Here are a couple interviews Nazanin did to promote Ben-Hur, which is now in theaters.
Nazanin Boniadi couldn’t help but feel blessed last weekend. And it wasn’t simply because she was in Los Angeles promoting the Ben-Hur remake, an epic tale of faith, freedom, and forgiveness set in Jerusalem during Jesus’ carpenter years.
“At one point today, I was sitting in an interview with [co-stars] Rodrigo [Santoro] on my left and Morgan [Freeman] on my right, and I thought, ‘I am sandwiched between Jesus and God,’” Boniadi joked during an exclusive interview with Refinery29. “I’m pretty sure that is basically what heaven feels like.”
Not that her spirited outlook isn’t also bolstered by the fact that her acting career, which didn’t even start until after the Iranian-born, London-raised stunner graduated from college (with honors in biological sciences), seems touched by an angel. (Sometimes quite literally. Ben-Hur was produced by Roma Downey.)
“I am a Middle Eastern woman in a leading role in a Hollywood film with this kind of budget releasing in the summer. That doesn’t happen every day,” said Boniadi, who came from the Australian set of her next gig, Hotel Mumbai, in which she plays a hostage and wife of fellow captive Armie Hammer. “I am so grateful that [they] took the chance and did the right thing by casting authentically because this is what people looked like in that region.”
Still, Boniadi knows all too well that the casting process isn’t always concerned with getting it right or turning a color-blind eye. The Homeland and How I Met Your Mother alum recounted tales of her early days in Hollywood, addressed diversity in the entertainment industry, and touched on a variety of topics including how she almost became a doctor, Ben-Hur’s powerful and enduring message, and filming in the land of gelato, pasta and pizza.
Your bio makes it sound like you were well on your way to curing cancer when the call of the stage became too hard to resist.
“Since I was probably five years old, [I knew] that I wanted to help people and help make this world a better place, as cheesy as that sounds. I’m Iranian, so culturally it was instilled in me from a very young age that education is key. And then [my parents would] say, ‘The world is yours. You can be a doctor, a lawyer, engineer, or a dentist. I was like, Okay. Medicine sounds appealing because you get to help people…I’m going to be a doctor because that’s what good Persian girls do. I graduated high school top of my class. I moved to the U.S., and I went to U.C. Irvine where I studied biological sciences, pre-med. I graduated with honors, applied to a bunch of medical schools, and took the MCAT three times. I was doing cancer research and winning awards.”
If brains, beauty, and talent are the holy trifecta in Hollywood, then Nazanin Boniadi has hit the jackpot. And then some. Had she followed her original career path, the Tehran-born, London-raised actress would be better known as Dr. Nazanin Boniadi by now. But in the midst of applying to medical school after earning her degree in biology from the University of California, Irvine, (where she was awarded the Chang Pin-Chun Award for her work in cancer and heart transplant-rejection research), Boniadi realized it wasn’t meant to be her path in life. But acting? Well, that was a different story.
Less than a year after trading classrooms for casting calls, the now-34-year-old actress who is better known as “Naz” to her friends landed her first part. Shortly thereafter she became a series regular on—wait for it—General Hospital, where she blazed new trails by becoming the first Iranian-born actress on contract to an American soap opera and the first Middle Eastern series regular. Roles in Charlie Wilson’s War, Iron Man, and The Next Three Days followed, as did a one-season guest spot on How I Met Your Mother (where she played a love interest for Neil Patrick Harris).
But the past year has been the big one for Boniadi, who landed major roles on the third seasons of two of television’s biggest series: as FBI analyst and Saul Berenson protégé Fara Sherazi on Homeland, and as the mysterious terrorist Adnan Salif in Scandal. This month, Boniadi will reprise her Homeland character, now as a series regular and full-on field agent. At the same time, she’s become a familiar face on the activist scene, working as a spokesperson for Amnesty International and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Boniandi spoke with us from Cape Town, South Africa, where she’s finishing up filming on the Showtime hit’s fourth season, to talk about acting, activism, and starting from scratch.
DETAILS: You earned a degree in biology and were on your way to medical school. How did you end up in Hollywood?
