A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo made history in 2003 as the first Iranian-American actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. Forced to flee Tehran before the 1979 revolution for her avant-garde theater work, she settled in California and continued acting. Her performance in the film “House of Sand and Fog,” opposite Ben Kingsley, won her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Later, she received an Emmy Award for her role in the 2009 HBO miniseries “House of Saddam.” In her new memoir, Aghdashloo reflects on her personal journey from Tehran to Hollywood.
- Shohreh Aghdashloo actress
Photos From Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Memoir
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted with permission from “The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines” by Shohreh Aghdashloo. Available from Harper. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.
ZAHRADo you speak English?
FREIDOUNEI speak English.
ZAHRAI must talk fast. Did anybody see you?
FREIDOUNEThe Ayatollah's banned women from smoking .
ZAHRAStart your machine.
FREIDOUNEWhy should I listen to you?
ZAHRAHear my story first. You will know why you should listen.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm. You just heard a clip of Shohreh Aghdashloo playing the outspoken aunt of a woman stoned to death in a rural Iranian village in the 2008 film "The Stoning of Soraya M."
MS. DIANE REHMAghdashloo is an Emmy Award-winning Iranian-American actress and similarly outspoken. In a new memoir about her personal journey from Tehran to Hollywood, she reflects on her life and career. Her book is titled "The Alley Of Love And Yellow Jasmines."
MS. DIANE REHMShohreh Aghdashloo joins me here in the studio. You're invited to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. What a pleasure to have you here.
MS. SHOHREH AGHDASHLOOGood morning, Diane, thanks ever so much for having me.
REHMOh, I'm so glad to have you here. That beautiful voice of yours is so deep. Has it always been that way?
AGHDASHLOOWell, I'm a theater actress. I've worked. I've done a lot of voice work, but, yes, it's always been this way. My mother has the same voice...
AGHDASHLOO...and so does my daughter. My mother wasn't very happy with it. All her life she said, people took me for a man. Every time I called, they thought I was a man, but I'm pretty happy with it when they call me, sir.
REHMYou have said in this book that you want to put a face on the Iranian-American experience. Tell me about that.
AGHDASHLOOThe U.S. is now hosting more than a million Iranians most of whom migrated to the U.S. after the revolution in 1979 in Iran so this is a fairly young community that has done everything to inform one another rather than informing its host.
AGHDASHLOOWe have had Farsi-gathering, Farsi-speaking gatherings, Farsi plays, Farsi events. Very early we've had English-speaking gatherings or have been trying to show our host country what a colorful, rich culture Iranian culture is, who we are. Why are we here? What are we up to in this beautiful, vast, blessed country?
REHMAnd for the most part, you believe that Iranians have, for the most part, kept to themselves too much?
AGHDASHLOOYes, I do believe so. They have been sharing their culture here and there, but in my opinion, it wasn't enough. It's not enough. We have to do more. We have to write books. Another reason I wrote this book was that mostly my educated American friends knew as soon as they would find out that I'm Iranian, they would say, oh, Mosaddegh 1952, CIA coup in Iran. Or some people, as soon as they would find out that I'm Iranian, they would say, oh, Ahmadinejad, as though these 30 years in between never existed. They were in the Shah's reign.
AGHDASHLOOMy generation was born and raised to the age of 25. So that's why I decided that it is necessary to write this book not only mine but also to pay more attention to other Iranian artists' books that are out. I've been now asking them to translate it into English and allow me to take it to the American market so our host would get to know us.
REHMYou know, I think of my own mother and father who came here from, my father from Beirut, my mother from Alexandria, Egypt. I think of the large community here in Washington that for the most part kept to itself. I think many immigrant communities do that because they feel safer with their own rather than reaching out and what you are doing is to encourage them to reach out.
AGHDASHLOOYes, I truly understand why they're doing this...
AGHDASHLOO...because I'm one of them. It's mostly identity crisis when you would allow yourself to let go of your identity only when you make sure that the new identity suits you and you can incorporate it into your life. So they try to stick to what they've had and act accordingly. But it's, after a while, after three decades it's about time to mingle with the host society and to let them know who we are.
REHMYou had a very comfortable life in Iran. Tell us about that.
