Interview: Iranian American Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo Acts to Defy Typecasting

Acclaimed Iranian American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is well known for her Academy Award-nominated performance in House of Sand and Fog (2003) and Emmy Award-winning role in the HBO television drama House of Saddam (2008). Born in 1952 in Iran, Aghdashloo began her career in film and theater in Tehran, but her burgeoning career was dramatically derailed during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when she was exiled to England. Eventually settled in Los Angeles, the actress slowly and determinedly rebuilt her acting career.

Sitting down for an exclusive interview here at Asia Society New York, Aghdashloo spoke about her recently published memoir, The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines, which she hoped would answer "1001 questions" that her American friends often had about her life and background.

"Many of my educated, older American friends are pretty familiar with what happened in Iran in 1952. They can even describe to you the CIA coup, Operation TPAJAX. But then, the younger ones only know who Ahmadinejad is. Whatever happened in-between? There are three decades. I was there until the age of 25. I lived in Iran under the Shah's reign, when Tehran was the Paris of the Middle East," said the actress. She went on to reminisce about her cosmopolitan youth following international pop icons like Bob Dylan and the model Twiggy.

As a Muslim actress of Middle Eastern origin, Aghdashloo is aware of concerns over typecasting. She spoke especially about her role as a terrorist in the Fox television series 24. The actress emphasized that her focus was on exploring the motivations of her character. In other words, she is mainly interested in portraying characters that are multi-dimensional and fully-developed. "As an actor, you are not supposed to judge your character but you are supposed to justify what your character does… For me there aren't any inhibitions in playing a role, thinking that I have been typecast here," said Aghdashloo.

During the wide-ranging interview, she also conveyed her hope to work with filmmakers in Iran, although that is unlikely to happen in the near future due to political conditions there. She is, however, thrilled about her new project with comedian and TV host Jon Stewart, who will direct a film based on the story of Iranian Canadian journalist/filmmaker Maziar Bahari, who was jailed without charges in Iran during the 2009 presidential election protests.

Watch the complete interview above.

About the Author

Profile picture for user La Frances Hui
La Frances Hui is Film Curator at Asia Society New York. She has been invited to speak at MoMA, New York University, Asian American International Film Festival, Stony Brook University, Taipei National University of the Arts and CUNY-TV.