Why you should care
Because the next Elizabeth Taylor may be Persian.
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You may not yet know the name Golshifteh Farahani — but past co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, current director Jon Stewart and her 1.3 million Facebook fans — most certainly do. Iranians, too, are well acquainted with the talented 30-year-old film star, even if few have actually seen the video that sent shock waves through the Islamic Republic’s cultural guardian class and resulted in Farahani being forced into exile. (She now lives in Paris).
Imagine if Janet Jackson were Iranian and her wardrobe malfunction had been an intentional statement in support of her art. Imagine that and you might get some sense of what the glamorous actress has encountered since she briefly flashed her right breast in a promo for the Césars, the French Oscars, in January 2012.
In the subsequent firestorm, Farahani’s father was hospitalized in the wake of repeated threats. “It was a big shock for me and my family and for the whole of Iranian society,” Farahani told the Guardian. “The good thing is it started a huge debate that could never have happened before.”
Not unlike her skyrocketing success.
Her latest film, The Patience Stone, which premiered in the U.S. in August, tracks an Afghan wife’s sensual awakening. It is a virtual one-woman show in which Farahani plays the wife who unleashes her suffering, secrets and desires while keeping vigil over her comatose husband. Spiegel called it “a manifesto told in gorgeous images.”
And Just Like a Woman (2012) — in which she hits the highway to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with another gorgeous actress (Sienna Miller) a la Thelma & Louise — was just released on DVD. Farahani has also played a part in Rosewater, the 2014 directorial debut of Jon Stewart about an imprisoned, tortured journalist that’s set in Iran.
A native of Tehran, Farahani was a gifted singer and musician as a young girl, gaining admission to the esteemed Vienna Conservatory. Discovered by legendary director Dariush Mehrjui and cast in a key role at age 14 in his 1998 film, The Pear Tree, she became a bona fide star in Iran after her brilliant performance as a mother raising a disabled son in the critically acclaimed 2006 film M for Mother. In 2008, she became the first Iranian actress to appear in a Hollywood film in nearly 30 years when she starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies. Western critics hailed her performance, but in Iran there was only outrage over her failure to wear a veil at the film’s New York premiere. Returning home, she was banned from performing by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and detained at the Tehran Airport while attempting to board a flight later that year. “As an actress, I’ve always thought of myself as a gladiator,” she recently explained.
For better or worse, being banned from her home country has arguably been a boon for her career. “I don’t believe I could live in Iran again,” Farahani told Spiegel. “A tree, once uprooted from the earth, is very difficult to plant again.”
Farahani’s early admirers always lamented that she could be a superstar — if only she didn’t live in Iran. Well, now she’s well on her way.