Interview: Golshifteh Farahani, Paterson

Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani rose to international fame alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s 2008 film, Body of Lies. She’s been busy, and constantly on the move, since then though her most memorable role for many cinephiles was the last one in her home country, as Sepideh in Asghar Farhadi’s acclaimed drama, About Elly.

This year she stars with Adam Driver in Paterson, the latest triumph from Jim Jarmusch. She spoke with CineVue’s Matt Anderson about drawing inspiration from her character’s kooky, creative ways, her love for living in Europe and her search for a place to call home while still longing for her native Iran.

Matt Anderson: How did you come to meet Jim Jarmusch and become a part of Paterson?

Golshifteh Farahani: It was like a miracle, basically. Jim contacted me through my agent and wanted to Skype with me – I couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t believe it! A few months after I was working in Australia on Pirates of the Caribbean [Dead Man Tell No Tales – the franchise’s fifth installment, set for release in May 2017] and he just told me “welcome to the project.” He hadn’t even seen me, he just took me! So, it was really like a miracle. 

MA: Opposites attract, and that’s very much the case for Laura and Paterson in the film – what was it like in both preparing and shooting the film being opposite a man who emotes and shares so little when your character is such a vibrant one?

GF: Paterson is more of an introvert and Laura more of an extrovert. But the funny thing is is that she is an extrovert living inside and he is an introvert living outside. It’s all about their chemistry. They respect each other very much. We read the script together but Jim wasn’t into preparation, reading or talking about the scenes. He wasn’t really into that. He even told us he doesn’t want to know about the past of the characters; he didn’t really care. He said, if you care then you can talk about it but I don’t wanna know! He really doesn’t want to analyse things. 

He would just intuitively do things. The American accent was quite a challenge for someone like me whose accent is somewhere between French, British and Farsi. I contacted who I think must be the best coach who ever existed in the world, Tim Monich. When we did Body of Lies he coached Leo. He started working with me on Skype as he was working with Jude Law in London – he did so out of love and compassion for me and that helped me a lot with the dialogue. So it is something I have so much gratitude for. He taught me so many key things I didn’t know and that helped a lot. 

MA: Laura is a dynamic and expressive person, and she’s very supportive of Paterson but we feel that ultimately she’s not entirely sure what her calling in life is – are there elements of your own character and personality in her? Are you a very free spirit as well?

GF: I have a piece of Laura in me, for sure. I love to do so many different things – if I have time, of course. I don’t even have a house to live in at the moment! I’m living in planes constantly. But when I am in one area I love to paint, I love to do gardening, I love to create things. I learnt a lot from Laura, though, because she has such tolerance and understanding and respect and love for her partner which is something we can all learn from. Sometimes I tell myself to remember that Laura wouldn’t react in this way or that way. Remember her because she lives in the present moment and that’s such a great thing.  

MA: Paterson is about self-truth, self-confidence and self-expression, and you come from a very artistic family – does acting and the creative process of shooting a film allow you to grow and develop personally outside your work?

GF: Yes, I have a very complicated life because I am out of my country, where I was born and raised. I haven’t really decided where I want to live. The thing is, I’m working between continents, between languages, between different cultures – from Hindi, to French, to English, to Farsi, to Afghani, to Arabic. So many diverse paths. And this was always what my vision was, to break the barrier of being typecast, or anything like that, which is amazing actually. But the thing is, that’s why I always need to go into some very remote areas to be connected to who I am which is sort of a bohemian. 

You could say I was born a little bit late; I should have been born in the 50s so I grew up in the 60s or 70s because I really belong to that generation of people! But I guess I always find my own community where nobody asks you who you are or what you do – people who just spend time together. I have to get away from cities or anything that’s related to what I do. I try my best but unfortunately I have not done that well for the past 3 years; I’ve been constantly working and really didn’t have enough time to get grounded and just find myself again. That time will come. Sometimes the train moves fast and you should just hold on very tightly but then it stops at some point and I can go and have a walk… 

MA: Paris is home for now but do you see yourself one day hopefully returning to live in Iran? Will there be an end to your nomadic way of living?

