Near the end of “Argo” — Ben Affleck’s new docudrama thriller — an Iranian soldier pursues a handful of escaping American diplomats who have been hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence during the 1979 hostage crisis. The scene is a chair-gripper, and you’ll likely find yourself cursing the soldier while rooting for the fleeing hostages.
That gung-ho guard is played by Brandon Tabassi, a polite young man who grew up in North Andover acting in school plays and now has a small but significant role in the hit film. A Persian soldier, he screams in Farsi, knocking people out of the way at the Tehran airport as the escapees race to catch a flight out of the country. The entire cast of “Argo” recently won the ensemble acting prize at the Hollywood Film Awards, which kick off the Oscar season.
It’s a long way from Tabassi’s days at St. Augustine School in Andover, where in the first grade, Sister Cathleen cast him as the wicked witch in a play because, he says, he was such a naughty kid.
“They painted me green,” Tabassi recalls. “I had so much fun.” Even at age 6, he prepared diligently for the role, watching “The Wizard of Oz” countless times, and having his father videotape him so he could improve his performance.
That first stage role would eventually lead him to “Argo,” and life, for the time being, in Los Angeles, where he is pursuing an acting career.
But Tabassi’s roots are dug deep into Massachusetts soil. “I live, breathe, and eat Massachusetts,” he says. An only child, he spends major holidays with his parents in North Andover, and visits regularly throughout the year. His most recent return was in October.
“I went to Salem to see all the Halloween fun, stopped at the Topsfield Fair, went to the Museum of Fine Arts, got cider and doughnuts at a local farm and took a walk around Walden Pond,” he says.
Shortly after Tabassi was born in Chicago, his parents moved to Boston for his father’s job in corporate sales. Emile Tabassi now works for MGI Digital Graphic Technology as director of sales and marketing communications for the United States and Canada. His wife, Mehr, is a realtor in the Boston area.
Brandon, now 23, graduated from the Brooks School, a prep school in North Andover where students wore suits and ties and boarding students had to attend Tuesday and Thursday night dinners with their teachers. “Luckily,” he notes, “I was a day student.”
Throughout high school, Tabassi continued to act, but he discovered another passion: politics. And he had a flair for it.
When Senator John Kerry was running for president in 2004, Tabassi, then 14, learned he was appearing at a local restaurant. Reporters were firing questions when the teen tapped the senator on the shoulder. “He told them, ‘Let me talk to the kid.’ I think he was thankful he didn’t have to talk to them anymore,” Tabassi says. Tabassi asked about being a Senate page, and Kerry told him to call.
At 16, with Kerry’s help, Tabassi headed to Washington. It was 2005, “a crazy time,” he says. “Hurricane Katrina had just happened; we were in the middle of the Iraq War and in Afghanistan. Sandra Day O’Connor said she was stepping down from the Supreme Court; Chief Justice William Rehnquist died; and then the whole thing with Harriet Miers.” Miers was President Bush’s pick for the court, but she withdrew her nomination after criticism from fellow Republicans.
Early on, Tabassi met Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “He was always the first one there in the morning, and he was really into what he was doing,” he says. Tabassi recalls Kennedy’s push for raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour.
“Every Democrat voted for it, and every Republican blocked it,” he says. The next day, he approached Kennedy and thanked him for his efforts. “I told him if not for things like the minimum wage, my family would not have made it here. My father arrived here with nothing,” he says.
Kennedy gave him a hug, he says, and wrote a letter to Tabassi’s mother, telling her he hoped her boy would go into politics. She still has the letter.
Kennedy had also taught the teenager about the Judiciary Committee’s work and introduced him to nephews Joe and Matt, who cochaired Kennedy’s 2006 reelection campaign. Tabassi signed on as a volunteer.
“I’d stand on street corners at stores, schools, and say, ‘I’m only 16 years old. I can’t vote but if I could, I’d vote for Senator Kennedy because he embodies what I envision the future to be,’ ” he says. Tabassi garnered about 1,000 nomination signatures, more than any other volunteer or staffer, and was honored by Kennedy at a breakfast at Anthony’s Pier 4. Continued...