AGHDASHLOOYes. I was married to a man who was pretty educated, very well-read, by all means a true intellectual who offered me a progressive life in Tehran. And we were both in love, traveling all the time. We traveled to Lebanon, to Egypt together, enjoyed it the most. It was so beautiful. I'm sure you've visited there.
AGHDASHLOOYour parents' countries. And all of a sudden, right in the middle of this love story and success story, as soon as I joined the theater, one way or the other I wasn't quite sure whether I would last or I would become successful, but overnight as the Iranian magazines and newspapers suggested, I became successful and I became famous because they liked my work.
AGHDASHLOOAnd all of a sudden, they all had to come to a halt as soon as we heard (speaks foreign language) on every rooftop at night, in the revolutionary nights of Iran.
REHMSo you knew you could not be free to do what you wanted desperately to do?
AGHDASHLOOThat's right, yes. Although young, but I could anticipate the kind of life under a religious tyranny, a fanatic, religious tyranny. I'd been to the mosques. I knew where I went to the mosques with my grandmother a lot. I knew that under the new regime, women were worth one quarter of a man socially and half a man legally and there was no way that I could put up with that.
REHMWhat year did you leave Tehran?
AGHDASHLOOFebruary 1979, February 28, 4:00 a.m.
AGHDASHLOOI still remember, yes.
REHMYou left your husband behind. You left your family behind. That had to be so difficult.
AGHDASHLOOIt was difficult, pretty difficult, but youth is blessed with positivism. I was so positive. I thought, I'm taking a trip. It's not going to take long. Maybe I can come back sooner than I think.
AGHDASHLOOTo me, back then the hardest part was leaving my dog behind, Pasha. In Turkish, it means sir (speaks foreign language) because I thought I'm going to see everybody else. I'm going to see all my friends and my family, but I wasn't quite sure because Pasha didn't live as long as the others, couldn't. So I was blessed with being young and not knowing that how hazardous the road can be.
REHMDid everyone know that you were leaving because of your work and because you wanted more freedom to be the actress you knew you were?
AGHDASHLOOThat's right. That's why my father and my husband both begged me not to join the demonstrations. They knew me. They knew I was outspoken, daring and I couldn't help myself, not interfering with somebody being offended or being hit and that's why.
AGHDASHLOOAt one point, my husband turned around, looked at me and said, for God's sake, either leave the country or stay at home. I'd never thought or entertained the idea of leaving the country for political reasons. Then I thought, maybe he's right. Maybe I should leave for a while. I'm too outspoken for this family.
REHMSo you thought for a while?
AGHDASHLOOFor a while...
REHMYou really thought you'd come back?
AGHDASHLOOI really did, so did thousands of Iranians. When we got to the border, we drove out from Tehran to Istanbul, Istanbul to Yugoslavia. Back then it was Yugoslavia. We were going to Germany, but all of a sudden, Germany decided that they needed visas for Iranians.
AGHDASHLOOUp until then, all the European countries were in a limbo situation with Iran. They did not know. They weren't quite sure where they're standing, but as soon as Germany announced that they needed visas, up until then no European countries were asking for visas from Iranians.
AGHDASHLOOSo we immediately decided to go to Venice, Italy, Venice out of France, out of France, Paris, Paris, Calais, and London.
REHMAnd your husband stayed behind?
AGHDASHLOOHe actually -- he was such a nice man. He and a very dear friend of mine Maddie (sp?) a childhood friend, they both drove me to London. But they told me from the very beginning, they said, we're not going to stay with you. We're going to come back. We can't stay in London. We can't stay abroad. We need to go back to Iran and see what's happening and what we can do.
REHMWhat did happen to them after they returned?
AGHDASHLOOWell, my husband went to prison for six months.
AGHDASHLOOThey wanted to make sure that he had not taken anything valuable outside the country. He was in charge of the two biggest museums in Iran, in Tehran and they were worried.
REHMWe'll take a short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd joining me in the studio is actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. You know here from her award-nominated role in the extraordinary film "House of Sand and Fog." She also performed on the FOX series "24" and in HBO's "House of Saddam." She was nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for that supporting role in "House of Sand and Fog." Her new memoir is titled "The Alley of Love and Yellows Jasmines." I've never seen yellow jasmines. Tell me about this title.
AGHDASHLOOI was once asked to close my eyes and tell the interviewer what is it that I miss the most about my birth country, and I did. And all I could remember, and it was so vivid, were these tiny alleys that only two people can hand-in-hand presumably go through. There are -- I'm sure you've seen these allies in Egypt, in Italy, in old countries.
