The Iranian actress of indie cinema becomes a force on screen amid the fall TV slate.
Golshifteh Farahani in 'Invasion'
| Credit: Apple TV +

Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani never wanted to do television. She "refused" to, as she says. Perhaps it was an illusion of the mind that the quality of a show would never be on par with that of film, which may seem like an outdated idea in the endless age of peak TV, but, then again, Farahani hasn't watched much TV these days.

The 38-year-old mainstay of the indie film space regularly graces the red carpets of international film festivals, like the ones in Marrakech, Venice, and Cannes. She illuminates the screen on auteur-driven titles, like Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (starring Adam Driver), Darbareye Elly (helmed by Oscar-nominated director Asghar Farhadi), and Arab Blues (from filmmaker Manele Labidi).

Simon Kinberg, the longtime producer of the now-disbanded X-Men franchise, was well aware of her work when looking to assemble an international cast for the Apple TV+ drama Invasion. The show felt almost like providence, as Farahani views all her past roles. She was approached out of the blue for a prominent role, and when she read the script, she says she immediately felt like it was a story on par with the quality of film. "It was so powerful, so strong," she says.

Farahani will now be one of the most powerful players this fall TV season through her performance of Aneesha. Invasion depicts the events surrounding an alien invasion of Earth through the perspective of seemingly disparate characters all around the globe, but Aneesha is the most compelling. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, she gave up her life to care for her children in the suburbs of Long Island, only to learn of a betrayal that upends her world. Then, the invasion happens, and this housewife transitions into beast mode to protect her loved ones.

EW spoke with Farahani over the phone from Spain about this must-watch title of the fall TV slate.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I remember you mentioning on Instagram how excited you were to share the trailer for Invasion alone. What excites you about this project?

GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI: I was doing ADR and I almost couldn't watch because it was almost a bit too much for myself. What's most exciting about Invasion is it's a mega-production happening all over the world. It's a metaphor. With this pandemic, I felt like there's no escape for anyone, no matter where you are, how protected you are. The same with Invasion. We're not safe, even in space. Me, I'm more excited to watch, but it's gonna be a bit overwhelming for me. I watched three episodes and I couldn't sleep. I had so much adrenaline in my system. I had to ask myself if it's because I'm in it or if the show is having an impact on me. It's gonna be a little cosmic rollercoaster of a show.

It had to be odd making a show that deals with a global catastrophe while you're living through the pandemic.

It was. I'll never forget the days — March 11, 12, 13 — when the pandemic really hit New York. We were shooting the scenes where the supermarkets were empty, people were carrying dead bodies. When I came back to Union Square, I went to Whole Foods and the supermarket was empty. Reality and the show were merging. My subconscious and conscious were so confused at that time. It wasn't easy. But it's probably the most remarkable work of my life. It's so much effort and evolution. On this shooting, so many things changed in the world, in me, even in the character. The way the character was changing, not for good or bad, it's just surviving and trying to make it, it was exactly like the reality of what we were doing in the whole world. We were all trying to somehow find ways [to survive]. It was very big and emotional when we finished the first season. It felt like a lifetime. It was long and full of memories.

Did you have expectations coming into this show about what it would be like?

Not really. I was quite alien to the world of [TV] series because I wasn't watching many series. I was refusing to be in series. Then, I remember when the episodes came, when I read it, I said, "Oh my goodness, this is better than a movie." It was so powerful, so strong. The character was incredibly important. I was very touched and flattered to be proposed this part with no question or nothing. But I walked in like a child. They needed to have meetings to explain to me what it is to be on a series. I had no idea, coming from the world of pure cinema. No matter how big or small the movie would be, the series is another world. Something opened up in the window of my life.

Golshifteh Farahani
Golshifteh Farahani at the Marrakech International Film Festival.
| Credit: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

How did this role come to you?

That you should ask the stars in the universe. I have no idea. Simon [Kinberg], the creator of the show, he told me something, like, they saw some of my [work]. I somehow belong to that independent side in this world of cinema. It was a proposition. It wasn't an audition. It's funny, every work I've done in my life, it was always a proposition, I've never gotten a job through an audition. I'm horrible at auditioning. And also, instinctively, I knew it was happening. It's a mystery to me. Working with [director] Jim Jarmusch [on Paterson with Adam Driver] was a mystery to me. How these things happen, I have no idea.

Was there a moment where you felt like you really understood who your character Aneesha was?

I think it happened quite fast. I only open the door for the character to come in. It happened when she finds out she's somehow betrayed and her whole world collapses and she's naked in her soul. She's lost. That woman that went to medical school, she became a mom, she [achieved] the typical Long Island American Dream, suddenly she becomes a person who doesn't know where she is. And the world is collapsing at the same time. When that curtain falls, it's dirty, it's painful, but at the same time, it's a start. Gradually, in every episode, she was showing different sides of her to me. Also, the show was evolving, she was evolving, everything gets worse and worse. I remember once we were rehearsing — I don't give much in rehearsals — it was the scene where I'm killing this alien and I couldn't even rehearse. Just before we started, I asked myself, "What are you going to do?" I knew [the character] was gonna come, it's gonna happen. And sometimes I was surprised because things were unpredictable. The intensity of the scenes were helping a lot. I was trying to be in the moment and not destroy her by myself. Let the character be in me, come to me. It was extraordinary how it was flowing in me.

You talk about the intensity of Invasion. Was this a particularly demanding show, physically?

It was a very intense shoot. I had bruises all over me, all the time. When the bruises were getting better, new bruises would appear. The shooting was not easy because we were shooting far away sometimes… and also emotionally I would say, yes, but there was a lot of joy in it. I was so taken by [Aneesha] and the whole show. I was so safe in the hands of directors and the whole production. It was actually a very sweet difficulty. There was a lot of satisfaction.

It seems all of these disparate characters were chosen for specific reasons to tell the story of Invasion. What is unique about Aneesha?

The spectrum of where she starts and where she goes is very large. It's huge. We see her [as] this little woman in high heels preparing lunch boxes to this animal that would kill anyone who touched her children. Her evolution is very sudden. She has to switch from west to east, or North Pole to South Pole. All the characters are very strong or interesting or mysterious, unique, but maybe this evolution is a wider spectrum.

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