Nazanin Boniadi: I think my goal in life was to try to find an occupation where I could help people. Now how I ended up in acting? [Laughs.] Being from a Persian background, the culture encourages you to follow a very academic career—medicine, law, engineering—but the arts aren’t really encouraged. So while I was in high school, I was very much into the performing arts—I was in school plays, I did ballet, I played the violin—but it was only encouraged as a hobby. So I got my degree in biology, with honors. And I worked really hard to get the honors. It wasn’t one of those career paths that was like, ‘OK, this feels right because it’s really easy for me to get an A.’ I worked so hard. And with that comes the feeling of, ‘Well, this doesn’t feel right because it doesn’t feel like home to me.’ It felt like I was working a lot harder than everybody else who was getting As. So I called my dad in England and said, ‘Listen, I graduated with honors in a degree that you feel happy with. Now I want to do what I want to do.’ And he said, ‘What’s that? Do you want to go to law school?’ And then he listed all these very academic things, and I said, ‘Actually, I want to act.’ There was about three minutes of silence, and I said, ‘Dad? Are you still there? Are you okay?’ I think it was hard for him to accept because I was in my mid-20s at that point, and he was understandably worried because I was embarking on something that I had no professional experience in—or even academic experience; I hadn’t studied it or anything. So I said, ‘Listen, give me a year. If I fail miserably and make no progress, then I’ll go to medical school or I’ll do something academic.’ I guess I’m lucky, because nine months after that I got my SAG card and I booked my first job.
DETAILS: Was there a particular event or moment that you can point to that really made you decide, ‘Okay, I’m doing this! I’m switching gears and I’m going to take a chance on an acting career?’
Nazanin Boniadi: As I was applying to medical school I had this kind of epiphany that I was about to commit myself to four more years of studying, of going to medical school, and then the whole residency and internship. And that’s not where my heart was leading me. So it was really a matter of just being very honest with myself, as scary as that was. And it was very scary, even for me, as I was halfway to the finish mark of being a doctor and I decided to start from scratch. Being from an academic background I knew that I had to study acting; it wasn’t like I was just going to say, ‘Okay, I’m an actress now.’ So I really started from the bottom and became a student in something that I had no experience in. So it was very scary. Part of the medical-school application is writing essays on why you want to be a doctor, so it’s really like therapy. [Laughs.] You really have to start being honest with yourself. And as I was writing these essays as to why I want to do what I want to do, I realized, Yes, I do have a primary goal of helping people, but there are other ways of doing that.
DETAILS: Which makes it fairly ironic that one of your first major roles was on General Hospital. At least you could call your dad and tell him that!
Nazanin Boniadi: Yes. But of course he said, “Why are you playing a nurse? Couldn’t they have made you a doctor?” [Laughs.]
DETAILS: You became the first Iranian-born actress on contract for an American soap and also the first contract actress to play a Middle Eastern character on daytime television, both of which are pretty big feats—especially for someone just starting out in her career. Did you feel any pressure when it came to being a bit of a trailblazer in Hollywood for Middle Eastern actors? Were there certain aspects of the character’s heritage that were important for you to portray?
Nazanin Boniadi: Sure. Because there aren’t too many Iranians in Hollywood, there was the responsibility of trying my best to represent the community as best as I could. But there were definitely people who opened the doors for me: Shohreh Aghdashloo, the Academy Award nominee from House of Sand and Fog, is a trailblazer, Shaun Toub, who was on Homeland last season, he’s been around for decades in Hollywood. Being in my own kind of category, of course there comes a responsibility with that. But, for me, I can’t take that too seriously. At the end of the day the goal is to do the best job you can do, go home, and forget about it.
DETAILS: You also spent a season on How I Met Your Mother, which allowed you to transition into a bit of comedy. For you personally is it easier to do comedy or drama?
Nazanin Boniadi: For me, drama always feels a lot more comfortable. I remember when I was cast on How I Met Your Mother, thinking, ‘This is interesting that they think I can be funny.’ Because I’ve never found myself to be funny. But then family members would say, ‘Naz, you’re quirky!’ In my personal life I’m told that I’m pretty quirky, and I still to this day don’t really know what that means. I guess it means that they find me odd? [Laughs.]
DETAILS: On the show you played one of the few actual loves of Neil Patrick Harris’s notorious ladies man, Barney. What is it that attracts you to someone in real life?
Nazanin Boniadi: Physically, it’s the eyes. As corny as it sounds, they are the windows to the soul. But by rule I find a good sense of humor extremely attractive. Somebody who knows how to laugh and smile at life.