AGHDASHLOOYes. My -- the generation before me called the truce allies. My generation called it love allies. We took our friends to the allies and recite poetry to them. I didn't. I recited (word?) for a friend of mine when I was 14 years old. During the spring, the walls of these allies are filled with yellow jasmines.
REHMAnd the fragrance must be just...
AGHDASHLOOIt stays in your nostrils forever. You can never forget the smell.
REHMI've only seen white jasmine.
AGHDASHLOOI know, I know. I was talking to a Japanese interviewer. And when I told her about the yellow jasmines she took a pause for a couple of seconds and then she, yellow? I've never seen yellow jasmines. I said, leave it to you, you're going to take the seed from Iran and Sue in Japan is going to have yellow jasmines as well.
REHMOf course. Tell me about this urge to be an actress. When did that begin and how?
AGHDASHLOOWhen I was five years old almost. I started sort of pretending to be my mother and my father and acting like my uncle or my grandmother. And soon everybody found out. So in our gatherings, family parties, they would call on me and say, Shohreh, show us how Uncle (word?) comes in. Show us how Aunt (word?) behaves.
AGHDASHLOOOnce my mother told me your uncle called and said, asked Shohreh not to do me. I don't like that. I had picked up -- he had this bad habit of picking at his nose when he would make sure that no one is watching. But I had seen it and I did it in front of everybody and he hated it.
REHMAnd he hated it.
AGHDASHLOOSo he called my mother and said, tell Shohreh to stop acting like me. And what I said to my mother was that, it means that I've done a good job.
REHMExactly. And you had that confidence.
REHMAnd your parents supported you as you began doing that kind of acting out.
AGHDASHLOOYes, while it was only for the family. But when I went to them and told them that I wanted to become an actress, my mother said, not under this roof. Not until (sic) you're living with us.
AGHDASHLOOActing back then in my time, especially for women in Iran, was frowned upon. It was -- good families wouldn't allow their daughters to become actors.
REHMSo what did you do?
AGHDASHLOOMarried first, but of course I love my husband. When I met with him I thought he's such a nice man. He's so well read, he's such an intellectual. Maybe he would allow me to be who I wanted to be.
REHMAnd at first he did.
AGHDASHLOOAbsolutely. As soon as I asked him whether he would allow me to act or not, I still remember vividly, he started looking at me in a vague way. And then he said, oh my god, it's such a wrong reason to go through this marriage, but of course I would allow you...
REHMBecause he was in love.
AGHDASHLOOBecause we were in love, yes.
REHMAs a teenager, I understand you modeled for the beautiful Queen Farah Diba in the 1960s and you met the king. But you had mixed feelings about the Shah.
AGHDASHLOOThat's right, yes. On one hand as a teenager, as a young woman I always loved watching our royal family visiting hospitals, doing humanitarian stuff, flying abroad, looking sheik and beautiful in universal, international gatherings. But on the other hand, I kept hearing about these torture chambers, about political prisoners. And it was hard for me to take a place in between.
AGHDASHLOOOn one hand, I still loved Shah. Every time I saw him on television, I tried to pay attention to him and see what he's talking about. And every time my grandfather, who was a politician, talked about him and his mistakes and him being a megalomaniac, I couldn't believe him. But at the end when I saw the demonstrations I thought maybe Iran is ready for a change. Maybe it's time to let go of Shah and bring someone who would be coming from the people and would work for the people of Iran.
REHMHow did you feel when the Shah was flown to this country?
AGHDASHLOOYou mean after the Shah had left? Unfortunately, it was macabre. It was like reading "Kafka's Trial," but this time a kingdom was on trial by its own youth. And youngsters, especially in Iran -- people of Iran thought that Ayatollah Khomeini is going to be their Gandhi, which time in history proved wrong. It immediately turned into a fanatic dictatorship. And it wasn't anything like when Shah was in Iran. Everything changed overnight.
REHMDo you ever dare to return?
AGHDASHLOONo, I'm afraid -- it's not a matter of daring. I don't feel like doing it until Iran is free. I dared once to live it. I will wait for it until it's free, if I'm still alive.
REHMAh, that's what I was going to ask as to whether you really believe at some level and at some point it will be free.
