THE STONING OF SORAYA M
An Interview with Shohreh Aghdashloo
By Brad Balfour
June 23, 2009
Rarely has a film's release
dovetailed with an earth-shattering new event so that it can not only
illuminate a problem but maybe, by its very existence, contribute to
altering world affairs. Such a film is "The Stoning of Soraya
M."--especially since it highlights the plight of the formerly
of Iran. This feature tells the tale of Soraya (Marnò), who refuses
her abusive husband, a former criminal, so he falsely accuses of her
adultery which leads to her execution by stoning. In this
women have few rights and the religion is manipulated by those
correct religious practice.
Though set in 1986 Iran, Soraya's
plight and that20of her one defender, her aunt, Zahra (played by Oscar
Shorheh Aghdashloo), is similar to that of Iranian women today who,
under the regime's oppression, have been at the forefront of the
have been happening since the Presidential election was stolen by
incumbent MaMoud Amadinajad.
Jackbooted by the Islamic laws put
into place after the Ayotollah's "revolution" deposed one
imposed another in 1979, women had lost their rights, and the abuses
stoning began. Based on Freidoune Sahebjam's 1994 novel of the same
story was documented by the journalist (played by Jim Caviezel in the
film)--whose car breaks down in a remote village and hears the story
Zahra who desperately relays it to him in the hope that he'll get the
about what happened in her town.
That he did, the book was a big
success when published and now it's a film. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh
to get it made for several years and now hopes it will stir a
reaction for the plight of women struggling in Iran. In her husky
inflected voice, the 50-something Aghdashloo shared similar feelings
Q: Did you read the book the film is
SA: No, I had no
idea about the
book. But I had seen a real [stoning] on tape.
Q: You saw a real stoning
SA: It was horrible! Those who say
that the stoning in this film is graphic should see the real one.
This is a
mild watery version, international universal version of the stoning.
Q: Where did this happen?
SA: It was smuggled out of Iran
during the mid-'80s by some opposition and was copied a thousand
spread amongst the people who were involved with the Iranian film and
business industry in US.
Thank God he told me not watch it
during the evening. I took my daughter to school and put my husband
and at 11 am I put it on. It took an hour and a half for them to die
Q: An hour and a half?
SA: An hour and a half! I was
sitting at the edge of my chair. Now my audience is telling me they
sit at the
edge of their chair--they never get to relax. I tell them "Believe
me, I sat
like that for an hour and a half" and when it was finished I was
paralyzed. I could not believe my eyes.
There was no way this was made, like
it was a poor man process, it was a real one. The one I saw involved
men who were being stoned for be
ing homosexuals. One was 18, the
Q: Was it reported in the news?
SA: I don’t know whether it was
reported or not but this is like 20 years ago.
Q: After watching that actual footage, did it influence you, as the story teller in the film, and
influence you in regards to how you exactly wanted to portray your
or did you basically just let Cyrus direct you? Did you bring up
those old feelings from watching that film?
SA: That’s what I did. Basically
Cyrus trusted me, because he was born here in the US and got to Iran
a few years, when he was really a child. So he did not really have
recollection. None whatsoever. He also trusted me, he told me, to
come up with
ideas and then we’ll discuss them together. I just kept playing for
maybe we talked a few times over the character, but basically he
all the way through.
First of all, as an actor,
especially a method actor, I needed to imagine her physicality, how
like. So I started with my nanny, Maryam and the green scarf she
used to put one of her ears out like it was a hairstyle of wearing it
those coin earrings which has a picture on them. So I thought "Okay,
okay, I’m going to dedicate this to Maryam, I’m going to think about
way she walks and talks. She was a villager and took really good care
She was a kind, yet very strong woman. She came all the way from the
and she started working in Tehran and had six kids.
Then, while doing research on the
physicality, I saw this brilliant picture on the first page of New
we’re a subscriber though we live on the West Coast. It came that
week and I
looked at the picture and I saw this Iraqi woman standing with her
clutched into each other, like this, and she was looking far into the
distance. There is a younger girl, seven or eight years, next to her
with a fire going on behind her back. Her face is bruised, and she is, of
dirty with the mud and everything around on her face and clothes. But
the strength you could see in her eyes, and the way she was looking
far in the
distance was like "I am determined to win this war" and I thought "this is
So I tore it out, took it with me to
Jordan and put it on the mirror until the film was finished. Then I
think about different ways that woman wear the chador [full veil],
and I had
no idea because my family didn’t wear a chador in Iran; I only got to
twice with my grandmother going to the mosque.
So I was renting Iranian films that
were made in post revolutionary Iran and started watching the films
through them and seeing "Ooh! That’s great!" It all came to me, how
with the chador. There’s thousands of ways of working with this.
Better say I
discovered chador in United States, honestly. There’s thousands ways
this, you know, how to open this to an intimate person, intimate
how to close it to the strangers.
Q: Can you go back and visitIran?
SA: I have not been to Iran in thelast 30 years since I left.
Q: Given that they’ve jailed people
who came there with legitimate reasons I would be hesitant.
SA: I would love to visit Iran, but
when Iran is free.
Q: Is that why you left?
SA: Yes, I was already on my way. I
was an actress. I started when I was 18 years old with theater. I was
actor first and then [director Abbas] Kiarostami changed my [future].
to see one of the plays [I as in] and said, "You are going to be in
It was his first feature--["The Report"].
, he taught me so much. First and
foremost, the most important thing he taught me was not to act.
Because I was
coming from stage and I intend to act. But he said "You know what,
deliver the words." I still remember that.