Shohreh Aghdashloo may have the sexiest movie voice since Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Ashley: deep, insinuating, with what she refers to as a Persian accent that's heavy on the purr.
But as she sits down for tea at New York's Regency Hotel, she has serious matters on her mind: The Stoning of Soraya M, for which she recently won a Satellite Award. The Iranian-born actress, 57, who fled her native land in 1979, is in New York to talk up the film for year-end awards consideration.
The film is only the latest in a busy Hollywood career that kicked off with 2003's House of Sand and Fog, the film that won her several critics' awards and an Oscar nomination. Since then, she's acted in everything from the popular TV series 24 and Flashforward to films as varied as X-Men: The Last Stand, The Lake House and American Dreamz. As she notes in this interview, though she was established as a film star in the Middle East, it took a while for her to break through in Hollywood.
Q: What made you want to be in this movie?
A: I can't tell you how excited I was to make it, to bring this to people's attention. I had seen a real stoning on tape: two young men who were stoned for having an inappropriate relationship. It was the scariest thing I've ever seen. I couldn't sleep or eat for days. All I could think was who and how can we shed light on this. And this director appeared on my doorstep telling me about this screenplay. When he asked me to do the film and asked if I was too sensitive to be part of this, I said, 'Never mind - where have you been for the last two decades?'
Q: This film is set in the 1980s. Is stoning still a common thing?
A: I know people who think this only happened in biblical times. But we are experiencing biblical times now. Some people, when they see Stoning of Soraya M, are speechless. Of course you can't fathom that. We have to forget what we know and learn about what's out there and what we can do about it. This is basically happening in rural Islamic society. It's categorized as superstition, not religion, done by those who manipulate religion.
Q: And yet they claim to be doing it as a part of Islam. How do you, as a Muslim, react to that?
A: The problem is the war within Islam and outside. It's not an easy war to fight. It's so broad, vast and huge. I don't know where to start without offending people who are pious but not fanatical. That's why it's so difficult to counter.
Q: When did you leave Iran?
A: It was 1979, Jan 28 at 430 a.m. I know, because I drove out. It took me 31 days to get to London. It's a trip I'll never forget. I had to leave everything behind and go toward an unknown future.
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