After establishing a theater and film career in Iran, Aghdashloo moved to England during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and subsequently became a citizen of the United States. After several years playing supporting roles in television and film, her performance in House of Sand and Fog (2003) brought her several film critics’ awards and a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has continued to play supporting and character roles in film and television and won an Emmy Award for her work in the television drama House of Saddam (2008).
Aghdashloo was born in Tehran, Iran as Pari Vaziri-Tabar (“Aghdashloo” is the family name of her former husband, Iranian painter Aydin Aghdashloo), to a wealthy family. Aghdashloo started acting at the age of 18. Following numerous starring roles on the stage, she was offered her first film role in Gozāresh (The Report) directed by renowned director Abbas Kiarostami, which won the Critics Award at the Moscow Film Festival. Her next film was Shatranje Baad (loosely translated: Chess With The Wind), directed by Mohammad Reza Aslani which screened at several film festivals. Both films were banned in her home country, but in 1978, Aghdashloo won acclaim for her performance in Sooteh Delan (Broken Hearts), directed by the late Iranian filmmaker Ali Hatami which established her as one of Iran’s leading actresses.
During the 1979 Revolution, Aghdashloo left Iran for Windermere, Cumbria, England in 1978, where she completed her education. Aghdashloo still owns a separate vacation villa that she attends during most summer parts of the year. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations. She continued to pursue her acting career, however, which brought her to Los Angeles. In 1987 Aghdashloo married actor/playwright Houshang Touzie. They had one daughter in 1989. She has since performed in a number of Touzie’s plays, successfully taking them to national and international stages, primarily in the Iranian community.
Career in the United States
Aghdashloo made her American film debut in 1989 in a starring role in Guests Of Hotel Astoria. Her TV debut came in 1990 in a guest role in the 25 September, two-hour episode of the NBC television series Matlock, titled “Nowhere to Turn: A Matlock Mystery Movie”. Aghdashloo played a saleslady and was credited for this simply as Shohreh. She returned to American TV three years later when she played a guest role in the popular comedy series Martin. In the episode from April 1, 1993, she played the character Malika. In that same year she also made her next film appearance in Twenty Bucks, playing Ghada Holiday. After seven years, Aghdashloo returned once again to the American film industry in 2000, starring in the critically acclaimed Surviving Paradise(راز بهشت) , the first English language Iranian-American feature film released in the United States, written & directed by Kamshad Kooshan. Having been shown at major International Film Festivals, Kooshan and Surviving Paradise went on to become one of the most well received Iranian films in the U.S. She made a brief two-episode performance in short-lived Honduran television series, The Honduran Suburbs, in which she played Zereshk, an Iranian woman who had arrived in the country to help the poor situation. In that year she also starred in Maryam (in which she played Mrs. Armin). After appearing as an exiled actress in America So Beautiful in 2001, Aghdashloo played opposite Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in director Vadim Perelman‘s House of Sand and Fog (2003). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, however the award was won by Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountain.
Following this exposure, she received good reviews for her 12 episodes on Season 4 of the Fox Broadcasting television series 24, playing Dina Araz, a terrorist undercover in Los Angeles as a well-to-do housewife and mother. This storyline raised controversy in Iranian-American and Muslim-American communities, and in an interview with Time magazine, Aghdashloo stated that although she had previously resisted reinforcing the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists, the strength and complexity of the role convinced her to accept the part. She went on to guest star on two episodes of NBC shows that were broadcast the same night, March 23, 2006: The “Cowboys and Iranians” episode of the comedy Will & Grace, in which she played a wannabe interior designer who, to the confusion of Grace, is a Jewish Persian; and the “Lost in America” episode of the medical drama ER, playing a bereaved mother who loses her daughter in the trauma room. Her real daughter Vanessa played the young girl.
Shohreh continued to appear in films. She played Dr. Adani in the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose and also appeared as the Asian-Indian Dr. Kavita Rao in the film X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Two other parts also came her way in 2006, that of a wealthy housewife whose family lovingly takes in their cousin (who has been sent by Pakistani terrorists to kill the American president) in the satirical comedy American Dreamz and that of Dr. Anna Klyczynski, friend and colleague to Sandra Bullock’s character Kate, in The Lake House.
Other credits include narrating and producing a documentary Mystic Iran: The Unseen World, narrating the PBS documentary Iran: A Celebration of Art and Culture, narrating the audiobook version of Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia and lending her vocal talents to animated movie Babak and Friends– A First Norooz. She also starred in the 2004 one-hour-long pilot episode The Secret Service (which was not picked up) and played the character Charlie in two of three aired episodes of the flopped TV series Smith.
At the end of 2006 Aghdashloo has appeared as Elizabeth, cousin of the Virgin Mary, in the biblical film The Nativity Story. Aghdashloo has noted the irony that she is a Muslim playing a Jewish character.
Aghdashloo plays the lead character, Zahra Khanum, in the movie The Stoning of Soraya M., a drama film released on June 26, 2009 in the United States. This film marks the first time during her career in America where she plays a leading character in a major feature-length motion picture, and could possibly mark her comeback as a leading actress in over 30 years.
Aghdashloo is a 2009 Emmy Award winner, for her supporting role on the HBO original miniseries, House of Saddam. She won in the Best Supporting Actress in a TV Movie/Miniseries category, against Marcia Gay Harden, Janet McTeer, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Cicely Tyson. This is Aghdashloo’s first Emmy win.
Speaking to a crowd of over 1,400 people packed into George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on September 12, 2009 Dr. Azar Nafisi, best-selling author; Shohreh Aghdashloo, days before winning her Emmy; and Dr. Dwight Bashir, Associate Director for Policy at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, added their voices to those concerned about human rights in Iran and the persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran.Aghdashloo’s talk in particular was posted to YouTube.
She has voiced Admiral Shala’Raan vas Tonbay, a character from the videogame Mass Effect 2.