Arian Moayed Is so Much More Than Stewy from 'Succession'
The 'Succession' fan favorite talks to Thrillist about his path to playing the lovable d-bag.
Arian Moayed has become known for playing a certain kind of guy on television. The Tony-nominated actor burst into public consciousness as private equity tycoon Stewy Hosseini on Succession, a man who, in his first scene, steals a donut from a coffee shop and licks it before discarding it. In the second season of the HBO Max show Love Life, the audience is introduced to his character as he cajoles his friend to try uni for the first time. But Moayed is not actually that ultra-rich, gregarious finance bro type of dude, despite what some of the fans he encounters think.
"What happens now is, I have two daughters, 12 and 10, and I'm at a sports bar watching a game or whatever and hedge funders come up to you and they're like, 'Blow in the bathroom?' And you want to be like, 'Dude, I have a nonprofit theater company,'" Moayed explains to me over chips and guacamole at Tulcingo Del Valle, an unassuming Mexican restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. (Moayed insisted I indulge in the snacks, and insisted that his insistence makes it into the article.)
Moayed has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, since coming to New York after college at Indiana University. He started coming to Tulcingo in about 2009, after a trip to Los Angeles made him want to seek out more authentic Mexican cuisine in the city. The restaurant's proprietor knows him, his family, and his order (spicy margarita, spicy guac, cheese enchiladas), but she wasn't aware of his profession until Thrillist asked to do a photoshoot of him at the place.
Though his screen time is relatively small compared to some of the other members of the Succession cast, Moayed has become a breakout star whose every appearance draws freakouts among his devoted following. When he showed up in the teaser for Episode 5, one person tweeted: "stewy in this turtleneck in the promo for next week... shaking screaming crying throwing up."
When Moayed arrived in New York in 2002, he figured he would never make it as an actor, so he focused on Waterwell, the nonprofit he and a college friend founded following 9/11 with the goal of making socially minded theater. He still is board chair of that company, which also operates a drama program out of a performing arts high school in midtown where he teaches. He estimates 60 to 70 percent of his week is devoted to Waterwell, but the next couple of months look awfully busy for him on the acting front. In addition to Succession and Love Life, he has a role in the upcoming Marvel bonanza Spider-Man: No Way Home, which comes out in December. He obviously can't say much about that, lest Kevin Feige get on his tail, but his kids are thrilled that he may have gotten to work with Zendaya. In February, he'll star in Inventing Anna, the Shonda Rhimes produced Netflix series about the infamous grifter Anna Delvey. He plays her lawyer. It's yet another story that orbits the world of New York's elite.
After leaving Iran when he was 8, Moayed's family landed in a north suburb of Chicago. "We're the only family from my mom and dad's side that's in the United States," he says. "I found at a very young age, when times were tough, and English was not there, that if I made people laugh, it loosened the energy." Moayed has imagined a backstory for Stewy that might be similar to his own, but he has also told Succession creator Jesse Armstrong that he doesn't want it to be discussed on screen.
"The one time that we've talked, Jesse and I, about Stewy, I said to Jesse, 'There are three options that you have for Stewy Hosseini,'—we were trying to figure out a last name as well—'for how he can be Iranian. He came in the '50s because his parents were gajillionaires. He came in '75, right before the revolution, or he came after,'" Moayed explains. "He asked me, 'Which one do you want?' I said, 'Well, I'm just going to pick the one that I know, which is in the '80s.' But then I also said, 'I don't want to talk about this ever on this show.'"
Moayed was starring on Broadway in The Humans, the Tony-winning play that recently received the movie treatment, when Succession came calling. He was initially meant to audition for the role of Lawrence, the head of the digital media shop Vaulter eventually played by Rob Yang.
"I basically was doing my version of Stewy for that character," he says. "A year goes by, I'm still doing The Humans, and they're like, 'They want you to come back.' In my mind I was like, 'Well, I only have one d-bag hedge fund guy under my arsenal. I don't have a bunch of those.'" But it was a perfect fit. Not only was he great at playing a "d-bag hedge fund guy," he also had a preexisting relationship with Jeremy Strong that goes back almost as far as college Stewy and Kendall. Moayed had first met Strong when he was 19 and the latter was training at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater.
"That history was really important to me," Moayed says. "I didn't mean for this to happen, but because I've known him for a long time, however rich Kendall Roy may or may not be, it didn't matter to me because I've known you when you were 18, 19 years old."
While the attention Moayed gets from playing Stewy can certainly be strange—see, for instance, the dudes casually asking him to do coke in the bathroom—he also clearly relishes it. Yes, he has seen your Twitter thirst and read your Kendall and Stewy fanfiction. "I look at all that stuff," he says. "I used to respond to everyone because my Iranian-ness was like I had to be nice. I can't even do that anymore." He projects an easygoing nature that extends into his work on camera. During our photoshoot, his spicy margarita spilled all over the table. He just kept posing. It's a little bit like how one of his most-GIF'd moments on Succession came to be.
In the Season 2 finale, he seductively smells a branch of lavender during a tense meeting with Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall when they were all filming in Croatia. "Monica [Jacobs], who was our props person, came up to [our first AD] Christo [Morse], they were like five feet from me, and said, 'Smell this lavender,'" he explains. "Christo smelled it, and you could see how their face vibrated from the smell. Christo then was like, 'All right, here we go. Here we go. We're about to go.' I went, 'Let me smell that.' And I smelled it, right before the first take, that we haven't rehearsed, and I smelled it. I was like, 'Oh, amazing,' and I put it down, never thinking I'd use it ever again, or never thought about it again, to be honest with you." Instead, it became a negotiating tactic and a meme.
Moayed has found other small ways to convey Stewy's ethos. For instance, he was insistent that the character not wear socks, even when it's freezing outside. The uber-rich don't need as many coats as the rest of us because they are always being shepherded from one place to another in a helicopter or private car, and Moayed figured that might also apply to footwear. "Everyone made fun of me on set, like, 'Why isn't he wearing socks?' Then it became the coolest thing ever."
Moayed has never had near the wealth Stewy or his Love Life character Kian do, but he gets why we like these guys. "People oftentimes are like, 'Well, what's the addiction to the rich? Why are we so addicted to wealth, and wealth porn, and all that?' It's because it gives us an opportunity to imagine a world in which we don't have to think about how much this spicy margarita costs," he says, highlighting his own preferred drink. "The reality is that I'm not trying to play rich, nor am I trying to play someone that knows rich things. To be honest, I don't know. The first time I tried uni was on the Love Life set." I ask him if he liked it. He hesitates. "It was okay."