DETAILS: You’re coming back to Homeland this season as a series regular. Were you a fan of the show before you were cast on it?
Nazanin Boniadi: I had had friends who were guest stars, so I had followed the show—I found it gripping and extremely well-written and well-acted, of course—but I hadn’t watched it from the beginning. I wasn’t an avid watcher until I got the job, and when I did, I marathoned it in about 48 hours. Not because I had to, but because I was glued. [Laughs.] Then I realized what the fuss is about because I basically became a fan of the show that I’m on, which you can’t always say as an actor. You can’t always say that you’re a genuine fan of the show that you’re doing.
DETAILS: What was it that most attracted you to the character of Fara?
Nazanin Boniadi: I think that Homeland has created a ground-breaking character. She is so multifaceted and, in my opinion, the first prominent Muslim on television that is just a human being. She’s not a cliché. She’s no angel, she’s no devil, she’s just a person. And just like Carrie, the protagonist of the show, who is flawed but is basically good. Fara’s the same; there’s no difference. And being Muslim is secondary to the fact that she is just a girl trying to make her way through life. So in that sense I found her very compelling. The way she was written was not cliché to me at all, and it was a great moment when I booked the role. I was at the Cannes Film Festival, and I remember just looking at an e-mail from my agent and I literally squealed. All of these film people were looking at me like, “Why is this woman squealing?” But it was that exciting for me to get this job, because there are just so many directions that she can be taken in.
DETAILS: What sort of research did you have to do for the role?
Nazanin Boniadi: Luckily I am Iranian, so I drew from just growing up in an Iranian family and knowing the culture firsthand. But also, because of my ties with Amnesty International and now the Council on Foreign Relations, I’m very tapped into that world. So we actually got assigned a book to read this season, which was a Council on Foreign Relations book, which was how I became a member. So I had the luxury of calling the author of the book and picking his brain about what life is like in Pakistan. So I basically just asked him every single question that I had about how my character would be in that setting and what the customs and mores are of being in that country. Because although Fara’s Muslim, she’s Iranian, so I wanted to make that part realistic. People assume that all Muslim countries are the same, when they’re not. So you have to kind of find your own answers. And then you are going to find that Fara is very different this season than she was last season because she’s not an analyst anymore, she’s an agent. So she’s in the field and she’s undercover, so she’s continuing to learn the art of espionage throughout this season. So I spoke to people in the national-security arena and then just did a lot of reading, a lot of YouTube watching, and a lot of talking to experts.
DETAILS: Is there anything more action-oriented in store for her this season now that her role has changed?
Nazanin Boniadi: It’s definitely more action-oriented. She gets her hands dirty. Weapons training? Not yet. We are halfway through the season, so let’s see what the rest of the season has in store. [Laughs.]
DETAILS: What about any sort of fight training?
Nazanin Boniadi: Not yet, but she’s definitely out there as far as taking risks. I will say that the thing I love most about Fara is that she’s a very strong character but she often surprises herself with her strength. I don’t think she realizes quite how brave and strong she is, so when she does something that’s quite risky, it’s this moment of, ‘Oh, goodness. I just did that!’
DETAILS: She’s also a very intelligent, strong woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which I think can make her intimidating at times. And seems like something you could relate to. Do you think that people find you intimidating in real life?
Nazanin Boniadi: I’m quite petite in real life, so I think that there’s an assumption that people who come in small packages are sweet and demure and naive. And not to say that I’m not sweet, but I definitely am outspoken and anybody who follows my human-rights activities knows that I have no problem standing in front of hundreds of people and speaking my mind. It’s interesting this whole idea of looking at someone and assuming who they are, which is also why I love playing [this character] because I can relate to that.
DETAILS: Speaking of your activism: I just read a piece that you wrote on gender-based violence for The Huffington Post, which was great. How does your activism influence the roles that you choose? Do you look for work that allows you to say something about the causes that are most important to you?
Nazanin Boniadi: I try to, definitely, [but] I don’t always have the luxury to. Because at the end of the day I just have to work. And those roles are very limited. Not too long ago I was actually telling Alex Gansa, our show runner and creator, ‘Thank you for giving me this job because it fuses the two worlds that I love so much together.’ And then I have a film coming out, Desert Dancer, where I have a relatively small, supporting role, but it was a passion project. It comes out in March in the States and it’s being released by Relativity. Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen and Reece Ritchie are the leads, and I loved it because it’s based on a true human-rights story set in Iran. And how often are you able to find material like that? I thrive in those roles.
