LOS ANGELES, April 6 (UPI) -- Nasim Pedrad, who plays a 14-year-old Persian American boy in Chad, has transformed into male characters before -- in "SNL" as actor Aziz Ansari and politician Bobby Jindal.
Pedrad, 39, said she chose to make Chad a boy in the new TBS series because she could transform more completely into a teenage boy than a girl and reflect her own attempts to blend into American high school.
"I felt -- much like Chad-- like a late bloomer," Pedrad told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "Not only is he caught between two cultures, but he's also a little bit caught between childhood and adolescence."
Making Chad a boy also allows Pedrad to tackle society's unreasonable expectations of young boys.
"He's an outsider trying to figure out what it means to be an American boy today, too," Pedrad said. "The show's obviously set in present day and explores everything from masculinity to sexuality, racism."
In the first episode, Chad tries to fit in with fellow high-schoolers by saying he's had sex. The plan backfires when a classmate (Madeleine Arthur) seduces him.
"Suddenly he realizes he can't handle it because he's not actually ready for those things," Pedrad said. "He's not ready to have sex yet. That's the first time you see him create his own hell."
Setting Chad in the present day also allowed Pedrad to address challenges she never faced as a teenager in the '90s, with social media contributing to Chad's confusion between who he is and who he wants to be.
"Kids today are being inundated with these often misleading and curated images," Pedrad said.
Pedrad came to the United States when she was 3, part of the first generation in her family to grow up in America.
During her adolescence and teenage years, Pedrad said she had to contend with negative images of Middle Easterners on television. She only saw Middle Eastern actors playing terrorists on TV, so it was important to show that Chad has a loving, supportive family.
"When I was growing up, I'd never seen a half-hour comedy centered around a Middle Eastern family," Pedrad said. "A lot of the representation I saw was just so disparaging."
Pedrad said she was excited to portray not just a Middle Eastern character, but a Middle Eastern family that was written from an empathetic place.
"I wanted to write the show from an authentic perspective of what it meant to grow up in a Persian American family," she said.
Chad has positive role models at home, but rebels against them in his efforts to appear more American. In upcoming episodes, Chad goes too far and tries to adopt Black and Asian cultures.
"It was fun for me to portray a character who is desperate to find his identity," Pedrad said. "In his case, a lot of times that meant just latching onto someone else's."
In one episode, Chad visits his mother's boyfriend (Phillip Mullings Jr.) to hang out. Chad creates an awkward evening in which the Black adult and his friends have to entertain a teenager.
"He just wants a shortcut to feeling as American as possible and blending in as much as he can," Pedrad said. "You realize Chad's really fetishizing Black culture and becomes almost obsessed with it."
Chad premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.