“I don’t like the word schmooze—it sounds so schmarmy” —Zaib Shaikh,

Zaib Shaikh starred in Lit­tle Mosque on the Prairie, be­came Toronto’s film and en­ter­tain­ment com­mis­sioner and is now headed to L.A. as Canada’s face of cin­ema, TV and cul­ture

Toronto Life - - The City - by court­ney shea

As the new con­sul gen­eral of Canada in L.A., you are our coun­try’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive for South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Ari­zona. What can you tell us about the gig? I’ll over­see for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment into Canada, and the re­verse, too: pro­mot­ing in­vest­ment and trade for Cana­di­ans who want to do busi­ness in L.A. And it’s not just film. I’ll also be han­dling gov­ern­men­tal re­la­tions re­lat­ing to di­rect in­vest­ment across all in­dus­tries.

Let’s hear your sales pitch. Canada has an amaz­ing tal­ent pool, both be­hind the scenes and in front of the cam­eras, great lo­ca­tions to film in, and then there’s our tax credit sys­tem. We also have ma­jor video game de­vel­op­ers in Toronto and Mon­treal, and Net­flix stu­dios in Van­cou­ver. Truth­fully, I wouldn’t even call it a sales pitch. Peo­ple al­ready want to be here. My job is to be present, to stay con­nected.

Your wife, Kirs­tine Ste­wart, a for­mer top exec at CBC and Twit­ter, just an­nounced that she is tak­ing a po­si­tion with the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Geneva. Are you steal­ing her thun­der? Haha—it’s been wild. We were in our kitchen de­cid­ing what to make for din­ner. Her news was just out and we were ab­sorb­ing that, and the phone rang. I picked up, and it was David MacNaughton, the am­bas­sador to the U.S., and he of­fered me the job.

There will be nearly 6,000 miles be­tween you. How will you man­age it? We haven’t quite sorted that out yet. Our par­ents, kids and sib­lings are all here, and we want to stay con­nected to ev­ery­body. We’ll fig­ure it out.

Pre­sum­ably you’ll be host­ing a lot of par­ties. What is the res­i­dence like? And what kind of bub­bly bud­get? The po­si­tion comes with a res­i­dence with a pool, in Han­cock Park, and I’m ex­pected to host of­ten. It’s about en­ter­tain­ing but also cre­at­ing a place where Cana­di­ans can feel at home and show­cas­ing what Canada has to of­fer.

Dream CanCon party list, dead or alive: go! Michael J. Fox, Tanya Ta­gaq, Pierre Trudeau, Os­car Peter­son, Roberta Bon­dar, Mary Pick­ford, Mike Lazaridis, the Popp Rok crew, Alice Munro, Linda Evan­ge­lista, Yousuf Karsh, Wayne Gret­zky, Eli­jah McCoy, Ali Velshi, San­dra Oh, the Group of Seven and Lorne Michaels.

How would you de­scribe your per­sonal ap­proach to schmooz­ing? I’m un­com­fort­able with the word schmooze—it sounds so cyn­i­cal and even a lit­tle schmarmy, which is not the vibe that I try to put across.

You played Amaar on Lit­tle Mosque. Does your act­ing back­ground come in handy at par­ties? Like, if you’re stuck talk­ing to some hor­ri­ble Hol­ly­wood gas­bag, you can “act” in­ter­ested? It helps to have ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try and to know the lingo.

Lit­tle Mosque was cel­e­brated for show­cas­ing this coun­try’s di­ver­sity. Is that a com­pet­i­tive edge? Ab­so­lutely. I’d also say that it’s im­por­tant to have peo­ple of di­ver­sity in th­ese diplo­matic po­si­tions—dif­fer­ent colours, gen­ders, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions and abil­i­ties—be­cause it sends a sig­nal that Canada val­ues di­ver­sity.

You’ve spent five years as Toronto’s first-ever film com­mis­sioner and di­rec­tor of en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries. Are there any ac­com­plish­ments you feel es­pe­cially proud of? In 2016, the city broke the $2-bil­lion mark for for­eign pro­duc­tion in­vest­ment, and our team was in­stru­men­tal in co-or­di­nat­ing the NBA All-Star Game, Pan-Am Games, North Amer­i­can In­dige­nous Games and In­vic­tus Games.

In­vic­tus Games! So you’re ba­si­cally re­spon­si­ble for the royal wed­ding. Not quite, but Meghan and Harry ap­peared to­gether in pub­lic in a ma­jor way for the first time dur­ing the Games while here.

Do you have any de­sire to re­turn to act­ing? I think it’s like rid­ing a bike. Yeah, of course you do, if you like bikes. I want to get on that bike, and I hope I re­mem­ber how to ride it. But I don’t yearn to get back in front of the cam­era, and I’m not wist­ful. I don’t feel I’m old enough or have done enough to feel wist­ful—or to say I’ve left it for­ever, ei­ther.

Any plans to go shop­ping be­fore the big move? Haha—I don’t think so. I’ve been a govern­ment em­ployee for half a decade now. Shop­ping sprees were a part of my pre­vi­ous life.

This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity.

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