CLOSE UP ON SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO
Interview Conducted by Parisa Defaie & Darius KADIVAR ( First Published for OCPC Magazine February Issue 2007)
Laguna Niguel, CA
Tuesday December 5th 2006 10:00 AM.
Parisa Defaie (PD): On Sunday Nov 26th"The Nativity story "was premiered in Vatican. 7000 people gathered to watch this extraordinary event come to life before their eyes. You were among them, in fact you were distinguished and were applauded for your well done portrayal of Elizabeth. This gesture of the crowd was a hair raiser for me in particular. I wondered what was going on in your mind at that moment. Can you share your thoughts and experience with us?
Shohreh Aghdashloo (SA): Strangely enough it was a hair raiser for me too! It was an out of body experience for me. I have been working for 30 years and I have been to many places, many occasions, events- but this one was incredible! Watching Nativity with 7000 people who believe in spirituality and their energy was incredible! watching all the Cardinals, Arch Bishops, Priests and Nuns along with thousands of ordinary people who had come to watch this film.
For the entire screening you could not hear people breath! They were stunned! Mesmerized by the images they were seeing on the screen. As we say in Farsi "You could not even hear a fly passing by". There were a few times, two or three times maybe, that I had to pinch myself, very softly. To make sure that I was not dreaming, and this is really happening. I looked at my husband Hooshang all the time. He was sitting with the rest of the Cast family. Every time I looked back and saw him, he would whisper: "it's for real"!!!
PD: Wasn't that also a sign that the message of the movie was well received, not only by the spiritual leaders, but by the public as well?
SA: Absolutely. First of all, the fact that they allowed New Line Films to premiere the movie at the Vatican proved to all of us that they liked the film. Secondly, the reception was warm and supportive. Which was another way proven to us that the movie was liked. Another thing that was very important to me was the fact that thousands of young people stayed after the movie was finished to take autographs and pictures. I kept saying to them:" you not only watched the movie, but you stayed to support the actors, and to meet with the actors...which meant a lot to me! If they were forced by their parents to watch the movie, the fact that they stayed afterwards, on a Sunday night, showed they really liked the movie...which should have! Because it is about a young woman's journey, that they connected with....And that was my reward!
Vatican Premier in Rome (L to R): Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar Isaac,
and director Catherine Hardwicke ©AP
Darius KADIVAR (DK): Given that most biblical films were directed by men, was it important to have a woman director (Catherine Hardwicke) at the helm of such a subject?
SA: Indeed. It is a female related story. Catherine Hardwicke had already proven to us how good she can be working with young actors; she did it in her film "Lords of Dogtown".
Also, she is a kind of director who allows improvisations. Although I am a method actor, I appreciated her allowing the improvisation. With respect to all the male directors, this humble approach was made by a female director.
PD: By portraying "Elizabeth" you "experienced" how it was to live in biblical Era, how similar or different is it to the world we live today in regards to humanity?
SA: When I first read the story, I was stunned by the simplicity, at the same time, by the excruciating resemblance to today's world. Especially, when we were rehearsing, Catherine asked us before the actual shooting, to go through the process of making bread, knowing how to milk a goat, weave a carpet, as well as working with our dialect coach, Jessica Drake.
We went through all these for a week in a place that was built exactly like Bethlehem. It was like living in the years before Christ. And while we were "living" there, I thought; my god! Nothing has changed! Except our carriers have turned into cars, and our clothing has changed to glamorous clothing- not mach have changed with us- I know we have traveled to the Moon, but what really has changed IN us?...what have we done with poverty?...what have we done with jealousy, misconceptions...or confusion?...it was incredible how it reminded you of today's world.
Elizabeth ( Shohreh Aghdashloo) in The Nativity Story ©New Line Cinema Productions
PD: Actors get inspired by the people or events in their lives and use their own life experiences and inspirations to relate to the role they are playing. How did you prepare for the Role of Elizabeth?
SA: Well. Elizabeth and I have a lot in common. When I first was offered the role, I was in dark. I had no idea who Elizabeth was. My grand mother who was the student of all religion had told me about the importance of knowing about all religions. So she had told me the story of Nativity, but not Elizabeth.
