Phoenix Raei reaches for ‘The Heights’

L-R: Amir Rahimzadeh, Phoenix Raei, Ze Winters, Jasmine Sadati, Yazeed Daher and Rasta Karami in ‘The Heights’ (Photo: Ben King)

After breaking through in Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day, Phoenix Raei landed roles in Mustangs FC, Romper Stomper and Wentworth.

The Iranian-born actor who came to Australia when he was a kid still feels he is a relative unknown in the wider screen industry – but that could change this month after The Heights premieres on the ABC.

Raei plays Ash, who lives with his uncle Hamid (Amir Rahimzadeh) and his brother Kam (Yazeed Daher) in a social housing tower in the 30-episode serial produced by Matchbox Pictures and For Pete’s Sake Productions.

Co-created by Warren Clarke and Que Minh Luu and set in the fictional inner-city neighbourhood of Arcadia Heights, the drama explores the relationships between the tower’s residents and those who live in the adjoining, rapidly gentrifying community.

Ash is being raised by his uncle after his parents died in Iran. “Ash is going through an identity crisis, trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs,” Raei tells IF. “There is a lot of conflict but the show is funnier than I expected.”

Raei relished working with the directors James Bogle, Renee Webster, Darlene Johnson and Andrew Prowse, finding that each brought out different nuances to his character.

Like many in the industry, he was shocked when Prowse died in December. “He truly was an actors’ director with a unique approach to directing,” he said.

“His no-nonsense attitude to life and work made him someone everyone admired. He was integral in every aspect of making the show. I was broken-hearted by his passing, not only by the fact we will not see more of this great man’s work but that I lost a good friend.”

Shot in WA, The Heights will premiere at 8.30 pm on Friday February 22 but 16 half-hour episodes will available on iview following the broadcast launch. Raie thinks that is a smart move, believing many viewers will want to binge-watch.

The cast includes Shari Sebbens, Marcus Graham, Roz Hammond, Bridie McKim, Callen Tassone and Carina Hoang. Shooting two episodes a week meant a demanding schedule for the cast there was plenty of down time due to the different storylines.

Raei got a law degree from Perth’s Edith Cowan University before deciding acting had more appeal, despite his belief that “I never thought I could make money out of acting.”

He played soccer coach Lachy in the first season of Mustangs FC and would have liked to have worked in season 2 but the schedule clashed with The Heights. In Wentworth he played Lukas, a criminal who causes havoc in the women’s prison.

He’s now shooting Below, Maziar Lahooti’s debut feature which co-stars Anthony LaPaglia, Ryan Corr, Alison Whyte, Morgana O’Reilly and Zenia Starr.

Produced by Nick Batzias of Good Thing Productions, Veronica Gleeson and Kate Neylon, the plot follows Corr as directionless dreamer Dougie, who is recruited to work in a detention centre for asylum seekers.

Dougie soon discovers the centre is home to a Fight Club-style underground operation where detainees are blackmailed into fighting, which awakens his dormant conscience. Raei is Azad, one of the detainees who is forced to fight.

The actor is pleased with the movement to ensure greater screen diversity, observing: “I am a big believer in equality regardless of background. If an actor is right for the part he or she should get it, not because of their ethnicity.”