DETAILS: Activism has sort of become a part-time pastime in Hollywood for some people, who are really just lending their name or face to a cause. You’re actually out there doing the work, traveling to speak to groups, and writing articles about these issues. Do you think that anytime somebody lends his or her name to a cause is a good thing? Or is it important that really get their hands dirty?
Nazanin Boniadi: I love working at ground zero. I love grassroots activism as much as I love lending my name to something. I think the most important thing is that it comes from a genuine place. I was born in the height of the Iranian Revolution; it’s part of my consciousness to want to change conditions for the better in Iran. It’s something I was raised with, so it’s in my blood. But people around me sometimes have to say, ‘No, you are an actress. Don’t forget that.’ Because sometimes I throw myself into the activism and make that the priority in my life. So it just has to come naturally. And if it’s genuine, then I always applaud it.
DETAILS: Did you have any desire to step behind the camera and document some of the work that you’re doing, or write or direct a project based on these issues?
Nazanin Boniadi: I don’t know about the future, but for now I will leave it to people who are much, much better at it than I would be. I will stick to the acting and try to perfect this, or try to grow as much as I can as an actor and be the type of actor I want to be before I even embark on something that sounds to me so all-encompassing.
DETAILS: I know you can’t tell us very much about the new season of Homeland, but what’s one little thing you can tease us with about the upcoming season?
Nazanin Boniadi: You’re going to see Fara in a way that you’ve never seen her. In fact I think the first moment she’s reintroduced in the storyline, which is episode three, you’re going to see Fara and say, ‘Wow, that’s not the Fara that we’re used to.’ She’s going to be very different from what she was last year. She’s headed in a different direction. And the characters have shifted. Saul used to be the director of the CIA, now he’s out on the field, outside the CIA. Carrie has been elevated in the CIA. You’re going to see Quinn facing a lot of demons and more things that he needs to overcome. And then Fara’s being mentored by Carrie this season. It was Saul last season, now it’s Carrie. So it’s a fresh start.
DETAILS: And the women are finally taking over.
Nazanin Boniadi: Exactly. [Laughs.]
Showtime’s Homeland concluded a trilogy of sorts with its Season 3 finale, as Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis) — a disgraced Marine sergeant who loomed large as both a sometime threat to his own country and as a pivotal figure in CIA officer Carrie Mathison’s life — was written off the canvas in a quite definitive manner.
With Brody removed from the equation, Carrie (Claire Danes) stationed in Islamabad and her onetime boss Saul Berenson toiling for a private military contract as Season 4 opens this Sunday at 9/8c (with two new episodes), “It is a clean start for Carrie,” showrunner Alex Gansa tells TVLine.
Yet as Carrie grapples with a massive crisis, one somewhat of her own doing, in the geo-politlcal arena, she will also have to juggle “a number of” significant relationships in her life, Gansa says.
“She has an important relationship with her little six-month-old daughter [Frannie],” Gansa notes. “She has an important relationship with the memory of Brody; and she’s got a burgeoning relationship — although not romantic yet — with Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend),” who now works alongside Martha Boyd (In Treatment‘s Laila Robins), the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan. Complicating the Carrie/Quinn dynamic is the fact that since the events of Season 3, the latter has developed a distaste for the CIA’s comfort with “kill lists” and “bulletproof” decisions.
Carrie also will serve as a mentor to Farah Sharazi (Nazanin Boniadi), “who never trained to be a case officer, but Carrie needed people she could trust on the ground there,” Gansa explains, as well as develop a bond with Aayan Ibrahim (Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma), a Pakistani med student possessing a unique perspective on the calamity that sets Season 4 in motion.
Saul, meanwhile, Episode 404“is not happy at all” with his new position in the private sector, which portends to create new, unneeded friction with wife Mira (Sarita Choudhury). “The money is good but Saul is an archetypal Washington figure, a guy who’s lived at the center of things for so many years,” Gansa explains. “Now that he finds himself not in that gravitational pull of world events, he misses it desperately.”
Yet even with Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) still lording over the CIA, Saul will be rescued from his new, New York City-based existence as the season unfolds, when all hands are needed on deck to stem the bleeding of the aforementioned crisis. As a result, says Gansa, “Carrie and Saul both get to do things that they were trained to do, which is serve overseas.”
