You can't take your eyes off Shohreh Aghdashloo. It's not because she's strikingly beautiful. She is. Or because her voice is deeper than Barry White's. It seems like it. Or because she's a good actress. She was nominated for an Oscar for House of Sand and Fog.
No, it's because the 52-year-old Iranian actress is playing a chillingly sinister Middle Eastern terrorist on 24. As the wickedly cunning Dina Araz, Aghdashloo is stealing every scene she's in with her icy looks, throaty voice and scary ability to poison her son's girlfriend with ease.
We caught up with Aghdashloo, a tireless social and political activist, who talked about her career-making role on 24, her velvet voice and why she left her native Iran.
You have the deepest, sexiest voice I've ever heard. Do you hear that a lot?
[laughing] Yes, and it's overwhelming. It's nice, actually. What better compliment can you think of?
Your character has become the season's breakout star. What has that been like?
It's been an absolute pleasure. I've never worked so hard in my career before.
Your character has done some pretty bad things, like killing her son's girlfriend with a dose of poison. Was that tough to do?
I rehearsed it prior to the shooting to make myself ready. What really hurt me was when they gave me the gun. The gun was real. There were no real bullets in it, of course, but just the thought of it. I never touched a real gun before.
You have said that you would never play a terrorist. What changed your mind?
Dina goes beyond a terrorist. She is the terror herself, the terror maker or terror creator. It's a full-dimensional character role [compared with] other roles that were just facades of what we believe terrorists are. I realized the complexity of the character and that it would give me a chance to play a variety of roles under one name.
Has there been any backlash for you personally?
I'm afraid so, yes. I knew that would happen. I told the writers, "I hope you know what you're getting yourself involved with." I've been told I shouldn't have accepted this role as an Iranian. But there are no Iranian names on the terrorist list. My American friends have been worried about me. They were more worried than I was.
What do you say to groups who object to American Muslims being portrayed as bloodthirsty terrorists?
I would say this is purely fictional. It was created from scratch but inspired by the post-9 / 11 era. Unfortunately, all of the terrorists on that plane were Muslim. There was no other way of portraying them. We have to be patient, and we have to allow the whole country to mourn.
You thought about a career in journalism. What happened?
I studied international relations in England, and I wanted to pursue higher education and be able to analyze what was going on in Iran politically, not only in Iran, but in the Middle East. I wanted to become a journalist in order to help Middle Easterners. I asked a friend of mine who was working for my then-favorite newspaper The Guardian to find me a place, but right after I finished studying and got my B.A. in international relations, all of a sudden a friend of mine who is a playwright called me and told me he had a play with a lead [role] in it for me. The actress in me started crying out, "Give me a chance." It was a political play about an Iranian man who was living in exile and who wanted to commit suicide. By his death he would make the media pay more attention to what was going on. I realized, "Oh my God, maybe this way I can be more useful and helpful."
While working as a theater actress in Tehran, your work was often censored or forbidden.
It was pretty frustrating. I didn't want to live in an Islamic society because I knew I wasn't going to be a first-class citizen, and I knew I was not going to be able to keep doing what I was doing as an actress.