For Actress Golshifteh Farahani, Art Is Resistance

“When the Iranian women were protesting last year, my body, my muscles, told me that I needed to be the bridge between Iran and the western world.”

As told to Rosa Sanchez; Photographed by Mario Sorrenti; Styled by Beat Bolliger

Alaïa hooded dress. Clash de Cartier earrings. Panthère de Cartier bracelet. PHOTO: MARIO SORRENTI

Golshifteh Farahani has always had an independent streak. Growing up in her native Iran, she bristled against all kinds of authority: her parents and teachers, not to mention the more repressive laws and customs that subjugated women. It’s an impulse that Farahani, 40, continued to honor on her way to becoming a star and one of the most globally famous actors the country has ever produced.

Farahani, who made her English-language film debut in 2008 in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, left Iran for France that year after she was targeted by the Islamic Republic. She was ultimately banished from Iran for her refusal to conform to its restrictive definitions of what women could do, onscreen or off, her physical safety threatened if she returned. Farahani most recently appeared alongside Chris Hemsworth in Extraction 2, the sequel to the 2020 mercenary thriller Extraction.

Read on for the Harpers Bazaar Icon’s thoughts on acting, resistance, and exile. For more of our 2023 Icons, including cover stars Kendall Jenner, Doja Cat, and Paul Mescal, click here.

I always say it’s cinema, but I think the phenomenon that really changed my life was exile. It pushed me into a metamorphosis.

In 2007, I was cast by Ridley Scott in Body of Lies. When I did that movie, the regime took it as a plan to destroy the face of the country, because I was a big star in Iran. They confiscated my passport. I was accused of putting national security in danger. I managed to leave before the premiere [in 2008] and landed in New York. The other day, I was at Lincoln Center and suddenly had this flash: This is the same place I was in 15 years ago. But it’s as if I’m another person now.

Golshifteh Farahani

Alaïa hooded dress. Clash de Cartier earrings. PHOTO: MARIO SORRENTI

When the Iranian women were protesting last year, my body, my muscles, told me that I needed to be the bridge between Iran and the western world—to make people understand the pain of the people of Iran. I think artists can engage people’s emotions and inspire them to take action from their hearts.

[After leaving Iran] I started with French independent movies, then English-speaking movies, and then it just went on. It’s as if a fire is burning inside me and it will never stop. My first role [in the Iranian film The Pear Tree], I was 14 years old, and I was playing a soldier who wanted to go to France and become an actor. They shaved my head in front of the camera; that was the first shot of cinema for me. Now, in America, I mostly play extremely powerful characters. They are warriors. I’m always in some bloodshed or ocean of drama or tragedy, fighting for something, for freedom. This is my life.

“When you are born against the current, you have a lot of muscles to swim against it.”

When you are born against the current, you have a lot of muscles to swim against it. The exile is part of me. This pain is constantly there, and I bring it into my life and my work. Even in Extraction, you see that we are broken people who play broken characters. And broken characters are very interesting. They are gray. They are complex. Their hearts are open. You don’t have to dig deep, because your emotions are so easy to grab.

My family is still living in Iran. France is my adopted country. I know and love this culture. I am French. I am Parisian. But you never really become one of them because that’s also what exile does. You’re not Iranian anymore. You’re not French. You’re in that nomadland for the rest of your life. You never really land anywhere. You’re an uprooted tree that cannot be planted anymore. When you’re born in a war zone, your existence is at question, and by being born you’re saying no. Today, existing as an artist is my resistance. It’s my whole life.

This interview and photo shoot were conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Hair: Luke Hersheson for Hershesons; makeup: Lisa Butler for Chanel Beauty; manicures: Sylvie Macmillan for Chanel Le Vernis; production: Holmes Production; set design: Emma Roach. Special thanks to Hoxton Docks.