Iran in the spotlight
Inspired by Shakespeare, Iranian filmmaker Nima Javidi explores the roles people play in life in his first series, The Actor. He tells DQ about moving to the small screen, the challenge of working with prosthetics and bringing Iranian series to the global stage.
“All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
It is with these words, some of the most iconic lines from William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, that Iranian series The Actor begins. The choice of quote is extremely apt, as it gives an early insight into the story – and psychology – behind the 20-part series.
Written and directed by Nima Javidi (Melbourne, The Warden), an award-winning filmmaker taking his first steps into television, the series blends drama, mystery and black comedy as it follows Ali, a naturally gifted but unknown theatre player, and his friend Morteza, who use their acting skills to perform at parties.
When they receive an offer from a detective agency to use their skills to help solve cold cases, the friends find themselves in increasingly daring and dangerous situations while trying to deal with the problems in their own lives.
Inspired by Shakespeare, Javidi wanted to explore the different roles people play in their lives – and what would happen if some skilled actors deliberately chose to play roles in their real life rather than on stage or in front of a camera.
“The heroes of The Actor do not defeat their challenges by relying on their Herculean strength, nor the intelligence of Sherlock Holmes. They just rely on their acting ability,” he says.
Produced and distributed by HA International, the series stars Navid Mohammadzadeh as Ali and Ahmad Mehranfar as Morteza, with Hasti Mahdavi as Nazi, who later joins the pair on their adventures.
Following its release locally in Iran earlier, The Actor had its international premiere in competition at last month’s Series Mania, where it took home the festival’s Grand Prize for best series.
Speaking to DQ at the event in Lille, Javidi discusses his move into television and how he was inspired by Shakespeare to tell this story.
As a filmmaker, why did you want to move into television for the first time with this story?
As you can see at the beginning of the series, there’s a sentence from Shakespeare that explains the concept of the story. I wanted to explore what happens when two actors, with their acting skills, become supermen for the intelligence services by using their skills as actors. This idea came from the idea I had for a movie eight years ago, and since then it has grown over all these years, so I wrote all the episodes of the series.
As a writer, how did you create the characters and the situations they get caught up in?
In the beginning, it is about one actor, but I always wanted to show this relationship between two friends. Then once I knew a new person needed to be added to the story, a woman, Nazi, comes into the story and they become a crew of three people.
A concept I tried to hang the story on was the idea that everybody, not only the actors, had to play a ‘role’ in the series. It allows us to tell another story within the series. And so in each episode, as we go through the story, it is not only the two actors but also their family and the crew around them who also play a role. This concept, which comes from the sentence by Shakespeare at the beginning, really helped me to grow the characters and allowed me to go deeper into the story.
The main theme of the series explores how the main characters find themselves within the characters they play.
To know yourself is really important. But as we continue into the story, they become more mature and they grow up. They are facing dangers, and as they play a role, they save their lives and also save other people. They grow up and they know themselves better. This point was really important for me.
How does working on a TV series differ from working on a film?
The creation of a series is really different from making a movie. That’s certainly true from the fact we are watching it on a smaller screen than in the cinema, and when we watch a movie in the cinema, it’s in darkness and there’s silence. There’s also the fact we watch with other people inside a cinema. With a series, you’re not watching it as a movie. This is why it’s more complicated to make a link between the people who are watching the series and the cast. But there’s also a common point: the magic of the story.
How did you use make-up and prosthetics for the cast, whose characters are often also playing characters of their own in the show?
It makes things harder. Approximately every two or three episodes, there were different disguises being used. It made the production very difficult because the actors had to be patient and take their time [while different make-up was applied], but happily the actors were really great.
What memorable or challenging moments did you experience in production?
During some later episodes, the two main characters needed to be made up as old men, and at the time it was really hot outside. They needed to be in make-up for four hours, and afterwards they could only work with us for three hours – so four hours in make-up and three hours of work. It meant we didn’t have so much time for shooting. That was really hard to manage. The system was falling apart. It was quite challenging.
What does it mean to you that an Iranian series is being recognised on an international stage?
I am really happy. It’s wonderful if you have many audiences with different cultures and languages [watching your series]. It means your work as a filmmaker is more difficult but also more attractive.
It’s beautiful for me to connect to more people around the world through my work. It’s a goal for me. Maybe some filmmakers don’t like this, but I like it.