September 24, 2016
By Iman Sadri
They say the meaning of life is to find one’s gift and the purpose of life is to share one’s gift with the world. Fortunately for the world, Afsaneh Dehrouyeh has been aware of her gift of acting from early childhood. Also a fortunate fact is that she is living her life’s purpose and sharing her acting talent with the world.
At 24, the British Iranian actress Dehrouyeh has already finished a multitude of short films, created her own production company, been a part of a feature film directed by Ridley Scott, created her own short film, played the female lead in a feature length film, and been cast as a series regular on a hit cable show.
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh is best known for her role of Mahdiya Katan on FX’s Tyrant, a drama developed by the creator of Homeland, Gideon Raff. Also involved with the show is Howard Gordon, a director, writer and producer for Homeland. The premise of Tyrant is about an American who gets embroiled in the political crisis of his home country in the fictional country of Abuddin in the Middle East.
Dehrouyeh who currently resides in London is a drama school graduate and has already been busy with her production company, Scadoo Pictures. She created her own short film, Only Human along with her writing partner. In the film, which is about two women living a century apart with parallel lives, Dehrouyeh plays the contemporary character. Having also been a part of nearly a half dozen short films, Dehrouyeh cites Six Days as one of her favorites.
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh’s filmography also includes a part in the Ridley Scott directed epic Exodus : Gods and Kings. Dehrouyeh was in good company in Exodus which featured Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani.
In the film Pegah, Dehrouyeh plays the titular lead character in a picture by award winning Iranian filmmaker Javid Rezai. In the feature length film Freesia she plays the female lead Khadijah.
To gain further insight into the career of rising star Afsaneh Dehrouyeh, we caught up with the actress with a phone Q+A conversation across the pond.
Iman Sadri : Where were you born ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I was born in Cheltenham, England.
IS: Where in Iran are your parents from ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: My Mum is from Mashad and my Dad is from Semnan
IS: What inspired you to become an actor ? Was there a specific movie or actor on TV/Film or was it a series of events ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : It was a series of events. My parents fought me on it early on. Looking back on it, it ended up being a massive test of how to see how badly did I want it and how hard was I going to work to get it. To convince everybody that I was good enough. It started off, I just loved performing. Watching videos of me as a kid. And then I was doing some plays. And I kind of realized very early on that I was happy to miss out on socializing, because the practices were during the weekends and evenings. It was my happy place. I was happy to work and be doing that. And it just gradually got more and more serious. Especially when I realized it’s something that you can have a career in, the more I knew acting was what I was supposed to be doing.
When I was 11 years old I decided I was going to be an actor, and I kind of never changed my mind since. I feel that I have had many opportunities where I could have quit. But in the back of my head I knew it was always one those things that I wanted do.
“When I was 11 years old I decided I was going to be an actor, and I kind of never changed my mind since.”
IS: What inspired you specifically from an early age that you could be a performer ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : When I was 10, I was in the school play Oliver, and I experienced an adrenaline of happiness that I had never experienced before. I thought at the time it’s just something fun that I am doing, a hobby. Then I got more and more into it because I started doing plays outside of school. I was doing stuff every weeknight and on the weekends. It got more serious with more roles. When I was 16, I got cast as Carmen. It was the first time my parents came to watch me. Something changed. They took it seriously. And then when I was 18 I fought really hard to go to drama school. I ended up going to university at first, then drama school.
“When I was 16, I got cast as Carmen. It was the first time my parents came to watch me. Something changed. They took it seriously.”
IS: What is the chronology for you after graduating high school ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : I had a year in between university. After getting into drama school. I was working and auditioning and I got a few short films and I also ended up getting a lead, a feature, that’s done pretty well now. I really wanted to take the route of training. I wanted to be prepared and trained for everything that hit me. I went to drama school for a year. There I studied for a year and then got picked up by my agent. It’s picked up since I’ve been with him. I’ve had better auditions ever since.
“I really wanted to take the route of training. I wanted to be prepared and trained for everything that hit me.”
IS: While in university the years prior to drama school were you involved in acting ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : I wasn’t taking acting classes but if there was ever an opportunity in one of the modules to be performing rather than be designing stage, for example. I ended up going to a drama school that was specific for screen acting. I ended up falling in love with the process of film-making because I was learning that on the side. That’s when I realized that I wanted to do film acting more than stage acting.
IS: How did you get picked up by an agent ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I was screen acting in drama school. They film some scenes that screened at BAFTA. Agents can come watch and I got picked up from that.
THE LAW OF ATTRACTION
IS: What are your thoughts on the law of attraction that Hollywood has become enamored with ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: Yeah that is something I believe in. In the past year that I’ve actually read books like The Secret. Before I was doing it and constantly thinking about it, making my acting goals every part of my being. But I didn’t realize it was a theory. Since I’ve read books I’ve been doing it more. Sending messages out.
IS: Do you do visualizations where you imagine having a role ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I do. I do it with directors I want to work with. I do it with roles. I did it with the Princess Jasmine role. I really want to play a CIA or intelligence officer. So I do it for that role also.
