By Iman Sadri
August 11, 2019
Shiva Negar is a name that has shared the marquee with the likes of Golden Globe winner Michael Keaton. She has played the lead in Kelly Clarkson’s music video that went #1 on the charts and on MTV. She has been a model appearing in a plethora of print ads and commercials. She is a musician and multi-instrumentalist. She is also college educated having obtained a Bachelor’s and a Post Grad degree. Shiva Negar struck it big in Hollywood when she was cast in the A-List feature film American Assassin co-starring Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Dylan O’Brien and fellow Persian thespian Navid Negahban. Negar has already built a formidable filmography since her first acting job in 2011. She is currently starring in the Prime Time hit Blood and Treasure on CBS, which recently got picked up for a second season. A native of Canada, by way of Turkey and Iran, Shiva came to the U.S. to make it. And make it she did. Shiva mentions a life defining moment being when she flew her Mom out on location to London for her American Assassin shoot.
Shiva Negar was already a bona fide star in Toronto prior to officially moving to L.A. in 2016. She was so advanced academically that she skipped the eighth grade when she emigrated to Toronto with her mother and sister.
Born in Tehran, Shiva overcame many obstacles on her way to stardom. She worked in a toy store when she was only eight years old. She worked full time while attending college full time, obtaining a Bachelor’s in Psychology from York University. She had a prestigious corporate job at a Canadian Real Estate firm which she left to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She also earned a Post-Grad (Master’s Degree) in Event Planning and Public Relations from Centennial University, which she called her backup plan. A backup plan which ended up not being needed since Shiva has been a working actress since college. She obtained her ACTRA card (Equivalent to SAG-Aftra in Canada) and was signed by Characters (the most prestigious talent agency in Canada). After starting her career modeling, she was only initially offered the parts of the pretty female sidekick. After producers noticed her acting prowess Shiva started getting more serious roles, and has never looked back. To catch up with this prolific Persian we met up for a Q+A with Shiva Negar over dinner at The BLVD at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
Iman Sadri : Thank you for meeting up with The Persian Observer. Can you please describe your early life and upbringing.
Shiva Negar : I am actually writing my own script, based on my own story, a memoir, per se. There is a lot there especially for what’s going in this time of the world. I am not just writing it for the purpose of saying, ‘This is Shiva Negar, this is her story.’ There is a lot of aspects and people that could relate to it. It involves all the issues and trends right now. Immigration. A girl from a family with a single Mom. From a third world country and having a dream. I was born in Tehran. Then we moved to Turkey. We weren’t supposed to stay there. We went to Istanbul, which was supposed to be a short transit. My Dad left for Germany and we were also supposed to migrate there. He got stuck in Germany and we got stuck in Turkey. It was supposed to be short term, it ended up being five years. Long story short, things didn’t go as planned and we ended up staying in Turkey for five years. I was there from ages 7-12.
IS : How was your experience in Turkey ?
Shiva Negar : If you’re not a citizen of Turkey life can be very difficult there. We had to survive. I was working at the age of 8. There is no age minimum there to work. I was working at a toy store. My Mom became a waitress. My sister was a receptionist. I grew up with a single Mom. My Dad left and then he came back in my early 20’s. In Turkey our possessions were stolen and we had to get jobs. There was this charity organization in a church that was educating students who weren’t Turkish citizens. That’s where I went to school. When we finally migrated to Canada from Turkey, I spoke broken English and I was fluent in Turkish. We get to Toronto and eight months later they put me in high school as a 13 year old. I went from Iran to Turkey and all of a sudden high school in Canada. I was a year younger than the rest of my classmates. When I tested for academic placement, I was so advanced in Math they had me skip the eighth grade entirely.
I was placed in ESL. (English as a Second Language). I am really good with languages so I picked it up really fast. All of a sudden, I am coming from a completely different part of the world and I have to compete with students who were born and raised in Canada. I was an outsider. I couldn’t fit in. I was very different from everyone. I was getting bullied. In Turkey, I was just getting used to being there. I had friends. It became home. And all of sudden we had to start from scratch, again. I just feel like all my life I’ve been trying to fit in.
IS : How was your educational experience in Canada ?
Shiva Negar : I finished high school in Toronto and then enrolled at York University. I got a B.A. in Psychology. I wanted to do Fine Arts. It’s the same program that Rachel McAdams did. It wasn’t good enough for my (Persian) family, however. They said you have to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer. But I persisted and followed my own dreams.
When I turned 16, I worked at a furniture store. The entire four years in college I worked a corporate job. At first I did administration. And then they promoted me to Junior Project Manager. I was so young. For a lot of girls at my age back then, it was like a dream job. But I was not happy. I was a performer. I am not a corporate person. Even though I was very good at it, I was very good at admin stuff, but it wasn’t what I wanted. It was something I had to do to survive and to make money. Every single penny I made from that job I put it into acting. Then I did a Post Grad (Master’s Degree) in Event Planning, Management and Public Relations from Centennial University which was my backup plan since my family and friends put so much fear in me about what I was doing with acting.
