Omid Abtahi is wrapping up his run on American Gods and has a resume that includes Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Mentalist, and 24. Next up: a turn as Hawkman in the forthcoming animated feature film Justice Society: World War II. It's a movie with an all-star cast that also includes Matt Bomer and Stana Katic, but more than that, it's a movie that brings Abtahi back to war -- and casts him as a legendary hero who helps set the stage for the Golden Age of superheroes as a member of the Justice Society. That's a cool gig to get, especially after years of being stuck in roles defined by the events of the September 11 terrorist attacks, says Abtahi.
The film features Bomer as Barry Allen, the time-traveling superhero known as The Flash, who finds himself shunted back to the '40s, where he meets Jay Garrick and his team of heroes, including Wonder Woman and Aquaman. It's the first time some of these characters have been featured in starring roles in the DC Universe animated movies that have been going on for more than a decade now, and the first time fans have seen any of these characters in the new continuity established by the recent Superman: The Man of Tomorrow.
"If I can be honest I'm not overly familiar with the superhero world, whether it's DC or Marvel," Abtahi told ComicBook. "At the same time, I did know he's an iconic character, so you do want to do the work. You do want to be respectful to the history of this franchise and to this character specifically. All you have to do as a performer is you respect it, you educate yourself on the background, and then you let all that stuff go and you deliver your interpretation of the character."
Abtahi is an actor who works pretty consistently in live-action, but he says that it's the ability to disappear into any kind of character, regardless of background or even species, that draws him to animated projects.
"I've been very fortunate that I have been busy [in live action], but what draws me to voiceover is that you're not limited to physical appearances," the actor explained. "There is no world where I would be cast as Hawkman on camera, right? But in the voiceover world as long as you connect to the soul of the character, and ou can provide a voice that's convincing to that character, then you can be anybody. You can be anybody of any color. You can be anything in the voiceover world and that's why I do it. It's fun."
As alluded to above, Abtahi has been especially proud of building a body of work that allows him to express himself outside of the stereotyped roles that many Middle Eastern or Arab-American actors get stuck in. It's not just him, he thinks; Abtahi says that he believes there are more opportunities across the board for Middle Eastern actors, and fewer one-dimensional terrorist parts, than there were when he got started fifteen years ago on shows like JAG and Over There.
"Getting to play roles that are not defined by the events of 9/11 is huge," Abtahi confessed. "Exploring these characters beyond their religion, beyond whatever circumstances based on 9/11 is just wonderful. I've been very blessed; I've gotten to play some really wonderful Middle Eastern characters, and I've gotten to play some character who are not ethnically defined. So yeah, I feel very blessed that society and this industry is moving in that direction."
Superheroes, of course, are role models, and some actors have expressed that being cast in a part like that can change the way you view yourself as an actor. Abtahi views it more as a kind of web, where the factors are all interrelated. So maybe it isn't "if I can play a superhero, anythign is possible," but it's that the broadening possibilities of a changing landscape suddenly make superheroes a possibility for nonwhite actors.
"The reason I never really gravitated toward superheroes is because I never saw myself in that world, either as a person or as an actor," Abtahi told ComicBook. "It was like, all those things are kind of off limits to you. But yeah, how great is it to play characters that do nothing but inspire people?"
Justice Society: World War II is set to be released digitally on April 27, with a DVD and Blu-ray release coming two weeks later on May 11.