IS: As an actor is it easy for you to reach out to directors via social media or other means, or do you have your agent contact them directly ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I think it depends on who you are and where you’re at. If you’re not a big name you’re going to have to find a really big way to sell yourself.
IS: Discuss your chronology after drama school.
Afsneh Dehrouyeh: I did some short films. I’ve done some commercial work. Photography work. And then after six months I got picked up for Tyrant. Everything happened very fast. It’s been the craziest year.
IS: Do you have a favorite of the group of short films that you’ve done ?
Afsaeh Dehrouyeh : One of my favorites is a short film that I did called Six Days. It had improv in it, it’s one of the reasons why I loved it. It felt freeing. I got to play a young girl that was in a similar place that I was in. I had just graduated. She’s searching for what’s next. She could have been from anywhere. I loved that. To be cast as someone with a “normal” name. I tend to get stereotyped. It wasn’t a stereotypical character. There was far more to it than people see. It wasn’t so black and white. In Six Days I really got a chance to improvise. We started off with a script. The director gave a character description. We kind of got to play with it because we knew the character so well, that he just kind of let us do our thing.
“I ended up falling in love with the process of film-making because I was learning that on the side. That’s when I realized that I wanted to do film acting more than stage acting.”
IS: What is Six Days about ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: It’s about two people, a male and female companion, that meet six days before they are both about to go away. They’re both leaving the country. One’s going to Scotland. The other is going to the United States. They’re both moving away for different reasons. They meet in London. It comes down to the fact that they’re lost and they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just escaping to something that will be bigger and better. And they end up spending the whole six days together and it ends in ambiguity. You don’t know if they end up staying with each other or if they end up going to their destinations. They meet on the first night. They go on road trips together. They go for coffee. They end up spending the whole six days together. You get snippets of their background and where they’re going. You get more about their background as well. We have some character descriptions that we would give them. There are some dreamy slow mo motion scenes also, at the beach.
IS: What specifically about Six Days makes it your one of your favorite short films that you’ve made ? Is it the story or the character ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : It was my favorite because of the improvisation. And because of the character’s situation as well. A combination of the two. I felt free in what I was doing because the director was so flexible, also with the dialogue, there was flexibility. We went to the beach. It was summertime. I had gotten cast in the project just out of drama school. It was perfect timing. It felt like I got to do a short film where I was summing everything up to where I was at that point in my life. And at that point I had no idea what was going to happen next. I could relate to it on that level.
IS: Do you feel that actors generally gravitate towards roles that they could most relate to ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I like to do stuff where I look at it and I think it’s fascinating, in that I don’t get the character. That she is a opposite to me. The more you go through the script the more you find that they are human and there could be a line in the script that you could relate to it. You become your way into the character. You learn about people that way.
THE KEYS TO MEMORIZING LINES
IS: What are the keys to memorizing lines ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: People really love asking that. I find it fascinating. I started learning poems when I was eight. So it was always second nature to me. I think that’s why I have no problems with it now. Learning peoms by heart. I did competitions where you perform the poem. I guess starting at such a young age it’s normal for me now. I just repeat the line over and over and over. And then I add the next line. Everytime I add a line I still go to the beginning of the scene. Once I think I know it I get a partner to read it with me. It feels different where you’re hearing a line back and then you’re answering.
IS: How long are the lines for the auditions and how much prep time is given prior to an audition customarily ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: It varies so much. For commercials I’ve never been given anything in advance. For the charity commercial they gave me a piece of paper with a paragraph of the situation and we went in and I had to do an improvisation with the other people. For Film or Television, literally you could get 10 pages where half of the lines are yours, or where you could just have one page with two lines on it. For character it’s script analysis. Picking up clues about what the people are saying about your character. What is she saying about herself ? And you’ll get a character breakdown. Is she kind ? Or she’s powerful and mencing ? And then you have to work with that to find ways you’re making brave choices with what you’re doing to standout and to have them remember you.
IS: How does one effectively memorize five pages out of ten pages, for example. Is it just repetition?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh : It’s repetition. For me it’s just saying it over and over and over again. And then saying it double speedb is really helpful. And I like to say the lines as monotone as possible. Because otherwise you’ll learn it the way you’re saying it. And I don’t like to do that because you don’t know what the other actor is going to give you. You don’t know how the actor will say their lines. If it surprises you, and hopefully it will, if it catches you off guard, it might not make sense the way that you’ve learned it.
IS: They say acting is reacting. Do you change how your lines are said if you’re dealing with an unpredictable actor who is erratic with their lines ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I definetely change it. I like to be open with what I am doing. If you don’t change it you’re not acting. You’re just predicting what’s coming next. You’re not reacting at all. In an audition it’s a lot tougher because you’re don’t have anything to react off off of. Because with a casting director they’re not acting, they’re simply reading the lines out for you.
“I like to say the lines as monotone as possible. Because otherwise you’ll learn it the way you’re saying it.”
