Barrington’s Azar ‘wrestles’ with success in first major network role

URI graduate lands the role of The Iron Sheik in NBC’s Young Rock

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Young Rock cast
Young Rock cast. Photo courtesy Brett Azar

KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 3, 2021 – Whether it was the pandemic era need to mix things up or the universe speaking to him, Brett Azar is not sure. But, in June 2020, sitting in his Rahway, New Jersey apartment, the young actor decided on a whim to make a drastic change to his look. He shaved his head – bald. Within the week he would receive a call for the role that would become one of the biggest breaks of his career thus far – a recurring role as famed professional wrestler, The Iron Sheik, in the new sitcom Young Rock, premiering on NBC, Feb. 16.

The show, which is set in the future and told through flashbacks, is based on the life of football player turned professional wrestler turned actor, producer and businessman Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his experience growing up in a wrestling family, the son of professional wrestler Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson.

Azar, a Barrington native and 2009 University of Rhode Island kinesiology graduate, was no stranger to wrestling but admits the Sheik’s status as a villain had an impact. “I was a huge wrestling fan. I had all the action figures, the ring, the pillow buddies; but, as a kid, I was never a fan of the Iron Sheik because he was the ‘bad guy,’” said Azar. “Once I started to research him, I realized that he was such a funny character in real life. He was just nonstop, full energy. The guy is a living legend and I am just so honored and humbled to be able to portray him.”

Brett Azar as The Iron Sheik
Brett Azar as The Iron Sheik. Photo courtesy Brett Azar

Azar filmed in Australia from September through the end of November. He got to meet and talk with the Iron Sheik and his family, who were in Georgia, over Zoom calls while there. He and his castmates also trained under former WWE/WCW champion Chavo Guerrero who taught them the fundamentals of the ring. As a former personal trainer, Azar enjoyed the physical challenge of learning how to bounce off the ropes and took to many of the moves right away.

“It takes a lot of physical effort. The one thing that shocked me the most was just running back and forth and bouncing off the ropes – half of us woke up the next morning with bruises all the way across our backs. Those ropes are no joke – if you hit them wrong, you’re going to be sore for three days,” said Azar.

However, he confesses that another move gave him pause – at least initially. “Day one. You learn how to bounce off the ropes, take a fall and do a somersault – like any kindergartener would. Just do a somersault. The first three times I did a somersault, I stood up, my eyes rolled to the back of my head and I passed out.”

Eventually, he mastered the somersault, but not without a little ribbing from his castmates first. “The guys were cracking up – ‘Big Brett can’t do a somersault without falling over and passing out,’” he laughed. But it was all in good fun. Much like the real-life members of the Rock’s extended wrestling family acted as stand-in uncles for young Dwyane Johnson, Azar notes the cast who portrayed them also became quite close.

“This was one of the most tight-knit, family-oriented casts I have ever been a part of,” he said. “We all stayed in the same hotel, had family dinners, barbecues, went to the gym together. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

While Johnson filmed his scenes in Atlanta, he took part in table reads with the rest of the cast via Zoom. “He couldn’t have been more gracious,” said Azar. “He was so thankful to everyone for taking things seriously and really nailing the job.”

Azar appears in about half of the episodes of the first season’s 11-episode run. He credits URI Theatre and his first role as Abram in Romeo and Juliet with giving him his start and opening his eyes to acting.

In addition to being able to flex his acting chops in a major network show, the two-time body-double for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is also excited to finally have his face attached to his own body on film. “This was just a dream, to work with a director like Nahnatchka Khan and to finally have something where I’m not the goon, or the thug, or guy with one line for one episode. This is a dynamic character – there are some serious scenes, and then there are scenes where it is just the Sheik being the Sheik. And it’s not Arnold’s face on top of my neck, which is a plus.”

While it has been a long road, Azar loves what he is doing and just recently put in an offer on a house. “It’s the only job I’d ever want to have,” he said. As for advice he would offer to others? “Patience and persistence and consistency. You’ve got to believe it. You’ve got to believe it’ll happen.”