While he initially planned on pursuing engineering, the sweet siren’s call of the acting profession took hold of Omar Maskati and hasn’t let go since. Making his professional start Off-Broadway in the award-winning play, “Disgraced,” Maskati has carved out a career operating between both stage and screen. Most have come to know him for his recurring roles on award-winning shows “Better Call Saul” and Netflix’s “Unbelievable.” Now he is stepping into the romantic lead role with a horror twist, playing Sandeep in EVIL EYE, one of four films being released this month as a part of the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE series.
For the release of EVIL EYE, I got a chance to chat with Omar Maskati, where we discussed seeing the Indian and Indian American culture represented onscreen, navigating the internal balancing act that came with playing Sandeep, and the collaboration that the Dassani brothers emphasized on their set.
To start things off, what initially drew you to EVIL EYE?
Omar Maskati: Like most things, it just showed up in my email as an audition. As I started reading the email, I thought oh wow. This is interesting. And I read the script and I was really drawn to the fact it was this, I mean, from the outset, this clearly authentic Indian/Indian American story, which was cool. Which I could immediately connect to and relate to in just being like, I know Usha. I have Aunties like that. Or I have friends or my sister, like people who had pressure coming up on 30 to married. All of that stuff was really fun to see and to be like, oh, this isn’t a story just about these things but kind of using these classic Indian American, maybe, tropes or stereotypes even and just weaving it into this thriller about much more about past trauma and this thing of is this mom really, is she losing it or is there something wrong with the boyfriend? I just thought it was a really cool take on that story and a cool use of the culture and the tradition.
And then just getting to audition for a romantic lead for a film, who is like this Indian American guy who is supposed to be charming and good-looking and all that stuff. That’s relatively new for me. I don’t always get to audition for those kinds of roles. Those roles aren’t always readily out there and available, so I was like, this seems like really cool. And, of course, you see things like Amazon and Blumhouse and things attached and you think, oh wow! It would be great to be a part of this. Luckily, they gave me the part. [laughs] I got to be a part of it.
In figuring out the duality of your character Sandeep in EVIL EYE, especially once certain things are revealed later on, what was it like navigating the natural charming behavior that he has and infusing it with that more manipulative side?
Omar Maskati: That was, I felt, the most important piece. How does this guy feel like one consistent character while playing all those colors truthfully? It was definitely, it was one of the first things I even brought up with the directors after I got cast. How do we want to do this? For myself, I knew it was going to be something tricky, but interesting to mess around with. But also for the film, for the people watching, how are we going to navigate this so that we don’t tip our hand or so we keep people guessing throughout the film as to who this guy really is.
And so it was a lot of, for me, a lot of work in doing some research about men who do have manipulative tendencies in relationships and things like that and reading how they do those things, which is interesting because a lot of them do have these great, amazing, gregarious, charming sides to them and that’s why deception works. That’s why they are able, the people who are in these relationships with them aren’t dumb. They are attracted and in love and then they get duped because there are people who have ways of making other people feel, they have this side that’s so great and so amazing that you think, “Oh, well that’s the real person,” and that the other side might just be a bad day or a particular trigger or something. So, it was really interesting to explore that and what things did that for Sandeep.
But then also being like with the directors, them going when we want to push that sort of darker side of him or when we really want to like him or even just on the day having options. Maybe go a little bit darker with one take. Maybe pulling it back a little bit just so when they cut it together it would work.
It sounds like a real balancing act. Since you mentioned the directors, what was it like working with the Dassani brothers?
Omar Maskati: It was really great. It was super collaborative, which as actors we all really appreciate and respect cause then you feel you have some agency and there are so many times…maybe it happens more on TV, you kind of feel like you’re just being plugged in and you go, especially when you’re doing a guest star on something or you’re just like here for a couple of episodes. They made it feel like we were a part of the process. They were so open with us. They wanted our input. They were open to talking about the characters and dissecting things. And, when it came time to shoot the thing, we’d often have powwows the night before or over the weekends before we were going to shoot some scenes and we’d talk about them and make sure everyone was feeling good or if they were any questions or changes that might have needed to be made, we could address those. It was a really great experience to get to be in an environment like that that was open and collaborative and they were really supportive of us and what we thought.
Speaking of collaboration, you got to work off of Sunita [Mani] and Sarita [Choudhury] IN EVIL EYE, especially in that one particular climatic scene. What was that like?
Omar Maskati: It was great. They are great people and great actors and that’s all you can ask for when you are working on something is that you hope that you get that combination. [laughs] It was just a blast. We all really got along. Bernard White too. Bernie, we didn’t overlap as much but all of us, it just felt like family, which was really nice. And I think the Dassani brothers kind of helped foster that feeling because we could just talk about everything. And they are just pros and they are just so good. We had a lot of fun, especially just being in New Orleans and Sarita and Sunita and I would get to go out for really good seafood after we would shoot. It was an awesome experience and they really carry the film, so I am grateful for them.
To wrap things up, what would you like people to take away from EVIL EYE?
Omar Maskati: First, I’d just like for them to enjoy it. You know, when you make a movie, you hope people will enjoy the ride while they are on it. But yeah, I think I’d like for people to take away, I think I’d like them to experience and get this window into Indian and Indian American culture. I think that’d be great for people to just learn more and just see a different culture, but also to see how closely, like you said you could relate to all of it and it’s in some ways universal, these things. And then I just hope people take away the message of the mother/daughter relationship that is at the core of this movie. That across cultures, that bond is so strong that maybe it can even overcome supernatural evildoings and things like that.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
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