Interview: Golshifteh Farahani
The leading Iranian actor talks about her quest to make it in Hollywood.
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2009 12:30 GMT

At 26, Golshifteh Farahani is Iran's most famous actress [EPA]

Sitting eating breakfast with her husband, Amin Mahdavi, in a luxury Doha hotel, Iranian actor and musician Golshifteh Farahani talks about her career.

Farahani is in Doha promoting Asghar Farhadi's About Elly; a film that may be the last she makes in her country of birth.

At 26 years old, Farahani is Iran's leading actress but her sights are now set on Hollywood.

She landed her first role in a Hollywood feature film last year when she starred as Leonardo DiCaprio's love interest in Ridley Scott's Body of Lies.

Farahani says she is grateful to Scott for taking the risk of casting somebody from the "axis of evil" in the film.

"It is hard. I was a king of a lake and now I am a fish in an ocean," Farahani says in her newly learnt but almost flawless English of her new career direction.

In Iran all decent film scripts would come to her but outside of Iran she must fight for each role.

The challenge, she says, is worth it because Farahani is the first Iran-based actress since the 1979 Iranian revolution to act in a Hollywood film

Family business

Born into a family of actors, Farahani was discouraged from following them into the film business.

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Her father, Behzad Farahani, is a renowned actor and theatre director who knew it was a career choice that would pit his daughter against the Iranian government, regardless of whether or not she was political.

Farahani was studying music and hoped to make her career as a classical musician, when at the age of 14 she landed her first role in Dariush Merjoui's The Pear Tree.

"I wanted to influence people," she says.

"By playing classical music you are playing to an audience of people who are already educated and knowledgeable. I wanted to make a positive change in the majority and cinema is a better language to do that."

Her career blossomed and by the time she was 22 she was Iran's most recognised actor.

Known for her down-to-earth style, Farahani takes pride in never behaving like a diva.

"One of my aims was to introduce another way of behaving like a star. I love the Taoist philosophy very much," she says excitedly.

"There is a saying that one has to live like the ocean. It is the biggest body of water but it is at the lowest point on earth, all the streams and rivers flow into it. I have always tried to live by that philosophy."

'Daughter of the nation'

Now that Farahani's career is moving to the West, she realises that the eyes of all Iranians are on her and that this means she must be careful about the roles she chooses.

"If I fail they will fail and if I am successful it is their success too."

Farahani says she must be careful about the roles she chooses [EPA]
Mahdavi explains: "When you have the status of a star in a country the whole population is following you. Some actors can do what they like, they can take the role of the terrorist or they can take their clothes off in front of the camera but as Golshifteh achieved stardom she has more responsibilities." 

"I respect my people, I was seen as the daughter of the nation," Farahani adds.

"If I want it or not I am representing Iran. But my responsibilities are to the people not to the government."

During the making of Body of Lies, Farahani fell foul of the Islamic Republic of Iran's strict moral codes. The government accused her of acting in the film without the necessary permissions from Iran's Culture Ministry and of violating Islamic law by appearing without a hijab in certain scenes.

"But they hadn't even seen the film when they said this," Mahdavi says. "They made it very difficult for us."

Upon returning to Iran after filming Body of Lies, Farahani's passport was confiscated, meaning that she was unable to leave the country to shoot a screen test for what Mahdavi describes as "her dream role" - the lead in Mike Newell's upcoming Prince of Persia.

Now Farahani is reluctant to return to Iran and says she fears what may happen to her if she does. But, she explains, her decision not to work in Iran anymore is not solely a reaction to the government.

Transition to Hollywood

Her experience of working in the US left her feeling that greater respect is granted to actors there. In Iran acting is not officially deemed a profession and on government papers actors' occupations are stated as "freelance".

Farahani says the on set experience is also very different in the US.

"The main difference is that making a movie there is far more professional. In Iran it is more experimental," she says.

"And it is very hard for actors. You are not respected so much, you have to pay attention to the boom, the lights etc. In the US they do it around you. It is like the actors kingdom."

Recently, Iran's Culture Ministry released a statement saying that they have no issues with Farahani and would be happy to see her return to the country.

"[It's] all very nice of them to say that," Mahdavi says, "but our problem was never with the Ministry of Culture it was with the Ministry of Information. But it is nice to know someone cares."

Farahani says she is confident she can make the transition to working in Hollywood, although she realises she will be starting afresh.

Although she missed a great opportunity in the Prince of Persia, she is confident another will come along and says: "That's not important at all because I'm out and I will make it."

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