Exclusive Interview: ALPHAS’ Azita Ghanizada Opens Up About Smell-a-Vision, Super Hearing and Dropping Pants

Azita Ghanizada

Since Heroes went off the air, TV has been a serious lacking in shows portraying individuals with superhero like abilities. Thankfully, ALPHAS, the new Syfy series which premieres next Monday is coming and is ready to fill that gap.

Daemon’s TV had an opportunity to talk to the very charming and bubbly Azita Ghanizada who plays the shy and sweet Rachel Pizad who also happens to be a “synesthete” which means that she has the power to enhance one of her senses to superhuman levels. Azita had a lot to say about the show, her character, the cast and more. Check out the interview below and don’t forget to tune in Monday July 11th 10/9c to check out the premiere of Alphas.

I watched the first episode of Alphas and it was really good.

Azita Ghanizada: Thank you so much. It gets even better, to be honest with you. I feel like because the pilot has to introduce so many of the characters, I felt like it was fascinating and interesting and it’s a terrific pilot and it’s so cool, but really, truthfully the episodes that we’ve shot since have been so energetic and exciting that I’m even more impressed with what we’ve done now which I thought would be really impossible, to top the experience that we had on the pilot. So there’s something for people to look forward to.

This team already exists and has a dynamic. Can you talk about that?

Azita Ghanizada: I think in the pilot you definitely get a bit of a voyeuristic thing, right, because you’re catching them already in the middle of being together. I think that’s super cool. It’s almost like you’re snapping the pictures and observing them and you’re in the room while they’re there. We’re not really being introduced in another way which is, like you said, what normally happens.

I think the group energy, the dynamic between the Alphas is what makes the show so interesting. I think to start it off right there with us going after something, starting our hunt which is what we’ll continue to do throughout the series was a real kick off to what’s going to come for the rest of the episodes. You’re going to constantly see us thrown into these dangerous situations really quickly that we’re not necessarily prepared for. You’re going to see the Alphas do their goddamned best to solve that crime, and to seek these criminal [?] as quickly as possible. In each episode you’re also going to get a little taste of who these Alphas are at home and what they struggle with. I think really with Rachel, played by me, you really get to see in the first five or six episodes her battling against breaking free from her home life. You’re going to figure out why and how she needs to get out of that situation fast and what she’s in that situation in the first place.

How did you approach Rachel and do you feel that you have anything in common with her?

Azita Ghanizada: Well, I think what I have in common with her is that I understand coming from a home that can be limiting in some aspects, a home where of course even if they’re holding you back, everybody is doing it because they love you and they want to protect you. They’re not doing it because they want to be malicious. Really, families want to protect you, but I think that sometimes that protection can be played to an extreme sense where you’re holding a child back, not encouraging them, failing in them in the sense that they start not to believe in themselves.

I think that I had that in common with Rachel coming from a pretty conservative family from Afghanistan. My parents were very Afghan. We didn’t get to participate in after school activities or even think about being an actor or play sports or anything like that. We didn’t really get to hangout with boys, and if we did so it was deemed extremely shameful, etcetera. And I think that Rachel experienced the exact same thing. I think it became even more evident when they cast me. They’d originally cast her as a Hasidic Jew and then they’d met me and cast me and on day twenty of the pilot they were really shifting it to be more close to Azita’s real story which was a real testament to how creative and generous and smart our writers are. They really kind of wanted to inject as much of my real life in to the character and make her multi-textured in a way that they hadn’t necessarily originally envisioned her. They started to shift it on the day as they got to know me better. A lot of the things that you see about Rachel I have in common with her because they’re stemming from my personal experiences.

The thing with her though, the very different thing is that I became a very determined person right off the bat because of my differences. Being a little ethnic kid in Virginia made me stand up for myself pretty quickly, and Rachel has done the opposite. She’s become more shy and more of a recluse and didn’t want anybody paying attention to her. I kind of walked into the room banging pots and pans and spreading hugs. So, it’s two very different people in that aspect. I’m a very confident, determined, loving, young person and I can be extremely outgoing and Rachel is a little bit more reserved and unsure of herself and all of those things. So it’s been really interesting to tap into some of her insecurities and understand a level of how to play that authentically and really honor her experiencing that without it becoming some hokey thing.

Rachel is Synesthete, meaning she can enhance one of her five senses to a really high level. Can you talk about that? How do you create an internal life in those moments?

