Thirteen years after we said goodbye to the Fishers of Six Feet Under, Alan Ball has returned with another family affair. His new HBO drama, Here and Now, again reflects queer and multicultural America—this time during the troubling Trump era, as Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins play Audrey and Greg, a middle-aged couple with adopted children from Vietnam, Colombia and Liberia.
Their gay son, Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), sees a therapist, Dr. Farid Shokrani, who is the father of Navid, a genderfluid Muslim child.
Shokrani is portrayed by Lebanese actor Peter Macdissi, Ball’s longtime partner, who also executive produces Here and Now.
We spoke with Macdissi, whose been involved in many of Ball’s projects, about the show, intersectionality, and trying to keep your private life private when your partner is a Hollywood super-producer.
As a gay Lebanese man, what does this show and its intersectionality mean to you?
It’s not just because I’m a minority, but it’s boring to see the same sort of people and the same stories and struggles. The world is much bigger than that. And America is getting much bigger than that.
Why was it important for Dr. Farid to be Muslim?
[Alan] had written the psychiatrist to be an Armenian guy and that’s where I came in. I told him we have to have the psychiatrist be a Muslim because of what’s going on and because the Muslims have been the black sheep since 9/11. They’re a downtrodden group and we need to tackle that.
And his child, who still identifies as his son, is genderfluid. What about Farid’s relationship with Navid was most important to capture?
[Farid] suffers from PTSD and lives in fear—he projects that fear on his son, because he is worried that something will happen to him. He asks Navid, “Do whatever you want, be whatever you want, but please just do it inside of the house and don’t go flashing your makeup and your hijab outside.”
He doesn’t want to put his son in danger because he loves him so much.
There’s been a push for trans actors to play trans roles. Is Marwan Salama trans in real life?
He’s not. He’s very good for the part. The minute he came in the room, it was very obvious.
I only recently discovered you and Alan are domestic partners. You’ve done a good job of keeping your relationship under wraps.
Not good enough! (Laughs) A lot of people know and it’s irritating because it’s not something I contributed to freely, people knowing. I mean, we’re not keeping it hidden—It’s not a secret. But it’s private. People can confuse those terms. I’m very territorial about my private life, and it could take over the work itself, so we keep our private life separate because we just want the work to speak for itself.
But we love working together: I stimulate him and he stimulates me intellectually, emotionally, and creatively. And it’s not just Six Feet Under. We’ve worked together on a pilot that didn’t go, and we worked together on Towelhead, a movie that I’m very proud of.
And you played a vampire sheriff on True Blood.
Yes, that one, but to a lesser degree.
Well, because Alan killed you off.
(Laughs) Yes, exactly!
What’s the key to success when your business partner is also the person you come home to?
Communication, love, empathy—everything Here and Now tackles. I mean, we’ve been together for 16 years, so it’s not a new relationship.
Obviously we’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. It’s so interesting: You get to love your partner deeper and deeper, and the love becomes more understanding and more open. It’s been an amazing relationship in terms of growth, knowing yourself, being empathetic on so many levels. It’s been nurturing and eye-opening, and it’s very much reciprocated.
Here and Now premieres Sunday, February 11, at 9/8c on HBO.