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Season two of the hit Showtime series Homeland ended with a bomb exploding at CIA headquarters killing more than 200 people. As season three now unfolds, CIA acting director Saul Berenson (played by Mandy Patinkin) is trying to unravel not only all the details behind the bombing, but also thwart future terrorist plots.
An unlikely part of Berenson’s clandestine investigation team, which only a handful of people are aware of, is newly hired analyst Fara Sherazi, a modestly dressed young Muslim woman. In the first half of the season she has uncovered information crucial to Berenson’s mission and proved her intellect and discretion.
The role of Fara is played by Nazanin Boniadi, who two years ago received recognition for a decidedly different role—a recurring character on the outrageous comedy How I Met Your Mother. Born in Iran and raised in London, in 2008 Boniadi was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for her role on the soap opera General Hospital. After roles in films and episodic TV she is now reveling in this opportunity to be part of one of the most talked-about shows on television (the series has already been renewed for season four).
DivineCaroline: What does it mean to you to be on a show like Homeland, about which people are so passionate?
Nazanin Boniadi: I feel blessed to be on Homeland, particularly because I get to play such a groundbreaking role. I love being on a show that I’m personally a fan of, that opens dialogue and encourages conversation on important issues. And I feel lucky to work with such an incredible cast and crew. Every single person brings their A game. It’s a very nurturing and creative environment.
DC: The scene with Fara and Saul where he speaks to her about wearing her hijab at CIA headquarters. How do you feel you allowed Fara to show her emotions but also keep her strength?
NB: We all know what it feels like to be berated and judged. Some people cave under pressure, but Fara is a strong woman. People sometimes mistake vulnerability for weakness. It takes strength to allow yourself to express the truth. The tears were an uncontrollable, honest and organic reaction to the situation, but how she handled the feelings were in her control. She chose to keep her composure, rise above it, get on with her work and not allow herself to feel victimized.
DC: How do you think Fara moved past that to become Saul’s chief investigator in his clandestine mission?
NB: She simply kept her focus on why she joined the CIA in the first place. She wants justice for the victims of the Langley bombing and she won’t give up until justice is served.
DC: What back story have you created for yourself as to why Fara joined the CIA?
NB: Fara wants to reclaim her religious identity from the fundamentalists and terrorists who have hijacked it. She moved to the U.S. because she believes in the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” She believes in the ideals on which America was founded and feels that joining the CIA would be the best way for her to help protect those ideals. For Fara, religion is not politicized, it is a personal and spiritual journey.
DC: How does she keep her composure in the face of this huge pressure?
NB: Fara is passionate about justice and freedom. Although the task at hand is daunting, she is motivated by the end game.
DC: How do you keep your composure as an actress in such a crucial role?
NB: It’s quite easy when I have such outstanding writing to work with and I’m surrounded by actors of the caliber of Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes and Rupert Friend, who I’ve shared most of my scenes with. They fuel me.
DC: You and Navid Negahban (who played Abu Nazir) are both originally from Iran. Obviously, he played the villain and as far as we know so far Fara is not a villain, but have you spoken to him about portraying believable Middle Eastern characters?
NB: I have not, mainly because our characters are very different. But it is easier to portray a believable Middle Eastern character when you yourself are Middle Eastern. I am Iranian myself, so I can personally relate to Fara on many levels. I also discovered a great organization called MOST (Muslims on Screen and Television) that helps the entertainment industry create more accurate depictions of Muslims. They are an invaluable resource for actors, writers and producers.
DC: Since the key to Homeland is the art of surprise, we don’t know if Fara has any secrets. As an actress, how do you bring that nuance and subtlety to your performance? Playing a scene with conviction, but making anything possible.
NB: All I can do as an actor is stay true to what is written and live entirely in that moment. I’m personally a big fan of subtlety and layered performances that allow an actor to be taken in several different directions. The writers on Homeland are brilliant at that kind of nuanced storytelling, leaving the door open for unpredictable twists and turns.
DC: Homeland is quite the departure from How I Met Your Mother. What is it like to transition from wild comedy to something so intense and serious?
NB: I think it’s every actor’s dream to be able to do such diverse genres and roles. I feel so fortunate that I was on such an incredible sitcom, and am now on one of the best dramas on TV. I try to remain as honest as I can in my work, whether it’s comedy or drama, and let the writing set the tone.
DC: Please share a bit about your work as a spokesperson with Amnesty International and how it fuels you as a person.
NB: Amnesty International is the world’s biggest human rights organization, uniting over 3 million voices from over 150 countries. I am honored to have served as a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA since 2009, with a focus on women’s rights and bringing attention to the unjust conviction and treatment of youth, women and prisoners of conscience in Iran. I believe a lot of artists become activists because we rely on and value the freedom of expression and so we want to protect it. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to use my platform to bring about positive change in the world. It is the most fulfilling and meaningful aspiration I have.
DC: This season of Homeland is wrapped. How would you describe it as an acting experience?
NB: Exhilarating. Humbling.
DC: Any chance we’ll see Fara again in season four?
NB: I hope so. I think the character has a lot of potential. We’ll see.