Saamer Usmani is an actor living in Brooklyn, NY. Born in Pakistan, Saamer grew up in seven countries before going to college in Toronto and studying acting in the UK.
He was in Succession on HBO, What/If on Netflix, and is about to be in an exciting new (top-secret) Netflix show.
Hey Saamer, tell us how you ended up in acting.
I discovered it in college. Before that I had never done any acting at all. We moved around a lot growing up: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Slovakia, Nigeria, high school in Massachusetts, college in Canada. A curiosity about people emerged. I realized that all people are fundamentally the same even though they come in different bodies and different voices.
Maybe its because I moved around so much, but I had this void, an ineffable, but deeply human, need to be seen. In college I studied sociology and anthropology, but then I did some acting for a class and fell in love with it.
So I started taking a bunch of acting classes, went to a drama school in the UK to study Shakespeare, ending up working at a theatre festival in Canada, and have been working mostly in tv ever since.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Failure and rejection is so much a part of my job. The challenge is changing the story. Not thinking of the unavoidable rejection as failure.
I have been finding practices that help, like training – it’s something to Do with a capital D. Physical training is a great way of staying in the present moment. I also do yoga and meditation.
Most days Saamer is in one of Brooklyn's parks training with Keshav Moodliar, fellow actor.
What has been your most valuable investment in recent memory?
A scrabble board. For the past 7 months I’ve played Scrabble almost every day with my partner, Tedra. It relates to what I said about doing: committing to one thing and being present for it however long it takes. Also, I usually shy away from competition so to be in a safe space where I can win or lose is profound somehow. It’s done wonders for my basic arithmetic and knowledge of two-letter words.
What kind of role does fitness play in your life?
Sports were always part of my life: basketball and tennis mostly. Exercise is an opportunity to be present. There was a time I was really into yoga. There was a time I was into table tennis. Recently its calisthenics - gymnastic inspired workouts, using body weight. I’ll do pull-ups, dips and some sort of single leg squat, then maybe rows, jump squats and pushups.
I hesitate to admit it but there is a Reddit body-weight fitness subreddit that’s really inspiring and introduced me to a lot of the movements. I try to do something every day. Two to three times week I’ll focus on flexibility.
The mind/body connection comes up in acting over and over. Emotions live in the body. So for me and my work, having access to my whole body — strength, flexibility, proprioception — is exciting.
I feel like my relationship to my body is the best it's ever been. And a by-product is that I’m also in really good shape: physically and mentally.