He’s well known as a stand-up comic and countless TV appearances on programmes like Have I Got News For You as well as his own show, but Omid Djalili also has a notable career as a film actor.
The London-born star has worked with everyone from Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt to Johnny Depp and Sarah Jessica Parker, so singling out the megsatsr who was the most fun to film with is a tough question…
But, after some thought, Omid states: “I’d say Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, was probably the most extraordinary. He played the father of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in Pirates of the Caribbean 3.
“His character shoots and kills my character for no reason. This seemed to bother him. In fact, he shot me about 14 times and after each take he’d come up to me and say ‘Listen, you do know I don’t mean this?’ After every take. It was almost like a joke but it wasn’t.
“Bang! and he’d shuffle up and say ‘Nothing personal mate, I hope you realise’. Then after another take, with the same sincerity and intensity ‘It’s all acting. You know that. You’re not upset with me, are you?’
“Once he shot me and just said ‘Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do’. The final time he shot me he just stood over me and mumbled ‘We’ve all got issues… it’s all about mummy innit?’ How right he was.”
Omid might now be known to millions for his roles in Hollywood blockbusters and West End appearances, but he started his career in fringe theatre, moving on to the theatres of Central and Eastern Europe in the early ’90s, and then the alternative comedy circuit. And although he’s swapped dingy pub rooms for the big theatres, it’s still live on stage doing stand-up where he’s at his best.
Djalili is on the road again with a new tour, Schmuck for a Night, and he explains: “I like the word ‘schmuck’. It means ‘fool’ or buffoon. You have to be a schmuck to do comedy in today’s climate. I’m embracing the schmuck in me to take on the big issues of our day. Plus, it’s a word that ends with ‘uck’ which can only be a good thing.”
He says the latest show will touch on Brexit, ISIS and Donald Trump but changes regularly to stay up to date. Although not usually overtly political, Omid won awards for his Edinburgh fringe project, Iraq Out & Loud, which involved reading the Chilcot report about the Iraq War in full, 24 hours a day.
“It took 285 hours and 1,444 people to read it,” he explains. “I read too. It was a truly one-off experience.
“It was important to us that the readings were a simple, non-political, people-powered, public service but even such a serious report had its funny moment. It was in the final moments of the readings – after 285 hours and 1,444 people – the very last paragraph of the Chilcot report is: ‘How to read the Chilcot report’… It was a great punchline.”
Omid was also executive producer on the documentary, We Are Many, about the 2003 protests against the war in Iraq.
“It’s not a comedy but you could easily say it’s my crowning achievement so far,” he says. “I’ve worked on the project for the past five years, countless edits, screenings, meetings, discussions… the fact that Universal Pictures bought it, that it’s been so well received and hit number one on iTunes in about ten different countries, you could say I’m very proud of it. A film promoting worldwide public opinion as a ‘Second Superpower’ has got to be doing good.”
As for whether the film or the Chilcot report reading make a difference, he’s unsure.
“You can never quantify the impact of such things, but certainly it felt like they were important projects to be part of,” he says. “In this life you’re either a problem or a solution. I’d like to think these projects – which raise more questions than answers – are firmly entrenched in the solution camp. Or at least trying to be!”
Omid Djalili brings Schmuck For A Night to the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Sunday 12 March.