I was doing all these acting workshops in college. While I was at York University I got an agent. I started modeling at 19 and got approached for a lot of endorsements. Then the very first audition I got was in Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’ music video, which became number #1 on MTV.
IS : What was the inspiration(s) for you to pursue acting as a career ?
Shiva Negar : Ever since I was a kid I was a performer. My Mom loves music. She placed my sister and I in music. I really responded to it. She put me in a piano class and in a santoor class. I still play piano and I play the guitar. Ever since I was young I was in performing arts. Even in Turkey I did theater. I would sing in high school and I was doing theater and dramatic arts. One day in college I walked on to a movie set. They were filming a scene and it just triggered something in me. No one around me was in the industry, however. So it was all new to me.
“Ever since I was a kid I was a performer.” – Shiva Negar
Early on I did a lot of print work. But I didn’t want to continue modeling. I then booked a TV commercial. In Canada the union is ACTRA. Which is equivalent to SAG-AFTRA. My plan was to do enough work to get my ACTRA card. The first few years your looks work against you. I had to turn down a lot of crap. The casting directors took a few years to take me seriously.
IS : Can you describe your early foray into acting ?
Shiva Negar : The very first audition I ever went on was for Kelly Clarkson’s music video for the song, ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes.’ It went #1 on MTV. I played the lead in it. One of my first shows was getting on an ABC series called ‘Combat Hospital’. That was my first TV gig that was a guest starring role. My acting career started taking off 2011. I did a bunch of projects. I then signed with a modeling and talent agency. I started booking a lot of stuff. I did a lot of print work and commercials. But I wanted to leave to go to a talent agency that represented actors. My first talent agency was called Talent House.
IS : How was the transition early on to becoming a full time actress, after leaving the corporate world ?
Shiva Negar : When my acting career took off in Toronto I quit all my jobs. I knew that I wouldn’t have a consistent income, so I struggled, at first. When I moved to L.A. I slept on a friend’s couch for 2-3 months. It’s a process. Because of everything I went through in my childhood growing up, I was never pampered in a way and we had to migrate all the time. It toughened my skin. I was able to tough it out. It made me more driven.
“I was always a performer. That’s what makes me feel alive.” – Shiva Negar
IS : Were there any actresses / actors that were inspirations for you to follow in TV and Film ?
Shiva Negar : One of the inspirations was Anthony Hopkins.
IS : Can you describe the process of getting an agent ?
Shiva Negar : I am with Characters in Toronto. I had a modeling agency and then a talent agency. My ultimate goal was in Canada to sign with the premiere talent agency named, which is like the CAA of Canada, called Characters. I had to move my way up. I was with a modeling agency. And then I was with Talent House, which is a very good agency in Toronto. Eventually after a few years my agent at Talent House left.
IS : What were your favorite films or TV Shows growing up ?
Shiva Negar : I was obsessed with the original Beverly Hills 90210. I also loved Legends of the Fall.
IS : Can you elaborate on any short films / early projects that you were a part of ?
Shiva Negar : Lost Journey was the first feature film that I ever did. The singer Andy (Madadian) is in it. We shot it in 2009. It didn’t come out till 2011. Which was a great year for me. That was the very first project that I ever did. It was a Canadian film. I had a supporting role.
IS : For these indie films, what is the incentive for the producer, especially if the distribution is limited ?
Shiva Negar : To be honest, most indies are passion projects. You try to make money, some of them do. Some of them don’t. In Canada there is a company, Telefund, they provide funding for independent films. A lot of times, that’s the difference between independent films and studio films, indies have a lot of love. It’s all these people literally putting their heart and soul into it. An American Assassin set is very different from a Becoming Burlesque set. They both have their pros and cons, obviously.
“Indies are passion projects. It’s all these people literally putting their heart and soul into it.” – Shiva Negar
IS : Can you describe the casting process of American Assassin and how the role came about ?
Shiva Negar : I read the script and I was like this is me ! So I put myself on tape and read for Annika’s character. The director Michael Cuesta saw it and wanted to meet me. I Skyped with him and talked some more about the role and how I can bring her to life, and it all just started rolling from there. I met with the producers, the studio and next thing you know I was on a flight to London.
IS : Can you describe character of Annika in American Assassin and the relevancy to your own life, how you are Iranian and lived in Turkey ? There are so many parallels.
Shiva Negar : She is introduced in the film as a Turkish agent working in the Turkish intelligence. She collaborates with the American CIA, played by Michael Keaton. Dylan O’Brien is recruited. They are working for the same mission. Much is not told about her background in the film until Dylan’s character find out she’s an Iranian. She is in Turkey to save this mission. She goes from good to bad to good again.
