The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines

BOOK: The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines
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Dedication

For Tara and Houshang,

my heart and soul,

and for my beloved parents

Contents

Dedication

1: The Oscars

2: The Sweetness of Youth

3: Tehran’s Think Tank

4: That Acting Bug

5: The Hijinks of Goldie

6: Fatima’s Warning

7: Vogue

8: The Era of Sweet Dreams

9: Sunrise, Sunset

10: Visiting Bardot

11: Fervor

12: Loyalty

13: Home Sweet Home

14: Pot Lady

15: The Four Musketeers

16:
Ma non è una cosa seria

17: The Dream of Sultanieh

18: The Nights of the Revolution

19: The Boxes of My Life

20: Border Patrol

21: Another Country

22: Blending In

23: Mahdi and the Shah

24: Elixir of Love?

25: The Princess and the Shop

26: High Rollers

27: The Political Divide

28: Caravan

29: Mood Swings

30: Sunny California

31: A Quest

32: Dissent

33:
The Sweet Scent of Love

34: Safety Belt

35: Red Light, Green Light

36: Always with My Daughter

37: Evin

38: That Day

39: Sand and Fog

40: Hollywood

41: Accolades

42: Tomorrow and Yesterday

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Credits

Copyright

Photographs

About the Publisher

1

The Oscars

I
t is now the eleventh hour. Time is passing quickly. My childhood dream has come true, and I am spellbound. It is the day of the Oscars, February 29, 2004. I have been nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for my portrayal of Nadi Behrani, the submissive, voiceless wife of Colonel Behrani, played by Ben Kingsley in the movie
House of Sand and Fog
, based on the novel by Andre Dubus III.

Only a few days before, the last Queen of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, called me to make a special request that I not wear Valentino for the glorious night as planned but rather a dress by a designer from Iran, my homeland. Simin and her assistant are at my house to help me get into the tight red silk satin gown that she has created for me. They are in my bedroom now, steaming and stitching the last bits and pieces, making sure nothing moves or could fall off during the event. The dress has required the talents of five tailors and forty-eight hours of beading in preparation for this day.

Erin, a freelance makeup artist, has taken over the den of our four-bedroom house, which is located in a pretty, flower-draped gated community in Calabasas about twenty-five miles from Los Angeles. Erin has spread her beautifying tools over the entire surface of my faded and stained vintage blue wooden desk, a reminder of another time, another era.

A gentleman named Mark has come from Harry Winston with the jewelry I will be wearing to complete my fairy-tale evening. The jewels include an exquisite bracelet of rubies and diamonds, with matching earrings, along with a ten-carat diamond ring. Mark is going to stay with me throughout the night to keep a close eye on the million-dollar jewels, so that I won’t run away with them back to the Caspian Sea.

Tara-Jane, my fourteen-year-old daughter, is upset that her little black dress has a torn zipper and there is no Plan B. She wants to go to the Oscars in casual clothing. Houshang, my husband—also an actor, as well as a director and playwright—looks dashing in his black Valentino tuxedo and is doing his best to convince our daughter that the Oscars is all about one’s achievement and the celebration of one’s art.

“So be it!” he says eventually, with his unique respect for his creative offspring. “Put on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and enjoy the night!”

Seeing that she has properly won this test of wills, Tara hurries to her room to change. I am glad she is a young woman who makes her own choices and has the right to do so. Yes, it would have been nice to see her all dressed up, but she is always lovely to me. She is the joy of my life.

Mahwah, my girlfriend, also from my homeland, is suffering from advanced lung cancer, but she has requested to be with me while I am getting ready for the biggest night of my life. I am glad to have her there, though we barely get a chance to talk. We just smile at each other each time I pass through the living room, where she is resting on a sofa and watching me. She is so happy for me, and I am pleased to see her smile.

