A 2020 Daytime Emmy Award nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Drama Series for his role as “Nate” in “Venice: The Series,” Gregory Zarian is no stranger to the daytime world. Making his television debut in 1986 playing the role of “Brent” on “Days of our Lives,” and returning to the daypart playing “Julius” on “General Hospital” back in 2007-2008, the accomplished actor has pretty much done it all, including multiple movies and appearances in several primetime television shows. Some of his recent projects in development include playing Shaggy’s father in the Scooby Doo-inspired TV series, “Mysteries Incorporated,” working with soap opera veterans for a secret project, and co-starring in an upcoming Netflix movie entitled “Eat Your Heart Out.” But it’s in the movie “86 Melrose Avenue,” where we sit down for an extended conversation with Zarian as he talks about mental health awareness.
Released in April on VOD (video on demand), the movie follows 10 patrons at an art gallery who are taken hostage by a gunman who seemingly has nothing to live for after killing a man. At its core, the movie tackles post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the consequences of a war between neighbors, the loss of loved ones, and the inability to break habits even if it meant the difference between life and death.
As “Avi,” Zarian plays an Israeli immigrant who connects with his Lebanese neighbor, “Nadia” (Anastasia Antonia). Growing up with a different outlook on life from that of his father, “Avi” wanted to follow his own chosen path. As an immigrant himself, Zarian saw that quality in the character and related it to his own journey growing up.
Shortly after his run on “Days of our Lives” came to an end in 1987, Zarian reached out to his father for some advice. “[He said], ‘You can do one of two things: You can stay in my house and get your degree, or you can pack up your life and go live a pipe dream,’” Zarian recalls of their conversation. “I packed up my life [and] lived a pipe dream. It was the best gift he ever gave me. I called him a few weeks later and I said, ‘Pop, I have no money. What do I do? I’m living in Milan, Italy.’ He said, ‘Gregory, you can do one of two things: You can cash in your ticket, come home and go back to school and get a job, or you can get a job.’ And, I said, ‘So, that means you’re not going to send me cash?’ He said, ‘No.’ And he ended it with ‘I Love You.’ It was one of the toughest gifts because [at the time] I’m in a foreign country. At least if I was in a country where I understand the language… it’s different. For me to survive in different European countries for a couple of years off my father saying, ‘I think it’s time you become a man, and if you’re going to make a choice, make a choice,’” he elaborated.
Ultimately, “Avi” has to decide what’s best for him. And that’s what Zarian did as well. “It’s not what dad wanted. It’s what he wanted to do,” the actor says referring to the character’s decisions. “He grapples with that relationship, and I feel the evolution of ‘Avi’ as a child, to a teen, to who he is in this movie is so palpable.”
Grappling with how he could take on the role of an Israeli immigrant after it was offered to him by the film’s writer/director, Lili Matta, Zarian says, “I believe that when an actor takes on an accent if it’s not authentic, and you aren’t living in that, it should be given to somebody that can really make it about the storytelling [and] not about whether or not the accent comes in and out. She [Matta] was so committed to my input and my heart behind ‘Avi,’ we get a moment where it said that ‘Avi’ in the script lived in the United States from the age of five. He learned proper English, and the way to respect the culture is I add Israeli inflection because I feel it is authentic,” Zarian explains. He adds, “It’s one of my greatest jobs because the stuff that we did in the art gallery was shot chronologically. In comes an ex-marine with a gun and we don’t know what’s happening. From the joy of seeing this beautiful artwork to crawling on the floor, to where we end up. People have said to me that they were nervous, they were scared, made new decisions after the movie. They were cheering for us, they were crying for us, and they immediately thought what can I do to help people who are suffering from mental illness and PTSD. It’s storytelling for me at its finest.”
For more on Zarian’s thoughts on working on the film, what he has to say about the future of soap operas, and his passion for the genre, and all of his future projects both personally and professionally, watch the full 30-minute interview (part I only) with the actor below.
Note: Presented in two parts, the interview was conducted in late May, and discusses topics that might be triggering for some viewers.
Part I | “86 Melrose Avenue,” Upcoming Projects and big news!
Part II | Zarian Becomes the Interviewer – Real Talk