July 16, 2015 6:18 AM EDT

The first time I ever saw Omar Sharif was in the film Doctor Zhivago. I was a little brown kid living in the north of England who dreamed of one day being an actor in Hollywood. He was an inspiration to me.

It was the first time I had seen a brown man in a Hollywood film who was neither a servant nor a savage. He was a gentleman, a brown gentleman, who held himself with dignity and had sex appeal. Many years later, as a young actor working as a waiter in New York, I was fortunate enough to serve the legend himself. “Doctor Zhivago,” I whispered to him, “it changed my life.”

He leaned toward me and said, “Really? Mine too.”

–AASIF MANDVI

Mandvi is a Daily Show correspondent, an actor and producer on HBO’s The Brink and the author of No Land’s Man

This appears in the July 27, 2015 issue of TIME.

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