IS : There is so much physicality in the film. Can you describe your process preparing for the fighting and shooting scenes ?
Shiva Negar : We did weapons training with a guy who was in the Navy Seals. That was honestly so fun and choreographing the fights and I did pretty much all of my own stunts except one or two moves that they didn’t let me do. The film is really tight when they edit it. A lot of the fight scenes, we were shooting them for a lot longer than what is in the film. In the film it goes so fast. When you’re filming it, it’s so much longer. I was already working out and kickboxing leading up to the film. The weapons training was for two weeks.
IS : Can you describe the car chase scenes from American Assassin and any memories that stand out ?
Shiva Negar : They had one of the professional drivers from Top Gear driving. When we got into the accidents I was definitely scared. My legs were shaking. The car is on a platform that turns. That’s how I made the crash. When the car crashes I am turning in it. I was sliding on the side and I hit my head on the window. They have the car on a disk and the disk turns. There is no stunt driver in those sequences.
IS : The tub drowning scene was so intense. What were your recollections from it ? How did you get through that shoot ?
Shiva Negar : That was the most challenging scene. We shot it in one day. The water was cold. They were trying to figure out how to shoot it. I said, ‘Let me just do it raw.’ It was all real. It went for a lot longer than you see on film. My sinuses were messed up for a few weeks after. The director wanted to go through it in one day.
IS : How was the red carpet / press junket / experience for American Assassin ?
Shiva Negar : The American Assassin premiere was here in Hollywood. It was exactly two years ago this time we were doing the press junket for it. The press junket was three days, from 9-5. You’re basically sitting there for hours, the camera is on you the entire time. You have different networks and magazines interviewing you. You end up repeating yourself a lot. Many repetitive questions. You have to be fresh for each one. The red carpet was really fun. My Mom and my sister came. I had a whole glam squad get me red carpet ready.
IS : Can you describe the process of memorization ?
Shiva Negar : When you first start a lot of amateur actors worry about the lines. When you learn about the conversation you’re having, the lines just come. I don’t call it acting. I call it being. I don’t even like the word acting, if you’re acting it’s as if it’s not real. I literally take myself there. It can be exhausting and draining. But when I am on set I try to stay in character.
“I don’t call it acting. I call it being. I don’t even like the word acting, if you’re acting it’s as if it’s not real.” – Shiva Negar
IS : Can you elaborate on your role of Heartland on CBC ?
Shiva Negar : Heartland is on network TV and Netflix. It’s been going on for 12 seasons. The 12th season was shot last summer and I am the new character. The new girlfriend of one of the regulars. I had to learn how to ride a horse. I had to learn horseback riding. I had to do yoga on a horse. I was cast as a city girl who is a Yogi. And the new girlfriend of one of the characters. It was all shot in Calgary.
IS : Can you elaborate on your role for Blood and Treasure ?
Shiva Negar : I also shot that partially in Montreal last year. I was in Canada the entire summer last year, working on these two shows. I play the mother of the lead girl from the 90’s. My character comes as a flashback. There a lot of flashbacks in the show. I am basically the same blood line as Cleopatra. Which is funny because I want to play Cleopatra. The show got picked up for a second season. The scene I posted on Instagram, I shot that in Morocco.
IS : That’s interesting, because my next question is if you could play a biopic of a historical figure or notable individual alive or no longer alive – who would you play and why ?
Shiva Negar : I would love to play Cleopatra. People also tell me I look a lot like Jamie Gertz (of Lost Boys fame).
IS : Which filmmakers and film genres do you want to continue making ?
Shiva Negar : I love action. Empowering female roles. Bad Ass women. What I am passionate about is telling the stories of female heroes based on true stories in the Middle East and around the world. Stories that need to be told that a lot of us don’t know about. Collaborations such as The Refugee Project. One of my passions is telling the story of the Kurdish soldiers that are fighting ISIS right now. These beautiful girls, in their 20s, placed in life and death situations. The stories of the struggles of these women.
“I am passionate about telling the stories of female heroes” – Shiva Negar
IS : Imagine you’re 100 years old – What other career and life milestones would you like to see on your Wikipedia page ?
Shiva Negar : I’d be happy if I told the stories that I want to tell. Including my own that brings an awareness to the world. I feel that it’s my job to do it as a performer on screen because I come from that side of the world. I’ve been through it. Based on my experiences growing up. Like what my Mom went through. When I first moved here, if I am going through any stress, I think about my Mom and how strong she was. Leaving Iran, then Turkey and to Canada with two daughters. I think I can handle myself. My Mom is my life. I look up to her so much. She’s so strong. Our parents’ generation has so many stories to tell. Also stories like sex trafficking in Cambodia. There are also plenty of new stories. I feel that they’re not told enough. It’s more to inspire little girls with big dreams, it’s not about me. In order to inspire I need to tell their stories.
Follow Shiva Negar on social media @TheShivaNegar
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver