“Despite the rhetoric coming out of this year’s political campaigns, Middle Eastern actors are breaking through the stereotypes they have long experienced and are being cast in more substantial roles. Perhaps no one has endured/experienced this more over the years than Shohreh Aghdashloo, who has seen great actors who just happen to be Middle Eastern break out of the “terrorist” roles that they had long only been offered to find real work in primetime and features.
Before being nominated for an Oscar in for 2003 for her brilliant turn in House Of Sand And Fog, she too was offered only terrorist roles. On the eve of the Persian holiday Norooz (New Year), Deadline interviewed the Iranian-born Aghdashloo about what she has seen happen over the past 25 years and how it has changed now that a real call for diversity has taken hold in Hollywood.
Before the audition for her career-changing role in House Of Sand And Fog, she said was offered parts as “a terrorist on a plane, a terrorist on the Earth.” All of them were one-dimensional roles, she said. Hollywood has evolved, but it took years.
Twenty-five years ago it was a different mind-set, and she brought up two experiences to illustrate what she meant. Years ago, a casting agent in Los Angeles (since retired) told her that she ran to a type and she was very limited in the roles she would be able to get; English is Aghdashloo’s second language. In response, she said, “I may be limited in your world, but not in my world.” She kept going to auditions, refusing to give up.
Finally, she was sent to an audition for a popular TV series that called for a Middle Eastern woman. “I was asked to meet with the casting director and when I walked in, I heard the casting director say, ‘No, we are looking for a downtrodden Middle Eastern woman, you’re too beautiful, go home.’ ” So she did, and decided to put to practice what she had told the casting director — see no limits. In other words, she believed she could, so she did…”