By Iman Sadri
July 18, 2020
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. She has been a model appearing in a plethora of print ads and commercials. She is a musician and multi-instrumentalist. And she is college educated with a Bachelor’s and a Post Grad degree. Shiva Negar has catapulted herself to A-List status, striking it big in Hollywood.
Shiva was cast in the blockbuster action thriller feature film American Assassin directed by Michael Cuesta, co-starring Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, and fellow Persian thespian Navid Negahban. Negar has already built a formidable filmography since her first acting job in 2011. She recently wrapped a Sci-Fi 10 episode series called ALT which is currently in post production and set to come out this year. Shiva also starred in a feature film The Cuban directed by Sergio Navarretta, starring Louis Gossett Jr., Shohreh Aghdashloo and Ana Golja. The film will be in select U.S theaters Summer 2020.
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. Born in Tehran, Shiva overcame many obstacles on her way to stardom. She worked in a toy store when she was only nine years old. She worked full time while also attending college full time, obtaining a B.A. in Psychology from York University. She had a prestigious corporate job at a Canadian Real Estate/ Development firm which she left to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She also earned a Post-Grad (Master’s Degree) in Event Management and Marketing, which she called her ‘backup plan’ – It ended up not being needed – much to the triumph of Shiva who has been a working actress since college.
When Negar first started her career, she was mostly offered the parts of the pretty female sidekick, initially. It took a long time and a lot of perseverance to prove herself and once producers noticed her acting prowess she 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 was born in Tehran. I was in the first grade when we left Iran and moved to Istanbul, Turkey. That was not the final destination but more like a stopover. My Dad left for Germany and we were supposed to follow. However things didn’t quite go as planned and while he was trying to make things happen over there, we kind of got stuck in Turkey. Long story short, me, my Mom and sister ended up staying in Istanbul for about 4.5 years before emigrating to Canada.
IS : How was your experience in Turkey?
Shiva Negar : I was young so I was adjusting pretty fast. However, if you’re not a citizen of Turkey, life can get a little complicated living there, at least back then. We obviously had to survive and make a living. So we all got jobs there to make money. I got my very first job when I was about 9,10 years old working at a toy store. That’s where I learned all my gift wrapping skills haha. There didn’t seem to be an age limit to be able to work there, and I looked a bit older than my age which I guess worked to my advantage at the time.
I couldn’t get proper schooling because I was a foreigner so I ended up attending these classes that were organized by this charity organization in a church. They were educating students who were not from Turkey and the classes were taught in English, which helped me when we migrated to Canada.
IS : How was your educational experience in Canada ?
Shiva Negar : I finished high school in Toronto and enrolled in York University. I got my B.A. in Psychology. Originally I wanted to do Fine Arts. I believe it’s the same program that Rachel McAdams had graduated from at the same university. A Fine Arts degree however is not quite a name that you can impress your family with, especially a Persian family ! It wasn’t really good enough. It’s hard to compete with your family’s wish of wanting you to become a Doctor or Lawyer, when you want to study Performing Arts.
Hence why I went with Psychology because at least it was very interesting to me. Then I did my Post Grad (Master’s Degree) in Event Management & Marketing which was sort of my backup plan since my family and friends had put so much fear in me about my acting career goals. In addition to that I was also taking a lot of acting workshops and after college I took all the money I had saved up from my full time job and went to the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles and studied Acting. That was my first big step towards my goal and it took years of hard work and savings for me to be able to make it happen.
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 and used to sing herself so I’m sure it comes from her side of the family. She put my sister and I in music from an early age. I really responded to it. I was taking piano lessons and my sister was learning santoor not sure if there is an English word for that instrument. I always enjoyed music and performing arts since I can remember. Even in Turkey I did some theater. In high school in Canada I was in dramatic arts and theater.
