NEW YORK — She’s been famous in Iran since the mid-Seventies, but 51-year-old actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is still ecstatic about meeting the American paparazzi.

“At first I thought they were tourists,” she says of the photographers who waited outside her hotel the previous evening while she’s in town to promote her new film, “House of Sand and Fog.” “The staff said to me, ‘Do you want us to get rid of them?’” And like any actress who knows her star is on the ascent, she answered happily, “Don’t do it on my account.”

This story first appeared in the December 23, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Aghdashloo will need to get used to the attention. Her performance in the movie, as a compassionate Iranian immigrant who tries to assimilate to American life with her hard-working husband, has already garnered a Best Supporting Actress Award from the New York Film Critics Circle and an Independent Spirit Awards nomination. Naturally, there’s Oscar talk.

“I’m extremely happy,” she says. “After 26 years as an actress, being appreciated this way is the answer to all my hard work and prayers. I never thought about any prize at the end of the tunnel.”

Aghdashloo read Andre Dubus 3rd’s book, on which the movie is based, four years ago, before she knew about the film. Once she heard about the movie, she knew that she had to play the part of Nadi, who, like herself, fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1978.

“I have seen voiceless women like her all my life,” says Aghdashloo, who is as outgoing as her character is reserved. “So I decided to dedicate myself to Nadi.” That meant staying in character and on location for three months, only seeing her husband and daughter at home in Calabasas, Calif., on the weekends. “At one point, at 1:30 a.m., I found myself practicing how to sit like Nadi,” she says, smoothing the backside of her pants as if they were a skirt and placing her hands demurely on one knee.

Aghdashloo grew up in Tehran, but her parents had no intention of letting her become the consummate housewife. “I was supposed to become a doctor, but I couldn’t even see a sick person,” explains Aghdashloo, who grew up watching Federico Fellini films. “When I was eight years old, my mom took me to a psychiatrist because I used to close the door in my room and pretend that I had guests. I would talk to them and make different sounds.”

After admitting that she was only acting out her favorite movies in private, the doctor told Aghdashloo’s mother that her daughter was born to become an actress.

She began acting at the age of 20 and made four films in Iran before fleeing to London, where she got a degree in International Relations. A politically driven, Farsi-language play got her back on the stage in 1984. It also took her to L.A., where she got in touch with an old acquaintance, Houshang Touzie, a socially conscious playwright Aghdashloo compares with Neil Simon. The two married in 1987 and have one daughter, Tara, who is named after the mansion in “Gone with the Wind.”

The bulk of Aghdashloo’s career has been spent on the stage in Farsi-language roles. She’s also been in independent films like “Surviving Paradise” and “Twenty Bucks” and has guest-starred on “Matlock” and “Columbo.”

In addition, Aghdashloo does political commentary on Jaam-e-Jam TV, a Persian-language channel in the U.S., and co-founded a theater group, Workshop ’79, with her husband.

Though she became accustomed to studio film luxuries like her own trailer and hair and makeup, Aghdashloo is enjoying success and patiently waiting for the second role of a lifetime. “I’m hoping for another kind of dedicated, responsible film or play,” she says. “If it’s necessary, I’ll wait another 26 years.”

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