AVENTURA, FLA. — AVENTURA, Fla. - Shohreh Aghdashloo leans forward, wide-eyed and smiling, and enveloping the listener with the sexiest voice this side of Garbo.
"Sho-RAY OCK-dosh-loo," she says, guiding the pronunciation of her Persian name in an accent that suggests bazaars, harems and the exotic East.
But that voice, that voice - soft and caressing, deep and sensual. It can't be a natural thing. Cigarette abuse?
"My mom's voice is the same, and she never smoked," she insists, laughing as she leans back on a sofa in the resort where she is staying. "That is what I tell my daughter, anyway."
Aghdashloo was a star in her native Iran when the shah was in power. That was the 1970s. Since fleeing her homeland, she has struggled to work in America, touring with a little Persian theater here, doing an indie movie (Twenty Bucks) there.
Now, at 51, she has a role in her first major American movie. In House of Sand and Fog she shares the screen with Oscar winners Sir Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. And holds her own. Rex Reed spoke for many when he called her simply "great" in The New York Observer.
"I hope this opens doors for new dialogue between West and East, a new understanding of my people by your people," she says. "And I hope it opens doors for me, as an actress."
House of Sand and Fog is about a family of Iranian expatriates who struggle to come up with the cash to buy a battered coastal home at a tax auction. It is the answer to their dreams. But the house was auctioned off by mistake, and the woman who owned it is utterly destroyed by its loss. A wrenching war of wills leads both sides down the path to violence. Vadim Perelman's movie is based on Andre Dubus III's allegorical 1998 novel.
"I read this book two years prior to being invited to do this movie," Aghdashloo says. "I read it and said to my husband, 'If one day they are going to make a movie out of this book and they do not give me this part, it would be really unfair. Really unfair!' "
She laughs a throaty laugh.
"My husband just said, 'Stop dreaming.' But in the dream land, the United States, dreams do come true, if you are ready to devote yourself to them. If you love it enough to stick to it."
She auditioned. She got the part.
"Anything is possible here. Anything."
Her adoptive country was very welcoming, she says, when she fled here after the shah was deposed in 1979.
"I knew I was going to have to live in the West for quite a long time," she says. "You could sense where Iran was going, the Islamic republic to come. The clerics were everywhere. When I left, I studied not the arts but international relations, politics. I wanted to be able to help my people, even from outside Iran."
As the years passed, she acted mostly for her fellow Iranians, those who, like her, had fled the mullahs. She found that, eventually, most Americans forgot where her country was. Until Sept. 11.
"Sadly, now Americans know much more about the Middle East," she says. "Still, they do not know the difference between Persian [which she is] and Arab."
Co-star Kingsley marvels at the ways Aghdashloo made the film authentic. "The courtesy of Iranians is breathtaking. With her knowledge of what a true Iranian marriage is, and her correcting my Farsi, so politely, she built up my courage and made the film work. She's a genius."
Aghdashloo is already getting phone calls from casting people looking for "the exotic woman of metaphors," she says, describing herself. But Aghdashloo has higher hopes for House of Sand and Fog than a personal "big break."
"I hope Americans hear what the movie is crying out," she says, leaning forward to emphasize her point. "Try to get to know us. Understand us. 'Love' is a strong word - not holding out for love. I'll settle for just understanding."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.