One day when I was in York University first year, they were filming something at our campus and I walked in on a movie set. I can’t really explain the feeling I got at that moment but it was just big! It’s the only way I can describe it. Something was triggered and lit up in me… I started asking questions from some of the actors there as to how I can get involved and perform on Film & TV sets. Then I just never quit and never gave up after that.
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. And I actually booked it! Beginner’s Luck I guess you could say. I play the lead antagonist and the music video went on to become #1 on the MTV charts.
One of my first guest starring roles on a TV Show was an ABC series called Combat Hospital back in 2011. Then my acting career slowly started taking off. But it was not easy! I really had to work hard to prove myself and my talent because I wasn’t being taken seriously by anyone when I first started. With casting also, I was constantly being type casted for the small pretty girl roles or minor ethnic roles. So I had to really push through all the rejections to prove myself over and over and not be discouraged.
IS : How was the transition early on to becoming a full time actress, after leaving the corporate world ?
Shiva Negar : When my acting career finally took off years later in Toronto I took that big scary step and quit my job that was my bread and butter. I knew that I was saying bye to my consistent income and sustainability but I just had to take that risk in order to grow and further my acting career. I struggled a lot at the beginning. When I moved to L.A. I was not in a good place, slept on a friend’s couch for 2-3 months. I was depressed, but wouldn’t tell anyone. It was a slow process of adjusting and surviving really.
IS : Were there any actresses / actors that were inspirations for you to follow in TV and Film ?
Shiva Negar : Um there are two amazing women that I have looked up to and still do to this day. Jennifer Lopez is actually one of them. She’s a queen and I actually see a lot of myself in her versatile career because I also love music and dance in addition to my acting and really admire her for being able to do all three in such a remarkable way. Most people pick one and master one art but she’s mastered all and I truly admire her for that. The other queen is my beloved, wonderful and talented actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who I can now call a dear friend and a mentor. I had the honor of working with her on a feature film The Cuban which is actually being released in U.S this year.
IS : Can you describe the process of getting an agent ?
Shiva Negar : Getting an agent is something that a lot of people including myself believed is the first thing you should do when you want to get into the industry. When in fact it’s not. Just like when you want to become a Doctor, you don’t go and apply to work at the hospital right away, but you go to medical school. So I always had a goal and wanted to sign with the top talent agency but it took time and patience. I had to go through a lot of workshops, acting school, networking and casting events and so on until you can have a good amount of education and classes on your resume before looking to sign with an agent.
“I WAS ALWAYS A PERFORMER. THAT’S WHAT MAKES ME FEEL ALIVE.” – SHIVA NEGAR
IS : What were your favorite films or TV Shows growing up?
Shiva Negar : In high school I was obsessed with the original ‘Beverly Hills 90210‘. I love Friends ! That show is still on top of my list. It was one of the best. Great writing. Favorite films, I have many but I’ll name a few: Law Abiding Citizen, Django Unchained and Green Book.
IS : Can you elaborate on any short films / early projects that you were a part of ?
Shiva Negar : One of the first projects I worked on, aside from the Music Video was a feature film called “Lost Journey”, starring our very own famous musician Andy Madadian. We shot it back in 2009 and It was released in selected theaters in Canada in 2011.
IS : Can you describe the casting process of American Assassin and how the role came about ?
Shiva Negar : I read the script and the character story and I was shocked! I felt like it was me! I called my manager and was like I have to read for this. The casting was out of London so I put myself on tape for Annika. The director Michael Cuesta saw the tape 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 to shoot 🙂
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?
Shiva Negar : There are so many parallels. Annika is introduced in the film as a Turkish agent working for Turkish intelligence. She collaborates with the American CIA, Hurley played by Michael Keaton and the new recruit Mitch Rapp, played by Dylan O’Brien. They are working on the same mission. Not much is told about her background in the film initially, until the plot twist where the suspicions arise about her being a double agent. (Spoiler alert!)
IS : There is so much physicality in the film. Can you describe your process preparing for the fighting and shooting scenes?
