Hamza Haq graduated from a hired consultant to the star of “Transplant,” a new medical drama premiering Sept. 1 on NBC. In the series, which debuted on Canada’s CTV earlier this year, Haq plays Bashir Hamed, a Syrian doctor and refugee who, through a series of events, finds himself part of the medical team at …
Hamza Haq graduated from a hired consultant to the star of “Transplant,” a new medical drama premiering Sept. 1 on NBC.
In the series, which debuted on Canada’s CTV earlier this year, Haq plays Bashir Hamed, a Syrian doctor and refugee who, through a series of events, finds himself part of the medical team at a downtown Toronto hospital — while trying to raise his 12-year-old sister, Amiri (Sirena Gulamgaus).
Haq, 29, had played a foreign exchange student on “Transplant” creator Joseph Kay’s previous series, “This Life” — and that, he says, set him in good stead when Kay was developing his new show.
“He invited me to talk about what it feels like being a brown man and a Muslim in Canada today,” says Haq, who was born to Pakistani parents in Saudi Arabia and moved with his family to Canada when he was 9 years old. “Joseph trusted my process in building [Bashir’s] back story, so he included me as a character consultant. When ‘This Life’ got canceled — almost three years before we aired our first episode of ‘Transplant’ — he said to me, ‘This isn’t an offer for [an acting role]. We’re trying to build the character. Would you like to contribute?’
“I don’t think I waited longer than our first meeting to express my interest [in starring],” he says. “This character, a Muslim refugee, these stories have never been told. It’s topical and was way better than what I was auditioning for at the time — a lot of bad dudes.
“About six months later he told me I was in the running for the part. A multitude of things happened. I did another series called ‘The Indian Detective’ for CTV … and when Joseph pitched the show to them they liked my work, so I kind of came out at the top of the pile.”
Hamed’s co-workers at York Memorial Hospital include driven resident Dr. Magalie Leblanc (Laurence Leboeuf); gruff ER head Dr. Jed Bishop (John Hannah); surgical resident Dr. June Curtis (Ayisha Issa); and Dr. Theo Hunter (Jim Watson), a pediatric resident who lives eight hours away from his wife and kids. The series premiered to big numbers in March, and it was renewed by CTV for a second season.
Haq says that he learned English as a second language while in Saudi Arabia and “had a good grasp of the English language” when he arrived in Canada. But he needed some help when it came time for him to speak Arabic in some on-screen scenes.
“I never learned how to speak Arabic conversationally,” he says. “I had two language and dialect coaches who were both Syrian [like Bashir]. Fortunately, because I learned how to read the Koran in Arabic and recited that when I was young, I know how to make the sounds. I developed the muscles to speak the language.
“I had to be nudged in the right direction, to get the cadence of it,” he says. “When we had our premiere of the first episode, we invited 70 members from the Syrian Canadian Foundation. They all said my Arabic was fine, that I sounded a little Lebanese — but that they’d let it slide.
“It’s something to work on for Season 2.”
Haq says he thinks the show’s Season 1 move to NBC (it will air at 10 p.m.) is a step in the right direction.
“I’m grateful for the American audience to see a show from a perspective they may not have understood or seen before,” he says.”From what I see [in Canada], you’ve got plenty of families in the States in this situation and quite a lot of negative emotions … slanted toward people of color, Muslims specifically.
“There’s been a movement [toward diversity] on specific streaming services — ‘Ramy’ on Hulu, ‘The Night of’ on HBO — but the fact that this is going to be a big network premiere … that was very moving for me to be a part of that,” he says. “I’m excited to see what the response is.
“One thing I’m certain of, positive or negative, it’s certainly going to elicit some kind of emotion, from a lot of people.”