Iqbal Theba has appeared in countless commercials, television shows and movies over the years, and these days, he maintains the budget and referees Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison as Principal Figgins on the FOX smash hit Glee. With a new movie, Playing The Field, due out later this year, the University of Oklahoma alum is reaping the benefits of following his heart and pursuing his dreams.
Oklahoma Magazine: As an OU alum, you’re a big Sooner fan. Do you ever make it out to any games when you visit Norman?
Iqbal Theba: No, unfortunately, I haven’t in a long time, but there are a lot of OU people here in LA, so we always get together and watch the games on TV. I’m not really into sports, but I always watch Oklahoma football. I’m a Sooner fan, not a football fan.
OM: From an engineering degree to acting – that’s quite a transition.
IT: I used to hate my major. I was bored to death. I don’t know how I graduated, but I did. Then later, a friend invited me to see a play – it was the first real play I’d ever seen – and it was one of those mystical experiences that I’ll never forget. So I enrolled in drama school, and halfway through the first semester, I knew it was for me. The decision to pursue acting didn’t come from logic, it came from the heart, and from the gut.
OM: You went on to become the first South Asian in mainstream television in the ‘90s. What was that journey like?
IT: At that point in time, there wasn’t anyone from South Asia in the industry, and I had a lot of difficulty finding an agent. A lot of people told me, “I don’t think anyone is looking for someone like you.” Being an actor is hard as it is, no matter what color skin you have. It’s just a tough business to break into – it’s a heartbreaking pursuit. But I was determined. Eventually someone took me on and I went on my first audition, and I got it. It was a commercial for a music warehouse that sold video and cassettes, and it was just me singing. It was one of the most glorious days of my life. I was so proud. I was in my car on Sunset Boulevard screaming, “I’m an actor! I’m an actor!”
OM: Have you gotten the chance to sing on Glee?
IT: They haven’t asked me, and I’m not exactly too keen on the idea anyway, but hey, I’m happy either way!
OM: Glee has taken over the world. What’s it like working with the cast?
IT: They’re all wonderful, with such great attitudes. We have so much fun. Everyone I work with is extremely talented – especially the kids. Glee has made them super stars. People like me, Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison – people were familiar with our faces because we had done a lot of other stuff – but for the young cast, it was their first gig and they’re all very grateful to have gotten the opportunity to be a part of this crazy phenomenon.
OM: What are some things you’d like to see happen with Principal Figgins?
IT: At some point I’d like to know more about where he comes from. We don’t know much about him yet. We know he has a wife and he believes in vampires, but I’d like to find out more personal things. As an actor, it would give me the opportunity to explore his character. Nevertheless, of course, I’m happy playing who he is as he is.