AGHDASHLOOI'm afraid it's now more complicated than that. It's not just about Iran. It's about the new movement, the religious movement in that region that once was supposed to take care of the communism -- the threat of communism coming from the Russia. (sic) It was built for that purpose, but now has its own agenda. And it's not about the countries. It's about the religion. So it's more complicated than...
REHMI want to go back to the beginnings of your acting career and the acting workshops you attended in Tehran. How much did you glean from them that took you forward to Hollywood?
AGHDASHLOOThe drama workshop of Tehran had nothing less than great drama workshops in UK and U.S. Most of our teachers were coming from U.S. The director I worked with (unintelligible) was educated in Lebanon and also had spent some time in the U.S. Another director I worked with again was educated in the U.S. (unintelligible) was educated in UK. So these intellectuals tried to sort of start a workshop that would serve all the youngsters, all the actors who would like to be a part of the translated plays -- English plays that were translated into Farsi or Russian plays.
AGHDASHLOOI mostly did European and Russian plays while I was at the workshop.
REHMI see, I see.
AGHDASHLOOI did only one Farsi play. The rest were all translated.
REHMAnd what happened to the Tehran drama workshop during the 1979 Islamic revolution?
AGHDASHLOOAs you know, I went back to Iran a year after I left Iran for some help because -- through the Iranian Embassy. By then the pound in the black market was ten times more than what you can buy through the governmental offices. I went to the Iranian Embassy and told them that I was -- I started studying international relations, political science back in UK because I wanted to find out what was going on in Iran, educate myself politically.
AGHDASHLOOSo -- and they were -- my parents were helping me. All of a sudden after three months it was cut. And I went to the Embassy and they said, you've got to go back to Iran. You should have asked for this from when you were in Iran. We cannot give it to you here. We cannot help you. If you want your parents to send you money through the embassy, you'll have to go back to Iran and apply for it.
AGHDASHLOOSo I immediately called my father and he said, come, I'll help you. I went to Iran for only a week and managed to -- under my father's name Vaziri-Tabar -- managed to do all these things, get permission to receive my money through via Iranian Embassy and went back to UK and started again.
REHMAnd the theater project itself and...
AGHDASHLOOI went -- yes. I went to see what had happened to the drama workshop and it was devastating. It was -- its door was covered by bricks. They had built a wall of bricks in front of the door, an element of hatred mostly. And then I went to see the head of the workshop (word?) who was a dear friend of mine. He had been to jail for a while and had been badly tortured. He did not sleep in his bedroom after he left the prison. He had brought his mattress into the living room. And was almost half asleep when I got there.
AGHDASHLOOI asked him -- Well, he was very thin, dangerously thin and I asked him if he wanted me to make some omelet as usual. He loved omelet and he said, sure, make it. I did. Again he went to sleep. I managed to give him a few bites -- make him to eat a few bites and then he went to sleep again with his hair on his face. I left his apartment and left Iran. And a couple of months later I found out that he had killed himself. He committed suicide.
REHMThat must've been so hard for you.
AGHDASHLOOIt was very hard. And the way I heard it, I was a sales assistant at this posh boutique on Slone Street called Browns. And this lady comes in and it was a rainy day. She came in and she says, oh, you're Shohreh (unintelligible) friend. I was his friend. And I'm like, yes. And she goes, did you know? And she told me. And I started crying. Then our generous manager, he came down and he said, what happened? And I told him what happened. And he asked me to take the day off and go home.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Shohreh, your audition for the role in the film "House of Sand and Fog" was so impressive that they put it on a separate DVD. Let's listen to it.
AGHDASHLOOPlease, you must see. They will kill my children. Please, they will shoot us.
UNKNOWN ACTRESSYou don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?
AGHDASHLOOPlease, oh, please, please. You're a very nice girl. Write for me everything I want for discussing with my husband, okay?
REHMTell us what was going on there.
AGHDASHLOOOh, I was speechless when they called me and they told me about this audition. I didn't even have an agent. I wasn't even in Los Angeles when they're looking for an Iranian actress to play this role. I was on a theatrical tour in Europe, that hot summer in Europe, especially in France. I'd just gotten back from Europe and I was in my office when this lovely lady called and said, can I talk to (word?) ? And I said, well, that sounds like my name, but it's not my name. How can I help you?
