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.”
You can now own Homeland Season Four on DVD and Blu-Ray (Here). It comes with them great features including Deleted Scenes, a Character Profile on Fara Sherazi and a few other character and more.
Desert Dancer is now available via digital download. It is available on Amazon Instant Video, Itunes and On Demand. If any new details about the movie come out will be sure to keep you in the loop.
Nazanin narrated a piece on Fox Sports Live called A Beautiful Game, that premiered tonight. Here is a bit about it, as well as a piece itself.
This summer, on fields throughout Canada, women’s soccer is captivating the imagination of young girls around the world. Thousands of miles away, in the middle of the Jordanian desert, less than 8 miles from the Syrian border, sits a far different field. Here, displaced adolescent girls play a forbidden sport. The field a temporary distraction from the challenges they face every day, and the horrors they’ve overcome. FOX Sports Live brings you the incredible story of A Beautiful Game, a story of resilience, recovery, and hope in a seemingly hopeless place.
Looks to be coming out in April of this year.
Showtime’s Homeland delivered an devastating twist in Sunday’s episode that resulted the loss in a series-regular character. Spoilers below for those who have not seen the episode.
Tonight’s hour saw the demise of the brave and empathetic CIA analyst Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi) after the terrorist Haqqani seized control of the American embassy in Islamabad. Below Boniadi exclusively spoke to EW about the episode. (And here’s EW‘s recap).
EW: When did you find out about your exit?
Nazanin Boniadi: I found out three weeks before we shot that episode. I got a call from [showrunner] Alex Gansa and we had just had our season premiere screening in Cape Town for the cast and crew and he told me he had difficult news for me but that the writers had decided to end Fara’s journey, but in a very poetic way, I think. He explained to me the reasoning behind it and it all made sense. As actors it’s always hard for us to hear that news, but in every case actors serve the story and when it makes sense to the story it is what it is and you go on.
What was your reaction?
It caught me off guard. I love Fara so much. I went through two weeks of mourning. It was very foreign experience to me; I’ve never experienced that as an actor. I was a fan of a character, I had grown to love her, it was hard to let her go. To watch the episode tonight was very difficult.
Your character has been sort of the moral compass of the show this season, especially since Saul has been sidelined.
Yeah I agree. I think they did great things with Fara.
What was that final scene for your character like to shoot?
It was gut-wrenching. When we shot the scene of Haqqani grabbing me at knife-point, and we had a rehearsal, but I didn’t hear them say we were just rehearsing, so I gave a full performance during the rehearsal and let it all out. I was devastated, so I really put it all into the scene. And then they said, “Let’s shoot,” I said, “Wait a minute, we weren’t shooting that?” I was right on the edge of the emotions and it was right there. I really love the character because she is in my eyes a groundbreaking character and I felt very privileged to play her for two seasons. And the fact I’m going to miss the cast and crew tremendously made the whole episode very raw for me.
You mentioned it’s a groundbreaking character. What’s it been like for you to portray a Muslim character working for the CIA on such an acclaimed show?
It’s been a real privilege. It’s nice to see a character that personifies this unity between East and West that’s rarely seen on television. Like you said, she’s a moral compass of the show, she was this season, she was last season. The arc of her character I think has really served Carrie’s arc. You had in episode six Fara questioned Carrie about the boy—”What about Aayan?”—and then in episode nine Carrie echoed that with regard to the boy with the suicide vest with Saul. I think she served a purpose on the show and it’s every actor’s dream to have a beginning and middle and end, and to have an arc that served a purpose.
What was your last day on set like?
It was bittersweet. Bitter because it was the end of a two-year journey that I cherished. Sweet because [the producers] surprised me with this very large [photo] they blew up and framed had all the writers and creative team sign, and it was a very moving send-off and I’ve formed very close friendships with [the cast] and producers. But to be on a show like this is a blessing.
You recently booked a new role, as the female lead in the remake of Ben Hur. Can you tell us about that?
I can’t unfortunately talk about that yet. My lips are sealed.
You’ve been very supportive of women’s rights issues in Iran. Has that situation gotten had any improvement this past year and what can people do if they want to help?
I can’t say that it’s gotten better. But more voices help the cause and amplifies the message if there are more people involved. I think the best way to get involved is through AmnestyUSA.org and find out how you can join a local chapter. And also to contract representatives wherever we may be and whatever our human rights cause may be and make sure our voices get heard.
EXCLUSIVE: After a heated competition, Homeland star Nazanin Boniadi has scored the offer to play the female lead opposite Jack Huston in the Timur Bekmambetov-directed remake of Ben-Hur for MGM and Paramount Pictures. Boniadi plays CIA operative Fara Sherazi in the Showtime drama Homeland. She will play Esther in Ben-Hur, the role that Gal Gadot was in discussions before conflicts knocked her out.
The runner up for the role was Sofia Boutella, the young Algerian-born actress who plays the villainess in the Matthew Vaughn-directed Kingsman. Other actresses who did chemistry reads with former Boardwalk Empire star Huston were Israeli actress Moran Atias (The Next Three Days), and Natalia Warner, who wrapped Learning To Breathe. Boniadi is repped by UK-based AKA.