Iranian born theater, TV and film actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo moved to the US after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. While in Iran, Aghdashloo worked in Iranian movies and plays.
After moving to the US, she performed in The Nativity Story, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, House of Sand and Fog, House of Saddam, American Dreamz, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, The Lake House, Will and Grace, X-men, The Last Stand and The Stoning of Soraya M. She resides both in US and UK.
Now, Aghdashloo is in London and performing leading role in the theatre play, House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca.
Aghdashloo also used her gifted voice for the narration in movies and documentaries such as Iranium, Mystic Iran: The Unseen World, and also voiced Admiral Shala Raan in a video game, Mass Effect 2.
She was nominated for the Oscar Award for the best supporting actress in the movie “House of Sand and Fog” and won an Emmy Award for her role as a wife of Saddam Hussain in HBO-BBC mini TV serial, “The House of Saddam.”
Recently she was approached by Dawn.com and spoke on the phone from London about her life, work and future projects.
Stoning of Soraya M:
Aghdashloo played a leading role in 2008 US drama movie, based on a true story, adopted from a French-Iranian Journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's best seller novel, entitled “The Stoning of Soraya M.”
The movie directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh tells the story of an incident that took place in the remote village of Iran where a man, Ali wanted separation from his wife Soraya Manutchehri . He reached the village’s cleric and falsely charged his wife of adultery with another person from the village. Ali and the cleric both devised a conspiracy to trap Soraya, which eventually led to her being stoned to death in 1986.
Aghdashloo played the role of Zahra, the brave and outspoken aunt of Soraya who struggled a lot to save Soraya’s life and then narrated the entire story to the journalist after the stoning.
The movie made a huge impact on viewers worldwide and was appreciated with many awards and distinctions.
Dawn.com: Your performance in “Stoning of Soraya M” was very much appreciated and the viewers remember Zahra more than the main character Soraya, what is your opinion?
SA: It is still one of my best films ever. You are right, people paid more attention to Zahra’s character. I am so happy that the film already saved one life and that is Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
When the film came out, my best friends said that they had no idea that this (stoning) was still happening nowadays. They called it a Biblical story. I said no, it has been happening in Iran and other countries too and a couple of times the incidents have also been reported throughout the world by international human rights association.
As a famous playwright said,“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
This film hammers reality and I am so honoured and happy that we had the opportunity to make this film, as it was not an easy job to do.
The producer, Stephen McEveety and John Shepherd now have their own producing company called “M-Power” - M for mother. The revenue of the film or from the play will go to the company for charity.
McEveety made the movie “Passion of Christ” before and he is familiar with human misery and pain. Both of them set a fund of five million US dollars. I am also with them and with the mission for the rest of my life.
Dawn.com: It is definitely not possible to shoot the film in Iran, where was it filmed?
SA: Stoning of Soraya M was actually filmed in Jordan. The village is called “Dana” which means wise.
The people were ever so kind to us. The village was very similar to the village of Kupayeh in Iran (where Soraya was actually stoned in 1986 after being falsely accused).
The village was a one-and-a-half hour drive from the historical site of Petra in Jordan. Dana is a beautiful place where people from US and Europe visit every year. Every morning we traveled from Petra to Dana for the shooting. The exterior of the movie was filmed in Dana and the interior filmed in Jordan.
Dawn.com: Do you know anything about the children, especially about the daughters of Soraya?
SA: I am afraid; I have no idea about Soraya’s children and what happened after. Because when she was stoned, Ali, her husband took the sons to a nearby city and a couple of years later when Zahra died of old age, the girls were married to people who lived in the city and finally left the village.
One year after the movie, news about Sakina Ashtiani’s case spread on the internet since the westerners had become familiar with the case through the movie. Everybody stood for her life including French President’s Sarkozy’s wife, Berlusconi in Italy, US President Obama and many other people of the world urged for her freedom.