AGHDASHLOOAnd in a very nice manner she said, would you like to come down and sort it out? Where to, I asked? DreamWorks. Regarding? "House of Sand and Fog." And I went speechless because I had read the book the year before. Oprah brought it to her Book Club and said that this is the best, the best, the best -- she said it three times -- book I've ever read. Buy one for yourself, one for your friend.
AGHDASHLOOAnd my friend Zsa Zsa -- my Zsa Zsa -- bought me a copy. And I had already read it the year before and I had already talked to my husband about it when I was angry reading it. And my husband said, why are you moaning while you're reading the book? And I said, if one day they make a film out of this book and do not give me this role, it would be very unfair of them. Then there is no democracy in this country. And my husband said, you're such a political animal. It has nothing to do with democracy. A year later they're calling me to play this role.
REHMYou knew that this role was yours.
AGHDASHLOOSomehow, somehow, somehow.
AGHDASHLOOSo when they asked me to go to the audition, I was more than ready. And when I got there, Debra Aquila, the beautiful casting director, she said, would you like to take a pause in between? And I said, no. And the director said, and may I ask why not? And I said, you want me to cry at the very last scene. I need the crescendo. They both looked at me and they said, okay, go on. And that was it.
AGHDASHLOOWhen I finished, I didn't dare to look them in the eye. But then I heard applause. It was my director. He kissed my forehead and said, welcome aboard, which got him into trouble later. He wasn't supposed to tell me that.
REHMThe role made you the first Iranian actress/actor nominated for an Academy Award. You felt you won it for Iranians.
AGHDASHLOOAbsolutely, absolutely. Every time, not only just at the time of Oscars but every time when it comes to an international event or somewhere that I'm taking the stairs up as an Iranian, I feel it on my shoulder. I feel all these women, millions of women back in Iran -- not just in Iran -- in the Middle East in the other half, who are looking up and looking at me and wondering what I'm going to do next. I feel, not just a pressure, but also I feel the love.
REHMShohreh Aghdashloo. Her new memoir is titled "The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines." Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us Shohreh Aghdashloo is with me. She is an actress well known for her performances on the Fox series "24," HBO's "House of Saddam." She was nominated for an Oscar award in 2003 for her supporting role in the film, "House of Sand and Fog." Her new memoir is titled, "The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines."
REHMHere is our first email from Sohaila in Baltimore. She says, "Can she talk about her experience in "The Stoning of Soraya M." She played a powerful woman that I was so conflicted because the men in that film were all so corrupt. I know so many forward thinking Persian men and I wish their struggles were portrayed on film as well." How do you respond to what "The Stoning of Soraya M." has to say about men?
AGHDASHLOO"The Stoning of Soraya M." was about the corruption. It was about these men who've decided to send this woman to stoning. It wasn't about -- I'm afraid -- I wish it was about educated, proactive men who were intellectuals, who we have a lot of them, not only in Iran, but also abroad. But it wasn't about those men. It was about men who abused the law, who do what you -- what they want to do under the name of Allah and religion. It was about corruption.
REHMTell us about the part you played in that film.
AGHDASHLOOI played -- that's right. I played Zahra and my niece, Soraya was married to a young man. The young man is now tired of her. He wants to marry a younger woman who is only 14 years old. He wants to get rid of Soraya so all he needs is to go to the mullah of the village and tell the mullah that she's been betraying him. She's been having an adultery with a retarded man in the village.
AGHDASHLOOAnd obviously he knows some of the mullah's background. He knows that the mullah is not a real mullah, that he was a thief before and now has turned into a mullah. So the bribery ends into corruption and ends into stoning Soraya. They all decide that they should get rid of her and go with what her -- what her husband says in that small village -- small society.
REHMAnd the only other stoning I've ever seen was in "Zorba, the Greek." How did you feel about that film as that young woman was being stoned?
AGHDASHLOOBefore playing in this movie, I had seen a real one on tape, the one that was smuggled out of Iran early 2000 by mujahedeen. In the real one, two young men were stoned. They weren't just stoned. And it took place in a small village in a stadium that you could tell it's in a small village.
AGHDASHLOOAll the people who came to see it they were all men, young men, same age as the two men who were going to be stoned. And as soon as they got -- they were all wearing western clothes, little shoes, you know, jumpers. They were all western clothing. And as soon as they got together in the stadium they kissed each other three times. It's cultural. They do it right next to the corner of their lips. And then, yet, they were there to stone these two young men for having an inappropriate sexual relationship.
