Pari Esfandiari: We are living in a politically volatile times and it is especially difficult for those of us with Middle-Eastern origin. For the sake of their career, many are forced to conceal their ethnicity, name, identity and of course their political views.
Yet, the American-Iranian Shiva Rose, one of the fast and upcoming actresses of Hollywood, not only accepts a lead role in the movie David and Leila as a Muslim Kurdish woman, but even braver is her participation in the anti-war movement that has resulted in several incidents of her arrest. Today, we join her in her home for a discussion.
Shiva, thank you for accepting my invitation.
Shiva Rose: Thank you for coming over.
Pari: Can you tell us about your background? Where were you born?
Shiva: I was born in America but moved to Iran at the age of six months, so I practically feel as if Iran was my Motherland.
Pari: And your father is a well known Iranian showman.
Shiva: Yes, my father is Parviz Gharib-Afshar a talk show host along the lines of Johnny Carson in Iran. And then my mother, Carol, is American.
Pari: How old were you when you left Iran?
Shiva: I was around 10, right during the Revolution. We went to London and then San Francisco and then we came to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is where my father went to UCLA. And my parents had lived here before, so, we gravitated back to this area. However, I still feel as if Iran was truly my home.
Pari: Where exactly in Iran did you live?
Shiva: We lived in Evin, in the countryside. What I remember from it was we were surrounded by mountains and there were little ponds everywhere and it was just very ideal especially for a child.
Pari: Do you think you will ever return?
Shiva: I definitely want to go back. I worry about if it will be the Iran that I remember so vividly. I hear from a lot of friends that the pollution is quite bad in Tehran and that really saddens me. But, I will go back and hopefully I’ll be able to visit all the other areas as well.
Pari: Shiva, What attracted you to acting?
Shiva: I was always interested. When I came from Iran to America I didn’t fit in quite well. I think because I lived in Iran I was sort of sheltered and had a different view of life. Where as when I came to America every one was so ahead of their age, so I did not have a lot of friends. As a result I gravitated to books and movies, old movies. So I think my fondness for watching old movies sort of sprouted the seed in me to want to act. And also stories. I love stories so much! I used to read book after book and imagine myself as these characters, acting was the natural progression. And my parents are both artists. My mother was a singer, an opera singer, and had a television show in Iran. And my father has such a love for movies. He gave me the love of Italian movies and old French movies. So I think that really helped it.
Pari: Do you keep in touch with the Iranian film industry which is becoming extremely strong?
Shiva: Oh definitely. I go quite often. Some of my favorite films are “Children of Heaven”, “Color of Paradise”…
Pari: And what was your first role, in terms of acting?
Shiva: I did a lot of theater in High school. I continue to do that, theater is definitely my passion. I am doing a play right now. So, for me it was mostly theatrical work and then I slowly branched out into doing Television and starring in a few Independents that were on the Festival circuit. Amongst them are “Black Days”, “The first $20 Million is the Hardest” - a Studio film - and I was a small character in it. Then there was “Red Roses and Petrol”, “Disenchanted” I played Snow White. That went to Sundance and many of the festivals. That was quite fun. I also did a couple of episodes of “CSI: Miami” and “Las Vegas”, I was just in Las Vegas a couple of nights ago, that’s the most recent.
Pari: The critics call it a political comedy, how do you describe it?
Shiva: “David & Layla” is the story of a Kurdish Muslim refugee who comes to New York and falls in love with a Jewish American man named David. It’s a really lovely story of how the similarities in their culture outweigh the differences. Their families are opposed to the marriage, yet they persevere and stay together because they really do love each other. So it has a little bit of the politics, which I like, but yet it’s done in such a comedic way such a lightweight, that you don’t feel you are being hit on the head with the politics. It’s a sort of modern day Romeo and Juliet.
Pari: So, it is a personal story with wider dimension?
Shiva: I think a little bit of both. I think everyone can relate to being in love, and maybe not having it go as smoothly as one would like. And that part of it can be personal. And then the universal themes, we touch upon ISRael and
Palestine and what is to be done with that. We also touch upon what happened to the Kurdish people under Saddam Hussein and the gassing of a lot the Kurds.
