder things about being an actor for you?

Zeby: I feel like it changes over the years. When I first started in 2015 it was just getting auditions, you know. … Any sort of auditions. Then it turned to getting auditions for South Asian people and then it turned to just getting any sort of work.

I would say currently the hardest part of being an actor is getting meaningful work — meaning work that challenges me. I know that we both recently got a chance to do “Foundations.” That was the last time that I felt really fulfilled as an actor, which I’d say is probably a privilege. If you get a chance to do something that really moves you and really challenges you and makes you feel different and changes your perspective on things a little bit, that’s probably the biggest thing.

Shahjehan: Gotcha. Conversely, what was the first time where you got to do something super cool and you were like, “Holy shit! I’m doing the thing that I dreamed about doing!”?

Zeby: Well, so when I moved here [at 20 years old], I told myself within three years I was gonna be famous. Within like six months, I booked this NYU thesis film, and then about another six months after that, I booked a feature film and then 12 months after that I booked this Bollywood movie with Saif Ali Khan and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m doing the damn thing!” 

I remember just being on set for the thesis film. [The director] was so passionate and thoughtful and really treated [me] like a real actor, even though I had really nothing to show for it. That was probably my first moment of like, “Oh my God, I’m on set! There’s a camera on my face and I have a backstory and I have to like, have a moment.” … And then that grew when I was on the set of the feature film, because … that was probably the first experience of people treating me like an actor on set, where you got kind of treated with like white gloves. Like, “Oh, do you need anything?” etc. … And then, same thing for the Bollywood movie, but none of those things ever actually ended up panning out to a point [that] had a meaningful impact on my career. I ended up getting cut out of the Bollywood movie entirely. … So that was a very humbling experience.

Shahjehan: Finally, who are some of the Muslim orMuslim-adjacent creatives that currently inspire you?

Zeby: Number one by far is Riz Ahmed. I remember I went to the theater to watch “Nightcrawler,” and at the beginning they had the opening credits and they said, “Jake Gyllenhaall, Riz Ahmed.” And I watched the whole movie and I’m thinking, … like, where is he? I didn’t see a brown guy.

When I looked him up afterwards, I’m like, “Oh, the assistant! He was Pakistani?” That was my first time ever hearing about him, seeing him perform, and ever since then, he’s like the idol. I mean he’s probably a bigger idol to me than Shah Rukh Khan is. 

Shah Rukh Khan is the reason I became an actor, and I think Riz is the reason I’m still an actor.

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Zeby Khan (@zebyhkhan) • Instagram photos and videos

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