Shiva Negar : Yeah that was a lot of fun actually. The first two weeks I got there we didn’t go on camera but I was training with the stunt team every morning. From kickboxing to then choreographing the fights etc. We also had some weapon training with someone who was in the Navy Seals. It was very exciting. In the film it’s really tight and goes a lot quicker of course. But the fight scenes were a lot longer when we were filming.
IS : Can you describe the car chase scenes from American Assassin and any memories that stand out ?
Shiva Negar : The car chase was really cool. They actually had one of the professional drivers from Top Gear driving the car. When we shot the crash scene, even though it’s not a real crash it’s still pretty scary because the movement is just so real. My legs were shaking at one point and I actually accidentally hit my head on the window really hard haha. They got a good take out of that I’m sure.
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 probably the most challenging scene for me compared to the rest. Luckily we got to shoot that whole tub scene in one day. My sinuses were very upset at me after that lol. It was definitely intense and I did most of my own stunts except one or two moves that they didn’t let me do for safety. But other than that the whole thing was raw and real.
IS : How was the red carpet / press junket / experience for American Assassin ?
Shiva Negar : The press junket was couple months before the theatrical release. The red carpet premiere was here in Hollywood. My Mom and my sister flew down for the premiere. It was a lot of fun!
IS : Can you describe the process of memorization for your scripts ?
Shiva Negar : Memorization is probably the last thing I do when I’m diving into a character. First for me is getting to know the character as well as I know myself if possible. I become that character and once you know this character’s story, intention and personality then the memorization becomes very easy or maybe it’s not even necessary because you would just know what she would say in that specific scene or context or how she would react if that makes sense. I always say, I don’t call it acting. I call it being. I don’t even like the word acting so much, if you’re acting it’s as if it’s not real. I literally take myself there. It can be exhausting and draining at times but that’s what makes it real.
IS : Can you tell us about the new TV Show you just filmed ALT ?
Shiva Negar : It’s a Sci-Fi/Drama 10 episode series. We shot it just before the years end in New Mexico. I love the concept and the storyline as it merges scientific theories and spirituality. I play one of the leads and my character is one of the mysterious ones, which is my favorite to play. It’s currently in post production. We don’t have a release date just yet but hopefully soon!
IS : Can you elaborate on your role of the TV Show Heartland ?
Shiva Negar : Yes! That was an interesting role. I not only got to ride a horse in the show but I also got to do yoga on a horse! It may sound crazy but horseback yoga is actually a thing. The show has been going on for 13 seasons now. My character was introduced on season 12 as the new love interest of one of the main characters on the show. It was all shot in Calgary, Canada which is sort of like Dallas in America in terms of the Western and Cowboy genre vibe.
IS : Can you elaborate on your role for Blood and Treasure ?
Shiva Negar : Blood and Treasure is a new show on CBS, which got picked up for 2nd season. My character is recurring in flashbacks and has an interesting background. She is from the same bloodline as Cleopatra which is kinda cool. It’s also my first time playing a Mom. We shot it in Montreal and Morocco.
“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 : 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 Jami Gertz (from Lost Boys).
IS : Which filmmakers and film genres do you want to continue making?
Shiva Negar : I do love action. Empowering female roles. 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. I’d love to be the voice of those 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 : That’s a very long list haha. Mainly I’d like to share what I’ve learned and am learning throughout my journey as a way of giving back. You’re constantly evolving you see and if my experiences can help others in the process, while they’re fighting their own battle and/ or working hard towards their goals and dreams, then I’d love to be that positive inspiration that will give them the extra push and motivation.
As for my career, I’d love to continue telling stories that bring more awareness to the world and stories that can connect us more as humans. I think we need that more than ever right now.
Follow Shiva Negar across all social media platforms @TheShivaNegar ________________________________________________________ ________________
Iman Sadri is the founder of @LASmileMagazine and @ThePersianObserver