Moving on from the Brody years and returning Carrie to what she does best — which, as seen in early episodes, certainly is not mothering! — Homeland is poised to return to its own original mission, which is to hold a mirror up to the world and find drama to mine from that.
Notes Gansa: “It’s sometimes difficult to read the front page of the paper these days, and the tone [of Season 4] reflects whats going on in the world right now, which is pretty scary.”
Homeland star Nazanin Boniadi has said that season four – the first without Damian Lewis – is “very much a reboot” of the series.
Lewis’ chracter – tragic ex-marine Nicholas Brody – was executed by Iranian authorities in season three’s finale, ‘The Star’.
“Alex Gansa [series showrunner] and the writers are masterminds at reinvention,” Boniadi – who plays CIA operative Fara – told Digital Spy.
“The fact that they kept Brody alive for three seasons and still kept it interesting is testament to that, because I think Alex has gone on the record and said that they had plans to kill Brody early on and they couldn’t, because he was just so good.
“But there’s only so much do with that character – because of the nature of the character – and I think everybody realized it was time to move on from that storyline. No character but Carrie (Claire Danes) is safe on this show.”
Boniadi described season four of Homeland – which premieres tonight in the US and next Sunday in the UK – as “a whole new adventure”.
“It’s very much a reboot – if you haven’t seen seasons 1-3, you can start watching season four and I don’t think you’d be too lost,” she said.
Homeland returns to Channel 4 in the UK on Sunday, October 12 at 9pm.
The actress, newly promoted to regular on Showtime’s “Homeland,” previews what’s ahead on ABC’s political thriller.
ABC’s Scandal will explore the cryptic smooth-talking Gladiator Harrison’s (Columbus Short) relationship with terrorist Adnan Salif (played by Homeland’s Nazanin Boniadi) during this week’s episode.
Titled “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the hour will feature Adnan again turning to Harrison for help, while Rowan (Joe Morton) warns Olivia (Kerry Washington) to drop her investigation into black-ops group B613 as the Grant family reunites for the cameras amid President Fitzgerald Grant’s (Tony Goldwyn) re-election campaign.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Boniadi to find out why Adnan hasn’t taken Harrison’s life, what Clearwater is and how the Grant campaign might respond to news that they’ve received a financial donation from a terrorist.
What’s the biggest difference between Scandal and Homeland?
The “Scandal pace.” There’s a sense of urgency that goes along with the show; it’s really fast. On Homeland, there’s more of a chance to let things linger. The camera holds on actors a little bit more so that the pacing is a tad bit slower. That’s what I was used to. On Scandal, everything is very fast. It was something to get used to.
How much did you know about Scandal before you were cast? Were you a fan?
I hadn’t watched it before I booked the show but I marathoned it after I was cast and it’s rather addictive. That’s where I really started learning the Scandal pace because I sensed right off the bat that this show is very different from Homeland.
Many suspected that Adnan Salif was a man. How did you respond when you found out that you’d be playing a terrorist? When did you find out?
Adnan was mentioned in season one in conjunction with Harrison’s storyline. I knew that it was a highly anticipated character, that’s all I knew. I did get the sense that everybody thought it was a guy so I went into the audition with the same questions as everybody else. I love the fact that [producers] kept it a big mystery. If you listen carefully from the beginning of season one, they don’t really refer to Adnan as male or female. They don’t say if it’s a guy but I think people just assumed because Adnan is usually a male name and the fact that Harrison was scared, I think people just assumed it was a man.
We know Adnan has a connection to Harrison’s past. How much can we expect to learn about their previous relationship?
In Thursday’s episode, you’ll really get a sense of the complications in their relationship. Harrison and Adnan, it’s not a clear-cut relationship. It’s not one where he’s just scared of her. It will be revealed if there’s any love there. You’ll get more insight into why he’s the only one left that she hasn’t killed out of the group from that picture he first revealed a number of episodes back. Why is he alive and standing? Is that because she loved him? Is that because they love each other? Why is that? Those questions will be answered.
Does she trust Harrison? Should he trust her?
That’s the thing, people can fear love; people can fear something that they’re weak for or weak around. If you have some kind of vulnerability to something, you can still fear it. It means that you can’t trust yourself around that person. That’s where that fear comes into play.
Adnan has hired Maya Pope to collaborate on something. What can you say about what she has planned?