AGHDASHLOOThey were first given 80 lashes each. They were tied to poles, received 80 lashes each and then planted into the ground, only their heads, they were -- theirs was different. Theirs was real. Ours was a might -- what a, sort of, interpretation of the stoning. But the one I saw on tape, the real one, they put -- first put them in a sheet -- in a mattress -- in a sheet and a wide sheet and plant them in the...
REHMIn the ground?
AGHDASHLOO...in the ground up to their shoulders. All this time these youngsters -- 100, 150 -- they were -- they couldn't wait to throw the stones. They were throwing small stones here and then. And then the mullah had to quiet them -- quiet them down and he said, wait for me. I will ask you -- I will tell you when the time comes to throw the stones. Wait for me. Why are you so much in a hurry? The stoning took, like, 15 -- 10, 15 minutes. And then they brought a lorry, a van, that its back was filled with larger stones. And they just dunked these two young men under the stones to make sure that they're dead.
AGHDASHLOOAnd all these years as of 2005 until Cyrus Nowrasteh, the director, called me and told me about the movie I was desperately looking for someone who would bring this barbaric act of punishment into light. And nobody wanted to do this. And when Cyrus called me and told me about the stoning and I said, oh, my God, where were you. And he took a pause and said what do you mean? I said I've been looking for you for so many years.
AGHDASHLOOAnd do you have a producer who would want to risk his money on this? And he said, Steve McEveety, John Shepherd. The moment he said Steve McEveety I knew it was going to happen because Steve did "Passion of Christ." He was familiar with human misery and pain and he did it.
REHMWhat a story. We're going to the phones now to Zachary in Pittsburgh, Pa. good morning to you.
ZACHARYGood morning, Diane and good morning, Shohreh. I am, at the risk of sounding like Kathy Bates in "Misery," Shohreh, I am your number one fan.
AGHDASHLOOThank you. Good morning, Zachary.
ZACHARYI think that you're one of the most underappreciated, under used actors today. I was wondering if you'd consider joining the world of social media. There's a Facebook page that claims to be run by you, but hasn't been very active in the past year and it's got 13,000 likes. And there's another Facebook page that links to your Wikipedia page that has over 300,000 likes. So with that kind of proven fan base have you considered joining Twitter or Facebook to keep in touch with your fans?
AGHDASHLOOBy all means, yes, I would definitely do that. The reason -- I did have a page on Facebook up until a couple of years ago. But as soon as I started doing a couple of jobs at the same time, it was too...
AGHDASHLOO...time-consuming. I couldn't do it.
AGHDASHLOOBut now that I'm done with the work and I only have "Grimm," the TV series to attend to, I might as well, yes. Thank you so much for letting me know, Zachary. By all means, I will do that definitely.
REHMTell us about your role in "Grimm."
AGHDASHLOOI'm portraying a gypsy queen. I was offered a role and I was so happy because they didn't tell me exactly how this gypsy queen was. And I was free to create her from scratch. And I did putting bits and pieces together, tearing pictures from the newspapers, magazines, trying to portray her. And I did have a couple of antique jewelries and Bohemian jewelries that would suit her and I took it with me and the designer loved it. So I'm really having fun with this character.
REHMThere's a story in the book that the queen of Iran called you up days before the Oscar ceremony where you were nominated for best supporting actress. She called to tell you what to wear.
AGHDASHLOOThat's right, yes. As a matter of fact, it's very funny. I came home and I saw my mother with her hair standing in the air watching the phone. Somebody's leaving a message, but my mother is not picking up the phone. She's just -- she's just looking at the phone in a, sort of, like horror. And I said what's going on? What's the message? She goes it's the queen of Iran -- it's the queen (word?). OK, and I picked up the phone and it was the queen. And she said, as you mentioned...
AGHDASHLOOQueen Farrah Diba.
AGHDASHLOOMy queen. She's such a lovely...
REHMShe is beautiful.
AGHDASHLOO...Lovely woman, unbelievable.
AGHDASHLOOUnbelievable, so humanitarian, such an intellectual so well read.
REHMAnd yet, the Shah left her for yet another woman, which made me so sad. But nevertheless she told you what?