Azita Ghanizada: Well, that was a really funny thing because I’d gotten to the show really a day or two before we started shooting and I think as an actor it’s your job to figure out your character. You do it and they let you know if you’re wrong. I didn’t know what the heck to do, to be honest with you, and I just really started to study echo location and watch different people that had truly telescopic sight or microscopic sound, whatever it is that they could do, do in their real lives.

I noticed that there was a kid who was blind and he could see things with his hearing, but couldn’t see at all. His body was a little loose and I saw that it crouched down a little bit and so I “physicalized” all of it. The rule for Rachel is that if you’re seeing something you have to see it, and if you’re hearing something you really have to hear it. If I’m smelling something, I’m sorry, kiddo, you have to smell it. I think once you make it as honest as possible there’s no way to lie about it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, to make it as real as humanly possible and not this fantasy ability. It’s truthful ability and she really spends a lot of time honing those. In Rachel’s office this season you see hundreds of smell jars.

My property master, our set guys did a really good job of creating all these jars with these really absurd and insane and disgusting and random scents. Sometimes I get in there and I start sniffing them and I have reactions to them.

So, there’s really scents in there and not just a label?

Azita Ghanizada: No, those are real. It’s really cool. That’s all real. There was a scene that’s coming up in the episode ‘Never Let Me Go’, I think it’ll be five, and it’s kind of a big episode for Rachel. She smells of a lot of really whacky stuff. She can smell decay and she can smell hormones and what do you even think that’s like. So, for me, I have to get to the closest possible truth of how that’s emitted and how you can really do that. But a dog can smell hormones. A dog can smell testosterone and all these things. So it exists. She truly is a bloodhound and it’s not really stretching the reality that much because it exists in animals and tons of things.

If you had the opportunity to have your senses enhanced for real which one would you pick?

Azita Ghanizada: I love it when she hears because it creates a lot of different things.

She can hear people running and can tell you what’s in the area. She can really help solve that crime. But at the same time she can hear what people are saying. She can protect herself. It’s not always the best things. Sometimes she hears people say things really terrible about her, and that’s really crippled her in her personal human growth. But I really like being able to hear everything. I think you’re always on alert that way.

The smelling thing is just disaster. They call my special FX when Rachel goes into bloodhound mode smell-a-vision and I’m like, ‘Just what every girl dreams of. Lets get ready for smell-a-vision.’ But the way that visual FX guys and the director and producers and everybody has come up with creating the FX have been really cool. I think it even extends more from what you’re seeing in the pilot. I think you start to see her ability to become sharper and that’s what happens in the season for her, I think. The things that she was afraid of really digging into Dr. Rosen is really exposing her to those things. It’s making her sharper and better and faster and smarter.

There are other Alphas as well. Which one of the other categories would you like to have other than you own?

Azita Ghanizada: Well, everyone says in real life I push people. I think I’m a bit of a charmer, naturally, maybe. I don’t know. We have a character Nina Theroux who has the ability to do that, to really stare at people, tell them what to do and they do it. I think that’s pretty cool, to tell people to do what you want them to do. I think in my real life people do really nice things for me, but I think that’s only because I’m a nice person. I’m terribly polite and well mannered and all those other things. So, people tend to respond. I like being able to stare at somebody and say, ‘Hey, take your pants off.’

What’s it like working with the rest of the cast?

Azita Ghanizada: We have so much fun. I wouldn’t say that we all hangout together a ton outside of the set and maybe that’s what makes us all so good together, but really we’re going into episode six and what a chemistry. It’s really defining itself. David [Stratharin] is so parental to Rachel which is terrific. He’s also extremely parental and funny and relaxed around me. But we have a good time.

We really protect each other. We protect what’s happening in the script. We protect the audience together. We really have fun playing. Our writers, the network and everybody has been really open minded about us improvising from time to time to keep the comedy alive and to keep it fresh and to keep it honest. That’s really a treat because to get to do on episodic television. We all play with each other and respect each other tremendously. Rachel gets into these really dangerous situations and then I’ve got the likes of Ryan Cartwright and David Stratharin and Malik Yoba putting their heads together to come and rescue me and help me through difficult situations. So, I’m a pretty lucky girl.

Do you know if you’ll make a showing at Comic-Con?

Azita Ghanizada: Fingers crossed.

And if you could guest star on any show which one would it be?

Azita Ghanizada: ‘True Blood’ because it’s also so stylized and yet it’s really sexy and there’s such a hyper reality to it as well, to get to play fantasy is such a treat for an actor. When you find those little moments in our show which is based in reality or superhuman, not superheroes, but there would be little moments that can be fantastical and you get to play it in a different way because it’s a hyper reality, not reality. That’s so fascinating to me.

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