I can’t say much but I will say that I think when Adnan went to Marie Wallace (aka Mama Pope) and hired her to help her with her plans, she didn’t anticipate she’d be one-upped or that she had found her match. Adnan is a tough woman and she’s not used to having anyone outsmart her in any way. She’s a bit thrown off right now wondering if this woman she hired is going to toe the line. Is she going to do as I say or is she a loose cannon?
Adnan thought she was hiring a terrorist in Maya Pope but now they have to hire a terrorist since Maya is a “facilitator.” Might Adnan have helped Maya stay in the country after Olivia sent her off?
I don’t think so. That was truly Olivia asking the president’s help and I don’t think Adnan necessarily had any role in that. I think their collaboration probably started a little bit later.
We’ve seen Adnan briefly get cold feet and turn to Harrison for an escape route. What’s her biggest fear?
That will be answered this week. This is Adnan’s biggest episode of the season and it will answer a lot of the questions that all the Gladiators have. Is she really as bad as Marie Wallace? Does she love Harrison? All these questions will be answered.
Secrets on Scandal do not last long. How might what Adnan is up to factor into the presidential election?
I can’t speak to that.
We know Adnan has had a role in insider trading and something called Clearwater. What can you say about that?
Not much! (Laughs.) It’s one of those things that we’ve talked about several times throughout the season. Clearwater has come up but it’s something that she’s holding over Harrison’s head. It’s what empowers her when she wants something and when she wants Harrison to do something for her.
Cyrus is aware that the money didn’t come from someone the Grant campaign would like to be tied to. How will that hurt them?
That will be revealed in the next few episodes. There are questions that may even linger beyond the end of the season. Jeff Perry said there is remorse that Cyrus will go through about some of the decisions he’s made. He even said Adnan’s one of them. But that collaboration of helping getting back Adnan and getting Adnan back into the country is one of them. How can that not affect him?
How does Clearwater compare to things we’ve seen before on the show, like Defiance?
[It’s the same] in the sense that everybody has something on everybody else on the show Everybody is both good and bad. Everybody has a dark side and a good side. Adnan holding something over Harrison — Clearwater — is that dark past that she’s using and it shows that Harrison isn’t squeaky clean. He’s a Gladiator, yes, and he’s changed his ways, but he also has a dark past. In that sense, it’s a common thread throughout the show that everybody has something to hide, something to lose, something that they want to hold on to. They are all risking things and they’re trying to achieve something, but they also don’t want to let that one thing in their life ruin what they’re trying to achieve.
Why has Adnan kept Harrison alive?
Adnan may have killed in the past, but there’s a reason why she’s kept Harrison alive and it’s not because she just wants him to do her dirty work for her. Adnan is someone who is after money, yes, but I don’t think she necessarily wants to do all the evil that Marie Wallace necessarily wants or is prepared to do to get what she wants. The difference between Mama Pope and Adnan Salif is that Marie Wallace has already been in jail for extended periods of time and she’s willing to do what Adnan isn’t. Adnan just doesn’t want to go to jail and she doesn’t want to end up dead. She’s more careful. That’s really all I can say.
You’ve been promoted to regular on Homeland. Is it fair to expect that Adnan won’t survive long in this high-stakes world?
It always meant to be an eight-episode arc. Who knows what the future holds but this portion of it will be done in eight episodes and then I have to go to Homeland. Shonda Rhimes always reminds us that there’s never a clear end on Scandal for any character.
Would you like to return for another round?
I am just dying to work with them again down the line in whatever capacity, whether it’s Scandal or something else. I adore Shonda, [EP] Betsy Beers, Kerry Washington and everyone on the show.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
Season two of the hit Showtime series Homeland ended with a bomb exploding at CIA headquarters killing more than 200 people. As season three now unfolds, CIA acting director Saul Berenson (played by Mandy Patinkin) is trying to unravel not only all the details behind the bombing, but also thwart future terrorist plots.
An unlikely part of Berenson’s clandestine investigation team, which only a handful of people are aware of, is newly hired analyst Fara Sherazi, a modestly dressed young Muslim woman. In the first half of the season she has uncovered information crucial to Berenson’s mission and proved her intellect and discretion.
