Shohreh Aghdashloo ('The Nativity Story')
'A Rennassaince Lady On and Off The Screen'
Shohreh Aghdashloo was born in Tehran Iran on May 11 1952. In the 1970s at age 20 she achieved nationwide stardom in her homeland Iran starring in some prominent pictures such as "The Report" directed by the renowed Abbass Kiarostami which won critics awards at the Moscow Film Festival. In 1978 she won wider acclaim and established herself as one of Iran's leading ladies with "Sooteh Delan" (Broken Hearts) directed by the late Ali Hatami.
During the 1978 Islamic revolution, Aghdashloo left Iran for England, completing her education. Her interest in politics and her concern for social injustice in the world, led her to earn a B.A. degree in International Relations.
She continued to pursue her acting career, which eventually brought her to Los Angeles in 1987. She went on to marry actor/playwright Houshang Touzie, performing in a number of his plays, successfully taking them to national and international stages. However it was not easy getting work in Hollywood as a middle eastern actress with an accent, she had roles in some decent though not great films including "Twenty Bucks" "Surviving Paradise" and "Maryam". She had to wait quite some time to get a "Hollywood" break.
And finally, years after having read the acclaimed novel "House of Sand and Fog", Dreamworks were in the making of bringing the story to the big screen. After having cast Ben Kingsley as Massoud Amir Behrani and Jennifer Connelly in the lead roles, they were looking for a relatively unknown Iranian actress to play Kingsley's wife, Nadi. Shohreh Aghdashloo was duly cast. She stole the limelight and earned herself an Academy award nomination as best supporting actress amongst many other prestigious awards, including the Independent spirit award as best supporting actress in a feature film, The New York and Los Angeles film critics award and others.
This wonderful actress has also appreared in many television shows also, such as "ER," "24," with Keifer Sutherland and even a guest appearance on "Will and Grace."
In the upcoming movie, "The Nativity Story," Shohreh portrays Elizabeth, mother to John the Baptist. The film chronicles the arduous journey of two people, Mary and Joseph, a miraculous pregnancy, and the history-defining birth of Jesus. This dramatic and compelling story comes to life in a major motion picture starring Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Mary, Aghdashloo, and Oscar Isaac (Syriana) in supporting roles.
"The Nativity Story" is directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Lords of Dogtown") from a screenplay by Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester," "The Rookie"). It is scheduled for a December 1, 2006 release.
Tell us how you were able to read for "The Nativity Story" and how the script attracted you Aghdashloo - "I was offered the role and read the script. I read it and re-read it three times.I was mesmerized by the simplicity of it all. The most simple and yet, the most ambiguous story of mankind. It's simplicity transferred itself to the film. Elizabeth isn't really mentioned that much in the New Testament. I was trying to understand a woman late in life, blessed with a child. The role reminded me of my Grandmother."
What was it like working with Catherine Hardwick as a director? "It was fantastic, she proved she can work with younger actors. She has a way of communicating with younger actors. I have never seen such an incredible ensemble of casting. It was magnificent. They are all Shakespearean actors from all over Europe. It was incredible and amazing to be on the same set with them."
Did the historical appreal of "The Nativity Story" strike a chord with you, insofar as it's portrayal and accuracy? "When I was cast and I started acting in the film, I realized what Catherine was doing; she humanized the characters. I could have no recollection of history in the role. I could sense the feel of the movie. From King Herod's point of view to Mary's father, when he found out that she was carrying a child."
Did you ever study acting in New York at the Actor's Studio? Tell us about your early years as an actress "No, I have studied Method Acting on my own. I have studied Strasberg, Chekov, Stankislavski and what I could do, I did on my own. I became an actress at 18 years old. I wanted to become an actress since the age of 8. But my parents frowned on it. My parent were theater goers and avid readers. They used to take me to theaters and at at the age of 8, I told my father, "I would like to become an actress." He became silent. My mother told not to speak of it again. So, I waited until I was older and free to pursue it.'
What was like, being nominated for an Oscar? "Numbing. It's kind of numbness you can't explain. It's like riding on a magic carpet. I wasn't expecting it. But since I was younger, I told myslef. "I would like to be an actress and win an Oscar." It was like a dream come true for me."
Do you feel that you have opened the door for actresses of Middle Eastern descent? "Absolutely and I am glad for it. I am currently writing my memoirs for the girls in the Middle East. I want them to know that there is hope. If they are being used or abused, they don't have to stand for it. Just leave and live like a human being. In that sense, yes, I believe I have opened up a door. I would like to tell them to take their dreams seriously."
You have quite a plethora of diversity in your roles, tell us about them "I was so happy about "Lakehouse." I didn't feel type cast. Keanu Reeves has such a work ethic in his roles. He truly focuses on his work. When we were in the make up trailer in Chicago, the fans started milling about the make-up trailer. I told Keanu, "Look, there are here for you." Keanu replied, "No, Shoreh, they are here for cinema." I understood the depth of what he was saying. He understood the meaning of it all."
You also have a B.A. in International Relations, tell us more. You have accomplished quite a lot "I wanted to be become a politician or work for a newspaper. Like the "Guardian." I wanted to become a politician and help my fellow Iranian people. I graduated from Whetford. The fact that try to seek meaningful roles in meaningful films, means a lot to me. You have to follow your heart."
Do you have any upcoming role is the near future? "Yes, I am working on an independent film. It's my first independent role. It reminded me of "Viginia Woolfe. "It's a film about an ensemble of charatcters coming from all walks of life and meet each other at a certain point. It could be the pivoting moment of their lives."
Which person that you have met over the span of your career, has left a lasting impact? "Peter Travis of Rolling Stone Magazine. When I met him, it felt like I knew him my whole life long. We didn't get to talk alot, but we felt at ease with one another. We met on the red carpet of the New York Critic Awards."
"Then he interviewed me a few days later, after I was nominated. I felt the same way with Jamie Lee Curtis. I had seen her marching with the Union on television and I thought to myself, "What a great role model." Two days later, I saw her at the Oscars. I went up to her and hugged her. She told me, "Welcome to the Industry." You never forget that kind of interaction. It always stays with you."
Interviewed by Eva Trudeau for Exclusive Magazine
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