In Tom Hanks’ Seat

an interview with Walid Azad

Walid Azad is a member of the production team of The Most Dangerous Highway in the World and has been an invaluable resource to the cast and the creative team. Like many Afghans living in the Bay Area, Walid Azad left Afghanistan in the 1980’s. He had to cross the border to Pakistan illegally and on foot then wait in Pakistan for months until his brother who was already living in the Bay Area would secure a visa for him.

When he arrived in the Bay Area, Walid was only 16 and spoke no English. But he was adamant about graduating high school. For two years, he attended high school during the day and took night classes to complete the 90 units required for graduation.

Walid first discovered his love of theatre at Chabot College. There he took drama classes and organized an Afghan student club which presented concerts and comedy performances in Dari and Pashto, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan. Those events generated significant revenue which the Afghan student club sent to the camps in Pakistan where thousands of Afghan refugees lived.

His drama teacher at Chabot was so impressed by Walid’s work that she suggested he pursue theatre professionally. She told him, “Tom Hanks was my student. He sat in the same seat you are sitting now.” She encouraged Walid to take classes at ACT Conservatory. That teacher could not have guessed that in a few years, Walid would in fact work with Tom Hanks.

But acting would have to take a back seat to basic life priorities: marriage, having children, and building a successful business would occupy Walid for the next several years. He did take classes at ACT and received a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Hayward. That was 1997.

In 2008, Walid heard about casting call for a Hollywood movie needing Afghan actors. By the time he submitted his resume, casting had been completed. But impressed with his theater and business background, the producers hired him to coordinate the 60 extras cast from the Bay Area. Walid managed the group’s travel & lodging, and made sure everyone filled out the necessary paperwork and showed up to the set on time. At the end of the two-week shoot of the scenes with the extras, Walid was informed that he was cast as a wounded soldier, a speaking part in a scene with the lead actor. That movie was Charlie Wilson’s War and the lead actor was none other than Tom Hanks.

On his final day on the set, Walid showed Mr. Hanks a picture and asked if he recognized her. Indeed he did. The picture was of his teacher at Chabot College. Walid told Mr. Hanks that he sat on the same chair, in the same classroom, and was taught by the same drama teacher.  Tom remembered his teacher fondly and was happy to write a personal note on the photograph, which Walid brought back for the teacher.




Feature-HighwayThe Most Dangerous Highway in the World

MAY 6-29, 2016 at Thick House in San Francisco
Thursdays–Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm

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