Ingenue in Exile: Iranian Actress a Star Everywhere But at Home

By Martin Wolf

Photo Gallery: Golshifteh Farahani's Rise to Hollywood Fame Photos
Rapid Eye Movie

Part 2: Repeated Secret Police Interrogations

That was the start of "a nightmare," Farahani says. She was repeatedly summoned to interrogations with the court and with the secret police. What was she doing with the "Great Satan," the United States? Was "Body of Lies" CIA propaganda? The accusation that she had compromised national security hung in the air.

"You can be hanged for that, just like that," Farahani says. Whenever she was called in for questioning, she first put on two pairs of underwear, one over the other, because, she says, "In case I was locked up immediately, at least I would have had a change of underwear." Her husband would wait in front of the building to make sure she came out again.

Meanwhile, the filming in London took place without Farahani. At the advice of an employee of the Iranian regime, she filed a complaint against the court, saying Iran had been harmed because her role went to an Israeli instead. In reality, the part went to Gemma Arterton, who is English.

The interrogations dragged on for seven months. In the meantime, Farahani filmed "About Elly" under the direction of Asghar Farhadi, who would later win the 2012 Oscar for best foreign film, for "A Separation." Iran's Ministry of Culture ordered Farhadi not to cast Farahani, but she got the role.

Walking the Red Carpet with a Tense Smile

"About Elly" won a Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlinale. Farahani, as its leading actress, walked the red carpet at the festival with a tense smile. Shortly before, a judge had taken pity on her and urgently advised her to leave Iran.

Since then, Farahani has lived in Paris. Her Iranian passport has expired and she now holds French identification documents. Her marriage fell apart in exile, but her career took off.

Farahani filmed "Chicken with Plums," written and directed by fellow Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi, at Germany's Studio Babelsberg. "The Patience Stone" was filmed in Morocco, with only a few streets scenes shot in Afghanistan, using a body double hidden under a burqa.

Farahani can pick her roles at this point, and whether by chance or not, these often end up being in films about rebellious women in Muslim countries. She filmed "My Sweet Pepper Land" -- a modern-day Western that premiered at Cannes this May, in which Farahani plays a teacher -- in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. In "Little Brides," she portrays an employee of an aid organization working to help girls in forced marriages in Yemen.

'The Religious Leader Holds the True Power'

And of course Farahani closely follows what happens in Iran. Yes, she says, the country's new President Hassan Rohani gives her cause for optimism, but she cautions that the change supposedly taking place in Iran may just be a strategy. "Look at his predecessors: Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad -- always this alternation between oppression, easing, oppression, now easing again," she says. "It's the religious leader who holds the true power."

Iranian authorities likewise take note of what Farahani does. After she bared her right breast for a fraction of a second in a promotional video for the Césars, France's national film award, her parents received a call from a man claiming to represent the Islamic republic's judiciary, who threatened to cut off Farahani's breasts in retaliation.

"I don't believe I could live in Iran again," Farahani says. "A tree, once uprooted from the earth, is very difficult to plant again."

Farahani's greatest weapons are her films. She recently took part in another American production, "Rosewater." The directorial debut of Jon Stewart, the most important TV host among left-wing Americans, this film tells the story of a journalist who is imprisoned and brutally interrogated. The film is set in Iran.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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3 total posts
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1. Is Iran really so different?
Inglenda2 10/17/2013
Freedom of expression, although a guaranteed human right, is not wanted. There are few governments which actually allow freedom of speech, when those speaking have opinions which contradict the policies of a country. China, Russia, the USA and even Germany, all condemn and often punish those, whose views of do not agree with what is generally accepted.
2. good article
burtone76 10/17/2013
Good article, interesting to see such a dynamic person in such a dynamic (constantly changing) situation. But I did have to laugh out loud at this: "The directorial debut of Jon Stewart, the most important TV host among left wing Americans.." I really hope that by some off chance he reads this article or someone tells him about it, he would probably get a good laugh out of it too.
3. Star?
spon-facebook-1153732816 10/19/2013
Ms. Farahani may be congratulated for her success, such as it is, in Hollywood. Many have not achieved as much. But it's a bit of a stretch to acclaim her a star. She is ranked 5,320 by IMDB, and has been in only one film (that with DeCaprio and Crowe) that grossed a million dollars. Perhaps we'll be hearing more about her in the near future, but we haven't yet.
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