AGHDASHLOOShe called and she said, do you mind going with an Iranian designer? And I said, but I've already talked to Valentino and I love Valentino and Valentino's work. She said, and culturally I'm so shy I wouldn't even be able to call him and tell him that I cannot do that, I cannot wear his. And the queen said, don't you worry. Valentino is a dear friend of mine. I will talk to Valentino. He will understand why we have to do this.
AGHDASHLOOAnd I asked her which designer should I go to. And she said Simin. Simin is in L.A. And I knew Simin. I worked with Simin before back in Iran. So I immediately called Simin and told her about what the queen had asked me and she was ever so proud and honored. And she said, of course, by all means. And Valentino was also very, very nice and generous.
AGHDASHLOOHe didn't -- he said yes, yes, yes, absolutely go with an Iranian designer, but up until then he had lent me a couple of dresses that were...
AGHDASHLOO...each were, like, thousands of dollars.
AGHDASHLOOMaybe, like, $50,000, $60,000 worth of clothing.
AGHDASHLOOHe said, not only that, you can have all the clothes that I've given you.
REHMOh, my goodness.
REHMAnd what was the dress that Simin designed for you?
AGHDASHLOOShe decided red. I always try to shy away from red for some reasons.
REHMBut you'd look beautiful in red with your dark hair.
AGHDASHLOOBut I was sort of -- I wanted to just sneak from the back door, sneak in and didn't -- I didn't want the dress to shout out, but she said, no, let's go with the red.
REHMWere you happy with it?
AGHDASHLOOVery much so -- 48, more than that, like, 60 hours of embroidery and, you know, working on the dress and Simin and her colleagues and they did a great job. They did a great job.
REHMHere's another email from Mark in Aurora, Ill. "Does Ms. Aghdashloo sing as well as act? She has a beautiful baritone voice."
AGHDASHLOOThank you so much. I haven't tried singing yet, no. I would love to, but I sing for my family, for friends when we're together.
AGHDASHLOOYes, in Farsi, of course.
REHMWill you sing for us?
AGHDASHLOOBy all means. (singing in foreign language)
REHMNow that you have sung for more than two and a half million people you will sing. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll take a call from Fayetteville, N.C., good morning, Meg, you're on the air.
MEGHi, so I recognized your voice just at the -- at the very beginning of the show as one of the quarry and fleet commanders from Mass Effect. And that is my most favorite game in the entire world. And I had no idea that there was such an amazing vibrant woman attached to that voice. I'm just completely in awe. I fully intend on picking up a copy of your memoir.
AGHDASHLOOOh, thank you so much.
REHMI'm so glad.
AGHDASHLOOI'm so proud and honored. Thank you so much. Yes, Mass Effect, I love that game. I was visiting a friend of mine and her son told her, she's in my game.
REHMOh, how wonderful.
REHMFinally, I want to have our listeners hear a clip of your performance from the HBO miniseries "House of Saddam" for which you won an Emmy in 2009.
REHMAnd you say that playing Saddam's wife was one of your favorite roles, why?
AGHDASHLOOIt was a very challenging role, a daring one, really. I read two books on Saddam, really read about his wife. And I, sort of, had to create her, not from scratch, but knowing her, having seen her pictures and putting the dots together. Okay, she was Saddam's cousin. At one point when -- at this scene when I started shouting at him the director comes to me and says aren't you afraid of him? I said, no, remember I'm his cousin. He was raised with me. He was raised with Sajida and Adnan, the brother who was just killed, we heard. So it was -- it was very close to home.
AGHDASHLOOI was very familiar with the history of this country and what happened to its rulers and to her. And, again, it was a very meaty, challenging role.
REHMAnd, finally, are you at all concerned about any of your family back in Iran with the publication of this memoir?
AGHDASHLOOI only have my mother now in Iran. And every time I ask her to come and live with us, she says I cannot do that. I don't speak English. I speak Farsi. I have friends. And she's right. Every time I call her, somebody is there and she says, do you mind calling me in, like, half hour when so and so is gone. So she's always meeting and greeting people and having a great time in Iran and she does not want to live here.
REHMWhat a pleasure to speak with you, really enjoyed...
AGHDASHLOOLikewise, Diane. Thanks ever so much.
REHMShohreh Aghdashloo, her new memoir titled, "The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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