Nazanin Boniadi: On Love Conquering Hate

Nazanin Boniadi is rapidly making her mark in both film and television. She co-starred as CIA analyst Fara Sherazi on seasons three and four of the Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning drama “Homeland,” for which she shared a 2015 SAG Award nomination in the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series category. Boniadi will next appear in the 2016 MGM-Paramount remake of BEN-HUR.  Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the film stars Boniadi in the female lead role of Esther opposite Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman and Toby Kebbell. Boniadi shares more about her upcoming role in this week's Up Close va Personal. 

Nazanin Boniadi, later this summer, you will be appearing as the love interest of Jack Huston in a new remake of Ben-Hur. Tell us about your role and also the message of Ben-Hur at a time when there is so much divisiveness in our world.

I have always wanted to be in a period piece set in the Biblical era, so it was a real dream come true to play Esther. As an activist, I was drawn to her optimism and hope for a better and more just world. Her shortcomings are overshadowed by her sheer determination and moral compass. There is nothing more exhilarating than playing a woman of great strength and conviction.

Ben-Hur is ultimately a story about forgiveness and redemption, making its appeal both universal and timeless given the ongoing turmoil, intolerance and injustice in the world. It is a story that inspires hope and change and leaves us with the feeling that love can truly conquer hate. And of course it helps that it is also thoroughly entertaining — that chariot race is spectacular!  I’m also very pleased to be part of such a diversely cast film which underlines the global appeal of this story. Our director, Timur Bekmambetov, is Russian, and we have principal cast members from Iran, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Columbia, Holland, Denmark, as well as the UK and the US. 

How did you find acting as your calling and how did you convince your parents to let you follow your dreams?

I’ve been involved in the performing arts since I was 6 years old, from ballet and ice skating to playing the violin and electric organ, and appearing in high school plays. But my parents encouraged me to follow an academic path and to devote myself to my studies, which I’m very happy I did. I originally decided to become a doctor. But acting never left my heart and after I graduated UC Irvine, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences, I realized that I had to follow my childhood dream. My parents were understandably surprised and concerned that I would give up a secure future in medicine to pursue an uncertain future as an actress. I asked them to give me a year to see if I could make any headway and that if I failed I would go back to academia.

Looking back, I realize how absurd that request was — most actors will tell you a year is not enough time to make a career. But I was lucky enough to become a member of the Actors’ Union (Screen Actors Guild) within 9 months and I have been fortunate enough to have worked ever since. I guess where there is a will, there really is a way. And my parents are thrilled that I’m doing something that makes me so happy.

What was your big break and what advice do you have for young Iranian-American actors who are standing in audition line after audition line waiting for their big break. Do they keep following their dreams?

There have been a few milestones in my career thus far, but I would definitely say Homeland was my “big break”. Homeland is watched by so many people within the industry, it really helped to open a lot of doors to casting opportunities. And for Fara to have been such a groundbreaking character that resonated so deeply with audiences was a blessing. I have been working as an actor for a decade now and I can honestly say it never gets easier. There will always be rejection no matter how successful you become.

This business really does require a thick skin and an unwavering passion for the work. If you can imagine doing anything else in life, then acting is probably not for you. There is a certain delusion one must have to pursue acting as a profession because the odds are always against you.  But if you’re one of those people who knows in your soul that this is what you’re meant to do, then I believe you’ll find a way to defeat the odds with hard work and perseverance.

What exciting projects do you have coming up?

I’m in talks on a film right now and hope to be able to share more soon.

Ben-Hur is scheduled to be released on August 19th. Learn more here: Nazanin Boniadi and follow Nazanin on Twitter @NazaninBoniadi