Sakina’s children decided to come out and share the case with the world and saved their mother’s life. I was hoping Soraya’s children would also do the same but so far, I haven’t heard anything from them.
Dawn.com: Can you tell us something about your new film?
SA: I do pick my projects very meticulously. I want my projects to be meaningful. I also like making entertaining films which are either eye-openers or do some good for humanity.
I have made a movie which has not been released yet, called “The Odd life of Timothy Green”. It is a Disney movie, directed by Peter Hedges and the actors are Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton. The movie is about a young couple who cannot have children. I played the role of a social worker who helps them adopt a child.
It’s my first comedy film for which I am so thankful to the producers. I noticed that they were laughing at my performance after the shoot in the next room. They said to me, “My God! Woman you are a great comedy actress.”
“Unfortunately you don’t trust me and only give me tragedies,” I had replied.
Dawn.com:What assignments are you are currently working on?
SA: I am working on the role of Bernada Alba in the “House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico García Lorca. Again it is a tragedy role in the theatre. I love Lorca because Lorca is all about poetry, madness and love.
Dawn.com: You are the first Middle Eastern woman who has been nominated for the Oscar and won the Emmy Award. Do you think you truly represent the Middle Eastern woman?
SA: I do fairly represent Middle Eastern women. I was honoured when my name was called for the Emmy Award. While I was going up to the stage, I told myself; woman, you are carrying millions of Middle Eastern women with you, so stay upright and go to receive the award on behalf of all the millions who haven’t had the chance to cross cultures yet.
Dawn.com: What do Iranian people think about you?
SA: I proud to say that most of the Iranians love me and love my work. I love them and I always have them in my mind when I work. There are few people who do not agree with me but truly I don’t care. I call myself an actress with a mission. The mission is to educate not only my people but the world. Obviously there are many people who do not agree with me.
Dawn.com: The movies “24” and “Stoning of Soraya M” are movies which depict the misuse of Islam by the powerful people. Are you interested in raising your voice for the injustices against Muslims? I mean for example, the issue of depleted Uranium on Iraqi children or on the plight of Palestinians?
SA: I would love to raise my voice for all the movements on behalf of Palestinians. Nobody has ever given me a chance. Believe me, I will do it.
I was born in a Muslim family – a pious family not a fanatic one. Islam is a religion of love, humanity and understanding. Islam is one of the few religions which believes in other religions too. All that I have learnt from Islam is to be nice to people and your neighbours. People who torture and imprison women are not Muslims in my view. I call them the enemies of Islam.
When it comes to “24”, I am afraid I did not agree with you. I created a woman from scratch and she does not belong to a stereotype. The producers never showed the origin and country of the character.
Dawn.com: In your opinion what is the future of Iranian movies?
SA: They (Iranian directors) are doing great and thriving. I am so proud of the film makers because I know what they go through to make the films especially from the private sector; not those who made propaganda movies for the state.
I love the movies “Children of Heavens”, “White Balloon” and “A Separation” - all made by Iranians.
Dawn.com: Hollywood raised a campaign in favour of Jaffar Panahi - do you have any updates about him?
SA: Jafar is a great film director. He is an international film director. Nowadays boundaries are fading and the world has really turned into a village.
Of course we are still identified as Iranian, Pakistani, English or American – but more so because we are born in those states, not because of our mentality or point of view.
It is a pity that such a great filmmaker has been banned from making films just because he made a film that was apparently offensive for a few people with a closed mind.
You know unfortunately, closed minded people are now ruling Iran. People like Jafar Panahi have great talent yet he is forced to stay at home.
I feel so sorry about the situation and I hope he will be able to make another film soon. He is now under house arrest.
Dawn.com: What is your opinion on Pakistani people?
SA: I love Pakistani people. Find me a project in Pakistan and I will come. If you can find me a project, I would like to do a one-man show in Pakistan.
In 2000, during a summit in New York, I was hired by a Pakistani TV channel to interview General Musharraf and other leaders. I had an amazing experience doing that.