Special Reports

First Person: How The Kite Runner Gave Me the Chance to Play a Role That Was Written for Someone Else

Déa Julien talks about MENA representation on Broadway and pushing for the part you want.

Déa Julien
Déa Julien
(image provided by the production)

When I learned that The Kite Runner was coming to Broadway, I knew I had to be a part of it. I was thrilled by the idea of a show providing representation for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) community on Broadway. Even more thrilling was prospect of a show based on The Kite Runner, a book I'd treasured since I first read it as a kid.

I initially received an appointment for a female track who plays a series of supporting roles. As I read the script to prepare, I fell in love with the story all over again, especially the beautiful, complicated, heart-wrenching central relationship between Amir and Hassan. I was immediately drawn to Hassan. I loved his strength, openness, and bravery, and the way in which he loves fiercely and wholeheartedly.

I found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to play him (and later his son Sohrab), but since Hassan is a male part, it didn't even occur to me that that would be possible. I tried to let it go, but a few days later I still couldn't get the idea of playing Hassan out of my head.

And then it hit me – Who says I can't? Just because it hasn't been done before, that doesn't mean it can't be done. So I pitched the idea, and to my surprise, the creative team was totally open to seeing a different take. I went through the whole audition process for Hassan / Sohrab, and was then cast as his understudy, making me one of the first women to understudy a male principal on Broadway.

I'm excited to have the chance to share my story because I want to encourage everyone — but especially those in underrepresented communities — to advocate for what they want in an industry that constantly tries to tell you what you can and cannot be. We still have far to go in terms of race and gender equity in our storytelling. In the 2018-19 Broadway season, women made up slightly less than one third of all titled roles. Nonbinary actors and women of color even less. And only 0.7% percent of available roles on Broadway were played by MENA actors.*

There are simply not as many roles written for certain groups, who are then less likely to find parts that really speak to them. Going for a role that wasn't written for me has opened up my world as an artist and empowered me to keep fighting for the characters I want to play, no matter who they were written for.

I'm very grateful and proud to be making my Broadway debut in The Kite Runner and to be a small part of representing Afghan culture and telling a universally beloved story with this beautiful company.

The Kite Runner ends its run at the Helen Hayes Theater on October 30.

* Statistics are taken from AAPAC's most recent visibility report, and Production Pro's Broadway By the Numbers

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The Kite Runner

Closed: October 30, 2022