by Mark Grassick
By anyone’s standards, Jaylen Moore is a pretty fit guy – by my standards, he’s super human. Martial arts, CrossFit, stunt work, the Californian actor does it all. But nothing could have prepared him for the physical ordeal he endured for his breakthrough role in SIX. After smaller roles in big projects from Homeland to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Moore has made a deserved step up, starring alongside Walton Goggins (Justified, Vice Principals) in The History Channel’s well-received and ambitious action drama.
Moore, the son of an Afghani father and a Spanish mother, plays Armin ‘Fishbait’ Khan, an Afghan-American Navy SEAL, as the show realistically explores the challenges he and his team face in Afghanistan and the impact their work has on their home lives in America. It’s a physically and emotionally demanding role, but he proves himself more than capable on both fronts. As he makes another step up, this time an expanded role in the show’s second season, Moore took the time to chat to Dapper Confidential about what the role means to him and his family, camping on the slopes of a snowy Canadian mountain and learning exactly what his body is capable of.
How would you describe your character Fishbait to someone who’d never seen the show?
Armin ‘Fishbait’ Kahn is the solid anchor of the team. He’s the sniper, never misses a shot. He’s the muscle, the dude you lean on for support. You can follow him when shit hits the fan. He’s the most solid and stable guy on the team… at the moment. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, he’s got meaning.
Was it as intense an experience shooting this as it is watching it?
Probably. Seasons one and two, we were thrown into a boot camp, which was some of the hardest physical training I've ever done in my life. I'm pretty active – I’m a martial artist, I do CrossFit – so I thought, “It's going to be hard, but I've got this.”
Like, it's in your wheelhouse.
Yeah. Let me tell you something friend, we all broke at some point. Sleep deprivation, 26-mile hikes with full gear, being thrown in the Pacific Ocean in February when it's freezing, basically waterboarding ourselves in the ocean. They blow the whistle for you to go down and then the waves hit you and you get the effect, because the tide is so strong, of being waterboarded. The we’d have to get out, roll around in the sand, carry our partners, flip tires, get pressure hosed in the face and interrogated. “Who's the fourth president of the United States?” You can't remember anything at that point. They’re yelling “What kind of American are you? Isn't your dad from Afghanistan?” “Yes sir, but I was born here.” “I don't give a shit, how do we know that you're not some kind of terrorist cell?” It totally messes with your brain.
One of my castmates, Edwin Hodge, couldn't swim too well. They threw him in and the poor guy’s struggling and almost drowning but they're like “Don't you dare help him.” These guys are professionals, they know your limits. But once you hit your limit, they're like, “Are you just going to let your teammate drown? Get in there and help him.” They wanted to give us a smidgen of Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training. That's six months, so they just gave us a smidgen in that week. That smidgen was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was intense but it gave us a real sense of focus when they called “action” We knew it was important to portray these warriors with the best accuracy we could. I believe, at least through my eyes, that we were living and feeling the intensity that the audience is experiencing.
These professional trainers know your limits, they know how far they can push you. But you don't, so you're discovering where your physical boundaries lie all the time, Is that terrifying?
It is, but it's also gratifying at the same time. Your brain will tell you you’re done at about 10 per cent, sometimes maybe 20 per cent. You've got a whole other 90 or 80 per cent that your body can legitimately do. You don't know because you've never been pushed that far. So, you collapse, you're like, “I’m done” and they just say “Get up. It could be worse”. You keep hearing that: “It could be worse”. I've two screws in my knee from football back in the day. They're like, “Oh, does your knee hurt? Isn't that cute. My buddy got his leg blown off by an IED in Afghanistan while defending this country. He’d kill to experience your pain.” It's a really intense mentality that these guys live by, but when you’re done, wow, what an experience. It changed me forever. Any challenging experience in my life now, I hear them in my head. I'm in the supermarket, the baby’s screaming, there’s a poop explosion and you got to change the diaper, you know, real dad moments…
You just want to close the door and walk away…
Yeah, but you can’t. I'll hear the coach in my head saying, “Embrace the suck. It could be worse.” When the studio found out what we went through, they got mad. It was so intense, I had times where I would wonder, “Did I enlist?” I legit forgot that I was an actor. Season two, we're out in Canada, climbing mountains. Dude, I love the outdoors but not like this. There was snow on top, we didn't have tents. They’re like, “Let’s tie the bags together so nobody slides down the mountain.” We look at each other like, “I could die!” We're in sleeping bags on the snow just in a little bivvy sack, which is kind of like a coffin. We didn't have guns because they're super strict on that in Canada and there are bears up there. All we had was bear spray and a horn. I said to the SEALs, “If a bear comes along, you're dealing with it.” They said, “Dude, we’re running!”