When I started my research, I got myself a bible. I read it from A to Z, with 3500 characters, including Elizabeth. She was a generous, kind, selfless woman with a heart filled with passion for humanity. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that she was a lot like my own grand mother. Exactly like Elizabeth, she was selfless, and giving. When I was 5-6 years of age, she would take me to the bazaar. We would buy candies, rice, sugar, and soap. Then she would get us a cab and take us to the needy people.
Then I thought what difference does it make? Whether you are a Muslim, Jew or a Christian? what does it matter what background you have?- From then on, it was easier for me - As an actor, I would look for signs of what kind of physicality this woman would have- so immediately I thought Elizabeth had my grandmother's physicality, and I put everything together, and all I tried was to be as truthful as possible.
Shohreh Aghdashloo has come a long way since her screen debuts in Iran and is now a household name for many American and European viewers. ©imdb.com
DK: In a profession were women are most often typecast, you have successfully escaped any form of categorization. How do you choose your roles?
SA: With a pair of Tweezers, of course! I am very fussy about my work, pretty much a perfectionist. I have been working for 30 years, very rarely scenarios intrigue me. All I am looking for is a meaningful film that has a significant role for me. Even if the role is good, but the story isn't, I won't go along with it. Because I do not want my audience not to know what's going on. I do not want to put my audience in jeopardy.
That is why I choose them with a pair of Tweezers, making sure the films have meanings.
In recent years Shohreh Aghdashloo's Supporting roles in Box Office Success' have been appreciated by critics and moviegoers ©imdb.com
DK: You have been tempted by teaching lessons at the University, and transmit your experience to the younger generation. Do you think your profession is much more understood today in our community than when you started off as a young actress in Iran?
SA: I would like to teach and write and dedicate my knowledge and experience to youngsters. Not only teaching it technically but also give them the spirit. And yes, look at me and my background- and see where I am coming from. How long I had to fight. It was incredibly hard, making my father believe in me, and not letting me use his family name! Therefore, you can imagine how hard it was for me to get here.
As an actor you are not happy everyday- obviously, you are a human being. There are days that you are sad and depressed, but somehow I am happy- and when the other actors ask me how?? I say, well. You know...I fought to be an actor. Therefore, everyday when I wake up thinking I have the job that I always desired since I was 5 yrs old...it makes me feel happy. No matter how successful this job is or not, to me, as a human being who was trying to fulfill a potential....is a great victory!! I am happy everyday, because I am doing what I like.
PD: I get so much positive energy by just talking to you....as an actor I would love to spend a day listening to your thoughts.... Have you ever thought about having workshops or seminars for the actors whom are looking up to you and are thirsty for your knowledge and energy??
SA: I would love to do that in the future, since it would be hectic at this time. I would hate for my students to wait and change schedules on them. I tried to do this four years ago, but for the same reason I could not keep up with the classes. So I have to wait for a time when I know I could finish the session...I will do this for sure.
DK: Could you tell us if the screen adaptation of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran is still in your agenda?
SA: The only thing I can say right now is that it is a work in progress.
Parisa Defaie (*)and Shohreh Aghdashloo at the Star's Home in L.A ©Parisa Defaie (**)
DK: What can be done to encourage more unity and cooperation among Persian artists, not just in America but maybe those in Iran? How can they find a common artistic ground?
SA: The truth of the matter is that actors in Iran or here have their own Tribe- regardless of each other's background, nationality, the color of their skin, or religion. When actors see each other, they immediately connect with one another. I believe it is because of the same passion they share. We all have passion for what we do, otherwise we don't go through this- acting is a very hard job, a very difficult journey. Actors need their Iron boots and chains to travel this path. Therefore, I believe we have our own tribe, and are connected by the passion we all have for acting. When true artists meet one another, they feel as one. As Rumi says : " I am Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu... am not an entity in this world or the next... did not descend from Adam or Eve or any origin story..." , which is really true- the actors are all one, what matters is really that moment of breathing.
Author's notes :
The Nativity Story is directed by Catherine Hardwicke starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Ciarán Hinds, Shaun Toub, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar Isaac and distributed by New Line Cinema Productions. Now available on DVD.
(**) Shohreh Aghdashloo was Awarded the Persian Golden Lioness Award® for best female actor at WAALM® 2nd Annual in Budapest Hungary. See more at www.waalm.com
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About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.
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