Considering the time we are living in, it is interesting to hear a about the historical backgrounds and cultures that most Americans don’t know much about.
Pari: Absolutely, it is crucial, actually the film director Jay Jonroy is a Kurd with first hand experiences of many of these events.
Shiva: Yes, Jay Jonroy is the director and he actually is a survivor. He’s an incredible person because he has survived so much and suffered a lot of tragedies in his life. Some of his family members were killed and imprisoned. But he is able to take his story and make it into this amazing film where everyone can enjoy it. And yet you get to learn about the Kurdish culture and you also get to know about what happened to them. But like I said, it’s done in a way that you don’t come out of theatre feeling very depressed. You come out feeling joyful and optimistic that love can happen, anywhere, with anyone. PE: And there is a message of hope always. Shiva: Yes, there is always hope.
Pari: How did you get involved with this movie David & Layla?
Shiva: I knew at that moment that it was an opportunity that I could not miss. The opportunity to play a Muslim, yet a Kurdish woman, who wears these bright colorful clothes, who is so poetic and artistic. These are things that Western people forget when they think of a Muslim woman. So, I really wanted to portray this character, so I flew on the plane one night on my day off from the play and I auditioned and I flew back the next day. So, it was definitely a sacrifice, but I think it paid off. I think once Jai and
I met we realized that I am Layla.
Pari: As a fast rising actress, did you had any concern that branding yourself as a Muslim or middle-eastern may limit the rules offered to you in future?
Shiva: Not at all, I have had that problem in past. I have gone to many auditions. Sometimes they say I am not American enough for the part, other times I am not Middle Eastern enough for the part. So I have come across that challenge. But I think to be appreciative of your roots is the very thing that is going to set you apart from all the other people. And I’m very passionate about being Iranian. And I feel I am this person because of it. So, I can understand why one would think that way, but I suppose the story outweighed. The story was far greater to me than worrying about being pigeon-holed.
Pari: You have been very vocal and active on your political views, are you worried that this may have a negative impact on your career considering you are half Iranian?
Shiva: You know I felt so passionately that this war with Iraq was such a mistake that I was willing to do anything to get my message across. The first time that I participated in a demonstration and in an arrest was four and a half years ago, before the war started. And I just wrote an essay that is going to be published on Huffington Post, about how when I got arrested I knew deep down in my soul even though it was a little bit frightening that if we didn’t stand up and stop this that the consequences would be horrific beyond our expectations. And sadly enough, it’s come to pass. And then I had another arrest in May of last year. And once again I felt this frustration. The great thing about being an American is that I can voice my opinion and get arrested. So I thought, why not do this now? Especially since Iran seems to be the next focal point of this madness. So, I thought why not do this for both my countries? PE: I admire that, those who are in public eye have a responsibility to use it to tell the truth. Unfortunately, many with middle-eastern background are far more concern with their own carrier than what would happen here or there. I think that you have a wonderful opportunity and I am glad you use it in a right way for the good of all. Shiva: Thank you.
Pari: David and Layla has been shown in several places. What have been the reactions from the audience?
Shiva: I’m always amazed at the laughter that comes from it. The few screenings I’ve gone to, people seem to really enjoy it. There was one screening at UCLA where we had a lot of Middle Eastern students and they laughed so hard at some of the scenes. And then of course in New York, where there was a more Jewish audience, they laughed as hard at some of the Jewish situations. So I think people of all faith relate to it and enjoy it. PE: That is the power of movies. Shiva: Definitely
Pari: You have received several awards for this movie. Which one is the closest to your heart?
Shiva: I suppose at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival I received the Best Breakthrough in an independent movie. That meant a lot to me because when you have been acting for so many years, it’s nice to be noticed. I like the idea that it is a breakthrough. I’ve been acting at my craft for over 10, 15 years, but it’s always nice to be thought of as an up and coming person.
Pari: Shiva, you are a Mom with two daughters.