GF: I think I will settle down finally in Ibiza and Portugal; this is what I’m doing now. I need access to the world and have these two places. I would love to be in Australia or Brazil but these places are too far from Europe. I love being in Ibiza because of the weather and the ocean, the amazing people and international community. But Iran now is somehow out of the question. I don’t even think about it. It has been so profoundly ‘digged’ in me that I don’t even want to go and dig it out. Let’s just put it there for the moment. It’s like a wound that you better not open up. 

Iran today is not the Iran I left and that’s the problem – when exiled, you leave a country and this country will never be the same when you go back. I don’t even know that if I went to Iran today, I would be able to live there any more. But I’m sure I can live in Ibiza, and Portugal and that’s where I feel at home somehow. 

MA: Given the restrictions imposed by the Iranian government on freedom of expression, speech, gender equality, do you see yourself in some way as a cultural or social ambassador for your country?

GF: Sometimes you becomes things you don’t even want to be. But now I work in so many languages except my own, except my mother tonguee. So my connection with Iranian cinema is completely cut. I can’t even work with [Iranian director] Asghar Farhadi because if he works with me he can’t live there any more. So I am completely cut off from the cinema. I never want to represent anything, I just wanted to be an artist and work on beautiful projects with beautiful people. And sometimes you become a symbol of freedom, or rebellion, or women, or Jean of Arc, or everything they want me to be but I am only a woman, living my life. 

Everybody wants to give you names but for me the beauty of the world and the things that I’m doing now is that I can fit in in so many different nationalities and stories and of course I love Iran, it is one of the biggest loves of my life that I mourn. I am mourning for this loss. And the things I miss are truth and love of people and villages and things you cannot find anywhere else and of course home is always home but now home is when I’m on stage, when I’m in front of a camera, when I’m spending time with my husband. Home for me is in the sky, it’s painful, but it’s like orchids or a tree that have their roots reaching into the air… 

MA: You do sound a lot like Laura… In the film, Paterson looks to William Carlos Williams for creativity, as his guiding light, almost. Laura is much more content with just doing her own thing. Is there anyone who you look to for inspiration or does it come from within you as it does for Laura?

GF: It mostly comes from within me but there are some actresses who have inspired me so much and they keep on doing so. Marlene Dietrich, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard – these are people who have inspired me. Women who I admire a lot. Whenever I look at her work or an interview that Kate has done it just touches my heart. I think it’s mostly actresses that somehow with their choices are making some statement and they are considering all that. That’s what inspires me the most. Their way, their journey, is inspiring – you can look at everything they’ve done and one after the other they are giving messages of peace, empowerment of women, of not objectifying women. I admire that a lot. But at the same time I think I am more of a wild, spontaneous animal. I studied music and never went to training in acting but do consider myself a wild creature, mostly.

MA: You mentioned earlier that Jim wasn’t too concerned knowing about what happened before the film. One of the things that begins to feel very claustrophobic in Paterson was the fact that Laura spends so much of the film inside, she doesn’t leave the house. Is there anything more to it than she’s simply happy doing what she’s doing?

GF: We see a week of their life and you can imagine with Laura that she must always be this way but of course her creative world is inside the house. She is an extrovert character and all that she is creating is within this house and that’s the beauty of it and why they are different. She needs it and has this rule, like Adam has the bus and the world and the waterfall and knowing these people, and she has the workshop and is constantly creating. The simplicity of their life, the banality and how they turn ordinary into extraordinary. 

The meaning of extraordinary comes from ordinary! Everybody searches for extraordinary in celebrity or fame but the true artists and amazing people that I love do not even consider themselves artists. And Paterson doesn’t even admit that he’s a poet but he’s a great poet, like the Japanese guy says at the end. Laura’s the same, and a very funny creature, a true artist – she’s humble and she doesn’t even go there because she’s just enjoying it. She’s just doing what she’s doing without analysing it. It’s like Jim, you know, he’s just who he is and I think that’s what makes the human being so exceptional.

Paterson is on general release in the UK now.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens

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