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Hamza Haq on ‘Transplant’ and Portraying a Real Muslim on Network TV

3 min read

NBC’s “Transplant,” which premiered in September, is a rare show. It’s a medical drama centered on a Syrian doctor who fled his country with his younger sister and rebuilds his career in medicine in Canada. Before being acquired by the peacock network, it first aired in Canada in the spring and became one of the most-watched new Canadian dramas of the 2019-2020 schedule. What could have easily been another procedural drama is backed with a diverse character, lead character who has an interesting background and who isn’t white just another white doctor.

I was lucky enough to zoom with Hamza Haq, who plays the Syrian refugee Bashir (also known as Bash), in the series. He is as charming as he is talented, and the aunty in me immediately granted him all the approval an aunty can muster. What was meant to be a 15-minute discussion turned into a 30-minute one, as Hamza himself put,

“Take as much time for us brown folks. I’m not going anywhere after this!”

Similar to Bash’s life trajectory, Haq moved from Saudi Arabia to Toronto when he was 9 years old.

“What can you do as a 9-year-old? I was in survival mode. Yeah, I felt like an outsider and felt like a loner and teased for being the fat kid. But I enjoyed school and making friends.”

He had a myriad of first experiences, including seeing snow for the first time. We talked about all things brown – from dabbling in neuroscience for a few weeks, to participating in Brown dance teams in college (he did Bhangra, I did Raas, premise of a rom-com, perhaps?) to trying to make our parents happy.

“My dad bought a projector for our basement to watch the show, and after every episode, he would high five me!”

Haq also made it a point to discuss how, as a Pakistani actor, he was aware of the implications of being cast as a Syrian doctor. He was actually brought on the show as a consultant because the showrunner knew of Haq from another series called “This Life.” But after months of being unable to find an actor to fit the lead role, the showrunner turned to Haq.

(moment in the video when he talked about advocating for himself for the role).

In fact, Haq even has a vision board, or something that he calls an “Inshallah list.” It includes doing a bhangra set on “Saturday Night Live,” with Lilly Singh along for the ride.

I try to find moments to say honest things. For example, there is a line in the show where someone asks Bashir what type of Muslim he is. Bash replies:

“Sometimes I pray five times a day, sometimes I don’t pray at all. I try to find moments to say honest things. To fully play a character who does that throughout [such as] the type of work that Ramy is doing or Riz is doing, or Maitreyi doing. That I’m sure Iman Vellani will be doing with Ms. Marvel. These are the trailbrazers who are really going for it and really trying to talking about the diaspora and the challenges we go through.”

While in quarantine, Haq stayed in Ottawa with his parents and it was his first time being home during Ramadan. He would spend every night until sunrise developing a script with his writing partner. He hopes to try to tell a different story about Muslims in Canada.

“It’s a really fun concept that’s kind of ‘Pineapple Express’ but with Muslims – less weed and more Muslims. I like this idea of our dads just being a part of this really weird thing and the lengths they’ll go to provide for the family. The working title is ‘Musfits. Tagline: No Terrorism and No Weed.'”

With “Transplant” checked off from his vision board, we’re sure there are many more projects to come for Hamza Haq. For now, be sure to catch him on “Transplant” every Tuesday night on NBC.

 

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