IS: Do you have an inclination to memorizing easily ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: Yes I do. Also I’ve had enough auditions where I get to practice it. But before I did I would just pick something up and learn the lines anyways, just as practice. For muscle memory. Because next time you get an audition, if it’s been awhile, you could panic. There are other things you could panic about the night before instead about worrying about the lines.
IS: Can you talk about Freesia ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I booked Freesia without an agent. In between University and Drama School. The director found me and asked me to lead an audition. And that was actually one where I had to learn all of the lines. There were three leads in it. My character was one of them, one of the leads. So it was a lot of lines.
IS: How long is Freesia ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: An hour and a half.
IS: In Freesia what was the name of your character and what was the story about ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: Her name is Khadijah. She is an amazing person. She had just graduated from the university, studying politics. And she is applying for jobs at the local government office. Anything in politics. Anything to work her way in. She is a Muslim. She is an activist against Islamophobia. She witnesses an attack against a Muslim man. She ends up seeing the attack and getting in the way and stopping it. The film is about her life after the attack. Her mother gets attacked as well. She ends up being surrounded by Islamophobia. She goes through a situation where she gives up on everything. She gets bitter about life. She shuts down. She picks hrself up again. And then finding herself to be positive.
IS: As an actor what draws you to portray these ups and downs of emotion ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I guess my way into her was her ability to standup for herself. We have that in common. Also, she suffers with Islamophobia. That’s not something I had any experiencing with to the point where I was daunted about it. But I have experienced racism. She didn’t fit in and was isolated. That was kind of my way into her. The ups and downs, it was an amazing challenge for me.
IS: Talk about your project, Only Human.
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: After graduating, I formed a production company with a friend, a result of that was Only Human. It was a Good Will Hunting situation. It was me and my friend. We wanted to do a role where we could show off. As the story developed I feel that her character’s part is perfect for her, I am not sure if my part showed me off as an actor. So I guess I am Ben Affleck in this situation, and she’s Matt Damon. It’s set in 1916 and 2016. It goes back and forth. It’s a day in the life of both of these characters. The girl in 1916, her younger brother has ran off to fight in France in the war. It just shows a day of her life as a result of this situation of being left behind. I am in the same exact situation in 2016. Except my little sister has fled across the border. And all this media is coming out. They believe she has fled to Syria. So we’re in the same situation where we’ve both been left behind. It shows the aftermath of that. There are comaparisons and differences. It’s all subtle. It’s a 15 min film. We’re submitting it out to festivals in the moment. We’ve started that process. Hopefully the festivals will pick it up and we’ll go from there.
IS: How long is Pegah ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: Pegah is About 20 minutes.
IS: How long does it take to film a 20 minute film ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: That was a four day shoot. A long four days. Fourteen hour days.
IS: What is the the size of the crew in a film like Pegah ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: You have the people there who need to make it tick and three to four runners in the background in case something goes wrong. One day there were a load of extras. With Pegah there were lots of house party scenes. There were also days that was a smaller size crew.
ROLES TO PLAY
IS: What kinds of roles are you looking for ? Are you looking for Middle Eastern centric roles mostly only ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I think there are some fantastic opportunities in that there are great stuff being made. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger with all the stuff going on in the news. But I don’t want to get stuck and pigeonholed where no one can see me as anything else.
IS: What you got going on this week?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I am going to visit family in Cheltenham.
IS: What’s your day to day schedule like these days ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: It’s writing. Preparing for an audition. Speaking to my agent. We’re looking into a U.S. Visa. Still getting the documents together.
IS: So what are you working on now ? And what’s next ?
Afsaneh Dehrouyeh: I just finished Pegah. I’ve had a few auditions that I am waiting to hear back from. I have another project that I am writing with my production company, Scadoo Pictures. And waiting for Pegah in post production. Looking at the future, it’s looking towards getting work in the U.S. Getting a U.S. agent. So that’s another thing that I am focusing on as well.
At just 24 years of age British Iranian actress Afsaneh Dehrouyeh has already amassed an impressive body of work. Dehrouyeh has been a part of Exodus : Gods and Kings directed by Ridley Scott. She has starred in multiple short films. She has played the female lead in a feature film. She has created her own production company resulting in a passion project short film. Most notably she has been cast on Tyrant as a series regular.
In this Golden Age of Television opportunities have arisen for a multitude of genres. One such category in cinema and the small screen is that of the Middle Eastern centered storyline. Afsaneh Dehrouyeh has put herself in a position to be cast in these types of roles due to her Iranian heritage, dark features and cultural experiences. However Dehrouyeh’s talents are far from limited to subplots involving only Middle Eastern characters and locales. She has demonstrated great versatility in her acting repertiore as is evident with her expansive filmography. She is not one to be pigeonholed with a grounded series of parts, because Afsaneh Dehrouyeh has the acting wings to fly high in Hollywood.
Iman Sadri blogs for Persian Media outlets and can be followed at @ImanSadriTV