Shiva: I have a ten year old, Colette PE: You are far too young for that. Shiva: Oh, Thank you, and then I have Charlotte, who is already looks more Iranian than Colette and she is 17 months. She’s a baby; I waited a long time, nine years between the two.
Pari: So, you have two daughters, your are wife Dylan McDermott who is an A-List actor of Hollywood with lots of engagements, and you have your own career. How do you manage?
Shiva: It can be challenging. There are moments when I might be at an audition in Hollywood and I have to pick up my daughter in Santa Monica. It’s tough. The people around me are the most helpful. My father and his wife Zoya are so helpful to me. Hillary Clinton famously said “It takes a village to raise a child”; it really does. There are times that I have to forsake opportunities, for example I wasn’t able to go to Europe to a film festival to promote a film because my daughter needed surgery. So there are things you have to sacrifice but in the end, it’s for a greater benefit.
Pari: With all these going on, yet, you look fabulous. What is your secret?
Shiva: I have been very particular about my eating habits since I was a child. I prefer organic food. We don’t have soda in the house. We don’t have too much junk food. So maybe that has something to do with it .Thank you though.
Pari: What about exercises?
Shiva: I don’t like to exercise very much. I like to walk. My father lives in the mountains in Topanga. My favorite thing is to go hiking there. Around here I’ll take the baby for a walk.
Pari: What is your next project?
Shiva: I am in a Play at the moment at the Pacific Resident Theater located in Venice, California. It’s an Austrian play called “Anatol”. I’m rehearsing for that. I am also writing a play that I’d like to adapt to a screenplay about a photographer named Tina Lagante, who was an Italian revolutionary, whose story is quite amazing, you would appreciate that. So, I’m working on that, and also promoting this movie that is coming out this summer, and just taking it a day at a time.
Pari: Where would you like to see your self let’s say in ten years?
Shiva: Oh my goodness, maybe five years, ten years seems so far away. I would like to have a greater body of work. Do more movies with incredible characters that really are defined by what they believe, rather than what they look like. I would like to see a change in our country and the world, and hopefully be a part of that. I would like to see myself grow as a Mother and as a wife, see my daughters blossom. I would like to see my play published and performed. Perhaps write a book. I’ve thought about writing a book. I’ve really considered it. I think I may gravitate more towards writing. Fashion design too. I’ve thought about designing a line of clothing. There are so many things. There is also a Persian cooking show that I have been thinking about. I’ve really been thinking about that, the possibilities of having a Persian cultural, cooking program on the Food Network. Because truly the Americans are fascinated by Iranians and Iranian culture but yet there is nothing really for them to see. PE: And there are so many ancient dishes in the region. Last year, I was invited to this Oscar party where the meals were cooked by Charles Perry from the Los Angeles Times using ancient persian and Arabic recipes. They were incredible. Shiva: Amazing.
Pari: I want to ask you several quick questions.
PE: Who is your favorite writer?
Shiva: I suppose it would be William Shakespeare.
Pari: Favorite Film maker?
Shiva: There are so many…Antonioni, Scorcese, Jane Campion
Pari: Favorite Actress?
Shiva: I really admire Vanessa Redgrave. PE: So do I Shiva: She is very political and passionate. She does both Theater and movies. PE: In a recent interview she said “I will remain on the stage as long as I can serve the audience.” I love the attitude after all the greatness she has achieved. Shiva: She’s amazing.
Pari: Favorite Music?
Shiva: Music is life, isn’t it? I love every kind of music. I love Persian Music. I can name my friend Aezam Ali who is a Persian musician and of course Googoosh just to name few. And then as far as classical music and opera, thanks to my mother, I have a love of both. There are so many more, I wouldn’t be able to pin it down, the Beatles, Cold Play, everything …
Pari: Who is your favorite fashion designer?
Shiva: John Galliano PE: I love his design, I remember when he first started almost at the same time as Alexandra McQueen, both are great.
Pari: If you could have one change in the world what that would be?
Shiva: I think it would be for people to realize that war is the most un-necessary evil that man can do, and really to pray that some day we can be enlightened enough to not go down that path.
Pari: On this note I would like to join you in hoping for peace in the world and thanking you and our viewers for their time.