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.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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