Actor Pej Vahdat recently starred on three successful series concurrently: in The Old Man, alongside Jeff Bridges, for FX/Hulu, opposite Kevin Bacon on the Ben Affleck-Matt Damon-produced City on a Hill for Showtime, and in a pivotal role in the final season of Dynasty for the CW. Born in Tehran, Iran, Pej and his family moved to the United States to escape the revolution and landed in San Jose, California. Pej went on to attend San Diego State University where he played Division 1 Tennis, but ultimately turned his focus to acting. His first professional job was on CBS’ The Unit and he went on to work for eight seasons of Fox’s Bones. He had recurring roles on Shameless, alongside William H. Macy, Sneaky Pete opposite Bryan Cranston, and Fox’s Empire, opposite Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard. His feature film credits include Christopher Morris’ The Day Shall Come, which he starred in opposite Anna Kendrick. When not acting, Pej resides in Los Angeles with his two dogs, Charlie and Zinfindel. (Photo by Jared Schlachet.)
Becoming a working actor is the dream. To achieve that, all you have to do is work on your craft as hard as you can, right? Go to class, do as many unpaid theatre jobs and student films as you can and build a resume and reel. Then a great agent or manager will give you a chance and get you auditions, so your dream can come true. But what happens when you do all of that and every single reputable agent in town says no? What happens when their reasoning is, “We have one of you”? What happens is, you settle for whoever will give you a shot, even if they don’t have the greatest reputation. That’s what I had to do.
For years, I jumped around from one rep to another who could barely get me seen. There was the agent with one tiny room and old black-and-white headshots on the wall of actors I’d never heard of. The agent who charged me $50 a month for “administrative costs,” who told me I had to come in and work in the office an hour a day when I couldn’t afford to pay him that. Oh, and the best was the agent who had me put fake credits on my resume, and when I voiced my trepidation about having a guest role on Saved By the Bell as a credit, he said, “Don’t worry, that casting director is dead.” That was the last straw – I had to go and be without representation for the umpteenth time.
But then I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. My day job was selling aircraft parts with a buddy who was also a struggling actor, and he came up with the idea of starting our own SAG-franchised agency so we could start repping ourselves. I got so excited at the thought of actually being able to get myself auditions, we immediately sprung into action. The problem was, the franchise license cost $5,000 at the time, which neither of us had. Fortunately, my best friend in the world, Shomit, lent me the money, and thus Sasco Hill and Associates was born.
Like I said, at this time I was making a living selling aircraft parts over the phone. This was around 2004, so unfortunately “Pej Vahdat” was not able to sell many aircraft parts. I realized I had to come up with a “stage name,” so to speak. Every agent or manager I’d ever met with had wanted me to change my name to sound more ethnically ambiguous. I’d refused, though, because it was vital to me that my father’s last name be on a screen one day. My parents gave up their life in Iran so their children could live in freedom and I wanted to honor that. But in the commercial world, the actor’s name was never on the screen, so I didn’t care – I just wanted to get auditions. I was with a commercial agent at the time and she came up with the name “Jason Vaughn.” I know it sounds ridiculous, but I went with it. When that agent dropped me a few months later, Jason Vaughn lived on as a talent agent and aircraft parts salesman.
And so it began: my friend and I would get the breakdowns every day and submit ourselves for as many roles as we could. I would get on the phone and pitch myself all day long: “Hey there, this is Jason Vaughn from Sasco Hill and Associates and I have a client, Pej Vahdat, who is absolutely perfect for the role of … [fill in the blank].” There were a lot of no’s still, but I was relentless. The hardest part was seeing all these parts I was perfect for, but couldn’t get seen for. I started getting a few auditions here and there and finally I got an audition for a movie. And I booked it!
how iA shot from a few years ago of Pej Vahdat with his father in the Dominican Republic, where Pej was on location for a movie.During this whole time, I was so frustrated that I had to be my own agent. Not having anyone willing to believe in me and my talent was a tough pill to swallow some days. And seeing all these opportunities out there, day in and day out, but not getting many auditions, was taxing both emotionally and psychologically. But I felt I had no other choice because this was my dream and I was willing to do almost anything to make it happen. There were days I would cry in my car exhausted from it, but I just kept going. I had no other choice.
My whole plan was to get a decent enough job and use the momentum from that to get a “real” agent – which is exactly what I did. I used this method over and over. I would book something and continue to move on up the ladder. It was a long arduous road, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was those hard times that made me realize how much I love acting, because I was willing to do everything and anything to live my dream of being a working actor. As I write this, I have been working steadily for the past 14 years with some of the best actors in the world. And still one of my greatest joys is seeing my father’s last name onscreen in the credits.
Featured image of Pej Vahdat by Jared Schlachet / JSquared Photography. All images courtesy Pej Vahdat.