Other people who have gathered at my house include my longtime friend Jaleh (whose nickname is Zsa Zsa, but not because of the Gabors. Having nicknames was customary back in my time in Iran.) and Mansur Sepehrband, a prominent Iranian talk show host. He is here to capture all of the intimate details of the Hollywood ritual with his high-tech digital camera. It will air this afternoon before the Oscars on Jam-e-Jam TV, a Farsi-speaking satellite network that broadcasts around the world, including my birth country. I am the first Iranian and Middle Eastern actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. Sometimes I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders for the people of my former country. Millions of their hearts will be with me tonight. I particularly think of the many women who have been silenced in my homeland by the dictatorship. They will be secretly cheering me on.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, for the briefest of moments, I am having an out-of-body experience, observing myself in this holographic scene. I am calm and happy, but the so-called butterflies in my stomach are at unrest. I am talking, moving, sitting, and standing, but my soul is flying through the universe fast, seeking the sun, longing for a moment in its pure light. My soul is whirling, celebrating a dream coming true in this land of dream-makers—the land of freedom and democracy.

At last it is 3:00
P.M
., and DreamWorks, the production studio of
House of Sand and Fog
, has sent a shiny black stretch limo to take us to the Oscars, which are being held at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. We are ready to leave for what turns out to be an hour-and-a-half drive in traffic. I have to lie down on the backseat, as forcefully suggested by the designer, so that my dress will remain perfect. It is a vast understatement to say that I’m feeling uncomfortable. All I hear is Simin echoing, “All actors do the same thing to avoid wrinkles on their dress. You will thank me when you see the pictures.”

Mansur holds his camera next to the window and asks his final question before Jaleh, Houshang, Tara-Jane, Mark, and I drive away:

“Shohreh, do you think you are going to win?” I have not seriously contemplated this question. The Academy has not seen my body of work yet. That remains in Iran.
House of Sand and Fog
is my debut to people in Hollywood and America at large. I simply choose not to answer his question.

I have had the pleasure to work with one of my favorite actors of all time, Sir Ben Kingsley. It had been a dream of mine that finally came true. When I was in my early twenties, I sat mesmerized as I watched him perform in a play in London. Teary-eyed, I told my mother that I would only call myself a real actress when I had worked with Kingsley.

Any serenity I was holding on to melts away as we arrive at the theater and in the endless line of stretch limousines. There is no amount of preparation for the experience of being on the red carpet. The photographers’ flashes of quick lights are pale in comparison to the number of movie stars present.

Actors and actresses walk the red carpet—almost a block long—to the Kodak Theatre. They are surrounded by fans on the right, seemingly pouring off of the scaffolding, and a sea of prominent media personalities on the left. Underneath the warm early twilight, I feel proud of having followed my dream and not given up every time my life turned upside down.

I HAVE TO
constantly remind myself that this is not a dream. The reporters are kind to me. They often say that I am the “dark horse,” or the surprise of this year’s Oscars. Even Joan Rivers is respectful, except for one faux pas—which I know she doesn’t mean to make—introducing me as Shohreh “Ashashasloo,” which in Farsi means “contaminated with urine.”

The red-carpet journey ends much too quickly. In what seems like the blink of an eye, an usher escorts us to our seats in the first row. I am right next to Nicole Kidman and her friend. I am so thrilled to be this close to her. I do not feel the same enthusiasm in return.

Next to Nicole’s friend is my fellow nominee Renée Zellweger, wearing a whitish gown with a huge matching bow on the back, which takes up so much of her chair she is forced to sit on its edge. She is speaking with a man I assume is her agent, who tries to reassure her, as do Nicole and her friend. I am pleasantly surprised to see that she is nervous, but I think I am less so because I’m new to Hollywood and Renée is a veteran.
Cold Mountain
is her latest movie.

As a fellow actor but also as a fan, I would love to talk to Nicole. But I am completely at a loss for words. She is a megastar. My hope is that she will turn her head to the right and see me and we would instantly burst into conversation about our work, and Hollywood. But it is clear that she is here to support Renée and has no intention of acknowledging me. I understand.

Nevertheless, we do lock eyes for a moment when she turns around to look at my daughter, who is kissing my forehead and wishing me the best. But she turns away before I get a chance to say hello.

Farther down in the first row are Michael Douglas and his gorgeous wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, standing from her chair. She repeatedly gestures toward Renée with a thumbs-up. She mouths silently, saying, “Renée you are going to win.” She does this a few times to make sure Renée receives the message. Finally the curtain goes up and the show begins with Billy Crystal, who sings the entire list of nominees’ names in his opening skit. All too soon, the best-supporting-actress nominees’ names are called out. My heart is pounding, my thoughts on the ride that brought me to the Oscars. It has certainly been a long one.

“And the award goes to . . .”

2

BOOK: The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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