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Interview: Arif Zahir: Family Guy's New Cleveland Brown

Following his debut appearance at San Diego Comic Con's At Home event,  AFA's Evan Vernon caught up with Arif Zahir, the new voice of Cleveland Brown in Family Guy.  From a YouTuber to voicing one of the lead characters in one of the world's most popular animated series, Arif's acting career is off to an amazing start! He talks about how he got started, what it's like working on such a famous show, and his hopes for the future.


Evan Vernon: What inspired you to pursue acting? Did you have any heroes or influences growing up?   

Arif Zahir:The earliest memory I can think of when it comes to the who and what that inspired my love of acting is watching Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor, and Martin Lawrence’s Blue Streak as a child. Those three in particular heavily inspired me into becoming the funny kid in class.

Tell us about your early career. Did you always have a knack for impressions, or was it a skill you had to consciously hone? Did you think your YouTube channel would blow up as much as it has?

I always loved to do voices as a kid, most particularly British accents since I was a big fan of the Harry Potter movies at the time. And of course, over time they got better… much better haha. As for YouTube, I always told myself I’d be something someday and had high hopes for my channel to do well, but I never thought it would be for voice impressions, especially since doing voices was always just a hobby of mine.

Describe your experience voicing Cleveland. Have there been any challenges to portraying such an iconic character? What do you hope to bring to the role?

Voicing Cleveland has been an absolute blast. There are definitely challenges when it comes to doing voice work, most specifically trying to stay on pitch with the original and consciously remembering how to say certain words and phrases accurate to the character while recording. I’m extremely certain most fans will not notice the difference and realize that my performance is true to the character. Having Mike Henry, Alec Sulkin, and Rich Appel by my side mentoring me is definitely a MAJOR help.

As a longtime Family Guy fan, how does it feel to be a member of the cast? I'd imagine that calling Seth Green, Mila Kunis, and other high-profile celebrities "coworkers" must be quite surreal!

It still doesn't feel real! It’s freaking awesome, to say the least, and they’re the sweetest people.

Where do you see yourself in the future? Are there any dream roles or programs you'd like to star in? Are there any projects beyond acting, such as your music career, that you want to develop?

I plan to act in film, television, on stage, you name it. Acting has always been my first love. Of course, portraying a superhero or a Jedi of some sort would be any nerdy actor’s dream come true haha. I’d also LOVE to voice act in a Pixar film, Disney Animation Studios film, or motion capture in video games! As for music, I’m still really new to it but I’m absolutely falling in love with writing and creating melodies. Performing at a big festival within the next three years is on my life accomplishment bucket list for sure haha!.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to young, aspiring actors, having been in their shoes yourself?

Even if you feel like you’ve been trying so hard and working for this for what seems like an eternity, continue to strive for it. Even if you don’t get call backs or score that role you wanted time and time again, keep pushing for YOU. Keep pushing because acting makes YOU happy. Your time will come. It could come in the next five seconds or the next 50 years. But never, ever let yourself stop because you haven't achieved your dream yet. You’re achieving so much by not giving up on yourself and showing yourself you’re made for this. 

Massive thanks to Arif and Jeremy at Motiv PR for their help in setting up this interview. Family Guy airs in the US On Fox and is available streaming on Hulu. In the UK, the show airs on ITV2 and is available streaming on Disney Plus and ITV Hub. Check out Arif's YouTube Channel here.



Headshot Image credit: Ben Krantz