The role of Fara is played by Nazanin Boniadi, who two years ago received recognition for a decidedly different role—a recurring character on the outrageous comedy How I Met Your Mother. Born in Iran and raised in London, in 2008 Boniadi was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her role on the soap opera General Hospital. After roles in films and episodic TV she is now reveling in this opportunity to be part of one of the most talked-about shows on television (the series has already been renewed for season four).
DivineCaroline: What does it mean to you to be on a show like Homeland, about which people are so passionate?
Nazanin Boniadi: I feel blessed to be on Homeland, particularly because I get to play such a groundbreaking role. I love being on a show that I’m personally a fan of, that opens dialogue and encourages conversation on important issues. And I feel lucky to work with such an incredible cast and crew. Every single person brings their A game. It’s a very nurturing and creative environment.
DC: The scene with Fara and Saul where he speaks to her about wearing her hijab at CIA headquarters. How do you feel you allowed Fara to show her emotions but also keep her strength?
NB: We all know what it feels like to be berated and judged. Some people cave under pressure, but Fara is a strong woman. People sometimes mistake vulnerability for weakness. It takes strength to allow yourself to express the truth. The tears were an uncontrollable, honest and organic reaction to the situation, but how she handled the feelings were in her control. She chose to keep her composure, rise above it, get on with her work and not allow herself to feel victimized.
DC: How do you think Fara moved past that to become Saul’s chief investigator in his clandestine mission?
NB: She simply kept her focus on why she joined the CIA in the first place. She wants justice for the victims of the Langley bombing and she won’t give up until justice is served.
DC: What back story have you created for yourself as to why Fara joined the CIA?
NB: Fara wants to reclaim her religious identity from the fundamentalists and terrorists who have hijacked it. She moved to the U.S. because she believes in the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” She believes in the ideals on which America was founded and feels that joining the CIA would be the best way for her to help protect those ideals. For Fara, religion is not politicized, it is a personal and spiritual journey.
DC: How does she keep her composure in the face of this huge pressure?
NB: Fara is passionate about justice and freedom. Although the task at hand is daunting, she is motivated by the end game.
DC: How do you keep your composure as an actress in such a crucial role?
NB: It’s quite easy when I have such outstanding writing to work with and I’m surrounded by actors of the caliber of Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes and Rupert Friend, who I’ve shared most of my scenes with. They fuel me.
DC: You and Navid Negahban (who played Abu Nazir) are both originally from Iran. Obviously, he played the villain and as far as we know so far Fara is not a villain, but have you spoken to him about portraying believable Middle Eastern characters?
NB: I have not, mainly because our characters are very different. But it is easier to portray a believable Middle Eastern character when you yourself are Middle Eastern. I am Iranian myself, so I can personally relate to Fara on many levels. I also discovered a great organization called MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) that helps the entertainment industry create more accurate depictions of Muslims. They are an invaluable resource for actors, writers and producers.
DC: Since the key to Homeland is the art of surprise, we don’t know if Fara has any secrets. As an actress, how do you bring that nuance and subtlety to your performance? Playing a scene with conviction, but making anything possible.
NB: All I can do as an actor is stay true to what is written and live entirely in that moment. I’m personally a big fan of subtlety and layered performances that allow an actor to be taken in several different directions. The writers on Homeland are brilliant at that kind of nuanced storytelling, leaving the door open for unpredictable twists and turns.
DC: Homeland is quite the departure from How I Met Your Mother. What is it like to transition from wild comedy to something so intense and serious?
NB: I think it’s every actor’s dream to be able to do such diverse genres and roles. I feel so fortunate that I was on such an incredible sitcom, and am now on one of the best dramas on TV. I try to remain as honest as I can in my work, whether it’s comedy or drama, and let the writing set the tone.
DC: Please share a bit about your work as a spokesperson with Amnesty International and how it fuels you as a person.
NB: Amnesty International is the world’s biggest human rights organization, uniting over 3 million voices from over 150 countries. I am honored to have served as a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA since 2009, with a focus on women’s rights and bringing attention to the unjust conviction and treatment of youth, women and prisoners of conscience in Iran. I believe a lot of artists become activists because we rely on and value the freedom of expression and so we want to protect it. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to use my platform to bring about positive change in the world. It is the most fulfilling and meaningful aspiration I have.
DC: This season of Homeland is wrapped. How would you describe it as an acting experience?
NB: Exhilarating. Humbling.
DC: Any chance we’ll see Fara again in season four?
NB: I hope so. I think the character has a lot of potential. We’ll see.