There’s got to be an incredible bond between these guys who serve together in the SEALs, which is hard to fake on screen. Do these intense experiences in training help you and the other cast members form that connection?
I tell all my friends who own businesses, if you want to do team building, take your top execs and put them through SEAL training. When you go through shared torture and shared pain with a group of individuals, you see and learn everyone's weaknesses. You learn all their strengths, you learn their breaking points, you help each other out. I became closer to these five guys in that first week than I am with some buddies I've known for 20 years.
Your father is from Afghanistan, right?
Yeah, he's from Kabul. My mother just passed recently. It was extremely abrupt, a heart attack.
I’m so sorry.
Thanks man. She was Spanish, so my heritage is a Spanish Latino mix on her side and Afghanistan on my father's side.
How has your dad reacted to you finally playing an Afghan-American on screen?
It's been a big deal man. My dad is super proud. This role was created for me; I initially auditioned for a different role. When the creators saw my audition, they were looking for one more SEAL for the ensemble. They were thinking maybe Native American, but when they saw me, they asked my agent where I was from. She said my dad was Afghani and they thought it would be cool to have the first Afghan-American Navy SEAL on television. I was very honored to be the first. My cousin is the real deal. He’s the first Afghan Green Beret in history. He’s got about 17 years’ experience and just retired to become a consultant in television, so our worlds are now crossing. In season two, you’ll see me speaking Dari on screen. That’s pretty awesome. It makes my dad smile proudly.
Were you raised Muslim?
I was, but my mum was Christian. When I was growing up, I'd go to Catholic church with my aunt, Greek Orthodox Church with my other aunt who married a Greek man, and I’d go to mosque with my dad. I love my dad because the way he looked at it was: “Any excuse to take time off work and be with your family and friends, that's my religion.” He celebrates Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah. I do that too. If I could claim a religion, I'd say love.
That’s a cool way to grow up. You get to see how all of these religions are really so similar.
Yeah, but they're all wrong because they're all trying to tell everyone how they're right. If you were in LA right now I tell you tomorrow my house for a barbecue and some beers, bring the family, that’s the kind of guy I am. If you can crack a cold one with me or share a meal then we can coexist, I don't care what your politics or religion are. Who cares? I don’t see colour, race or religion. I see all the hate and I get angry and then I get sad.
As someone with both Afghani and Latin American heritage, does America feel like a hostile place now?
Well, not now. First of all, I live in LA, which is kind of a bubble. It's a blue state bubble where everyone just wants to get along. When I went to other states immediately post 9/11, especially if I had my beard, I’d get some looks, some judgy eyes. There was a stretch of years where I had to bite my tongue a lot in public. Nowadays, not so much. I don’t think people really know what I am. I kind of have fun with that. My wife and I travel a lot, so anytime I want to bargain, I learn a little of the local language and pretend I’m half Italian, half Turkish, whatever.
Languages are your thing, right? You speak six?
Not fluently. Obviously, I speak English. I speak a bit of Farsi, not fluently but I can
understand it and speak enough to get by. I’ve had to learn Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Pashto
and Urdu for roles. I’ve just got this thing, from my dad, for languages. I grew up hearing all
these languages so my mind picks up all the intonations and I don’t sound like a foreigner
trying to speak them.
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I use it to keep beard trimmed. It’s easy, small and I can throw in my bag when I travel. I can use it to trim my sideburns, shave my head (if I need to for a role) and trim my beard.
I use this on my face before bed. It’s the best anti-aging cream. My wife turned me onto it
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looking, so my publicist and wife say. I’ll take their word for it.