With a linguistic repertoire that boasts six tongues, including Farsi and the Afghan dialect Dari, Atossa Leoni would be any international director’s dream. So it’s no surprise the actress stars as Soraya, one of the few female roles in the film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling book, The Kite Runner. Born in Berlin to an Afghan father and Iranian mother, Leoni grew up in a household that placed a heavy emphasis on the arts. By age 12, she had a lead role on a German television show. As Soraya, she serves as a romantic anchor for the grown-up Khalid, who must come to terms with his shameful childhood past. And her work doesn’t stop there: Leoni also narrates all 13 hours of the audio version of Hosseini’s latest book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.
TRAVELING PACK: Leoni’s impressive language skills are a result of her well-educated parents, who decided they wanted her and her younger sister to live all over the world. “I remember my father telling me that by the time I was 18, I was going to be able to speak five languages,” she recalls. After stints throughout Europe, including Rome and a small town on the German-French border—and even time at an American boarding school—Leoni can now rattle off German, French, Italian and English in addition to her parents’ native Farsi and Dari.
UNITED NATIONS: A resident of Los Angeles for the past eight years (she studied at the prestigious Lost Studio drama school), the intrepid Leoni enjoyed the faraway locales of The Kite Runner shoot. “We were a half-Chinese, half-American crew. And I think there were 26 countries represented [in the film’s team],” she says. “I found myself shooting a film about Afghanistan in China with a Swiss director [Mark Forster] that I could talk to in German.”
MOTHER KNOWS BEST?: Leoni’s mother was working at an orphanage in Afghanistan and as a thank-you, one of the workers there gave her a copy of The Kite Runner. After reading it in Kabul in 48 hours, she immediately passed the book on to her daughter. “When she gave it to me, I asked her, ‘Would this make a good movie?’ and she said, ‘Yes,’” says Leoni. “And then I asked her, ‘Do you think there’s a part for me in this?’ and she said, ‘No.’”