Like many of us, Shohreh Aghdashloo loves a good home-renovation show. She’ll watch any of them, really, but when we hop on the phone with her while she has the day off from filming hit sci-fi series The Expanse in Toronto, we catch her in the middle of a Property Brothers marathon. For Aghdashloo, who lost her home in the Iranian Revolution (she remembers exactly when she left her native country: February 29, 1979, at 4. a.m.), the shows hold a deeper meaning. “My favourite subject matter in the world is real estate,” she tells us. “If you take shelter away from someone once, they’ll be looking for another one for the rest of their life.”
In the future-set space-exploring world of The Expanse, Aghdashloo – who you’ll recognize for her roles in House of Sand and Fog, 24 and Netflix’s The Punisher, and her trademark rasp – plays Chrisjen Avasarala, a high-ranking member of the UN. After a long wait (the show was cancelled by its original network after season three early last year before Amazon stepped in and renewed it), the fan-fave series is back for season four on Amazon Prime Video today. We caught up with Aghdashloo to talk about the show, her career and her favourite Toronto hangout spots.
What did it mean to you and the rest of The Expanse cast to have fans rally behind it after its initial cancellation?
It meant the world to each and every one of us. We all love this show. We’re like a family now. I’m older than anyone else on the show, so I was kind of thinking, “This is life.” I had accepted our destiny, but then someone sent me a picture of a balloon in the sky that said, “Save The Expanse.” It was our fans who brought the show back.
Why do you think fans had such a strong reaction?
The show is so timely and so relevant, it’s unbelievable. It’s really talking about today’s politics – not just the U.S., but the world’s politics. I say that it’s not a science fiction show, but a political show set 200 years from now. Every word, every dilemma depicts what is happening in our society now.
What have you loved about playing Chrisjen Avasarala?
She’s one of the most powerful women on the face of the earth 200 years from now. She’s well-read, highly educated and smart. She plans every movement she’s going to make. This isn’t the type of role that comes about easily. Beyond my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined I’d get to play a lead character in an amazing TV series like this. I have to take care of her.
Can you talk to me about why this role feels rare for you?
When I left Iran, I was already at the top of my game. I was a successful actress there, and I had to start all over again at the age of 26. I went to university first and got my BA at 30 years old in international relations. I had no plans to go back to acting – I’d decided I wanted to be a politician. But a friend of mine, who is a playwright, suggested I take a look at his play right after I graduated. It was a political play and I fell in love with it. It dawned on me then that I didn’t need to become a politician to help my people. Art is a great weapon on its own, so why don’t I just stick to what I know what I’m good at and help people that way?
I only did plays for a while. When I moved to Los Angeles, I knew I wasn’t the girl next door. My husband is a playwright, so I asked him to write a play for us, and we took that play on tour. We bought our first house off that play, and it’s how we survived for 15 years until I was discovered for House of Sand and Fog.
Now, what’s important to you in a role?
The most important thing for me is the story – if it makes sense, if it’s meaningful, if it’s going to serve good or if it’s going to depict something to bring awareness. Other than that, with all due respect to the entertaining stuff, I really have to be paid well. [Laughs]
Do you feel pressure as a woman of colour to represent everyone in the roles you choose?
Yes. No matter what, the pressure is there. You can’t do certain things when you know young women are looking up to you. I’m afraid of the effect of social media. Young people look at it as though it’s real life, and it’s not. That’s what people like myself should always have in mind, especially when you have an international audience.
Every time I give an interview, I’m very careful. I constantly remind myself that I’m talking to the world, not just my family. I’m talking to people who do not have the same advantages I do. Words matter, so I choose them carefully.
What’s something you haven’t been able to do in your career that you want to?
There are so many things. I’d love to direct, to be honest with you. All these years of being directed by directors have given me ideas about how to do it. So has watching movies. I would like to test myself in this way.
Where do you like to hang out while you’re working in Toronto?
I love shopping here. It’s very serene. I love boutiques, like Judith & Charles. If I need anything for my home, I love HomeSense. And I love to eat at PAI on Duncan Street. It’s Thai food and so delicious. The only problem with PAI is that you have to get there early. Even at 6 p.m. there’s a wait. But I go any chance I get. There are so many incredible places in Toronto. You never run out of things to do.
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