Interview With Ali Mosaffa
When did you meet Asghar Farhadi for the first time?
The first time that I saw Mr. Farhadi, he'd come to talk about a script to
Leila Hatami, my wife. But I had followed his career and seen his films. I knew
his work. We knew each other as two Iranian film professionals.
What's your background?
I've been acting in Iranian films for 24 years. I started randomly. I was
getting bored at the university and I was offered to act in a film. I went there
just to clear my head. My first film was a 3rd zone commercial type of film. But
then came my third film, PARI, directed by Dariush Mehrjui and being an actor
took on a new meaning for me. I'd just been having fun until then. Meeting
Mehrjui made me take cinema seriously.
How did Asghar talk you into the project?
I went through several auditions. A month before the shooting started, I
wasn't sure I had the role. Being able to speak French was obligatory. Funnily
enough, I still don't consider myself to be a French speaker. But I've always
heard the language. I even started learning it a few years ago, then stopped,
then started again and so on. French had become like a chronic disease I
couldn't get rid of! A constant problem... My wife happens to speak French to
our children at home. So for the past few years, French has played an increasing
role in my life.
How did acting in French affect your performance?
I've thought a lot about that. I heard something Mr Kiarostami said about his
experience in Japan, shooting a film with actors whose language he doesn't
understand. He said that in spite of the loss of a tool as a director, he'd
gained a unique way of evaluating the acting. He was no longer duped by the
language. He was able to perceive more accurately and more deeply the quality of
acting. This can be applied to the actor too. When acting in a different
language, you lose the weapon of your mother tongue, which you can usually
employ to cover some weaknesses in your acting, by the inflexion of your voice,
by a mastery gained throughout your life. Without this weapon, you have no
choice but to base your acting on primitive elements like your eyes, for
How would you define Ahmad?
He's an outsider in France. Although he's familiar with the culture and has
lived here for 4, 15 or 20 years, it makes no difference, I think, he still
remains a foreigner. Like many people from the East, he doesn't express his
feelings directly. That's how his reactions must be understood and interpreted.
This difference existing between the Iranians and the French can cause many
misunderstandings. As for the rest of his personality, I'm not the kind of actor
who tries to understand all the complexity of the character before performing
Did you and Asghar Farhadi imagine a past for Ahmad? Why he came to France
the first time, how he met Marie...
That is part of Mr. Farhadi's method. He talks about his characters' past.
It's probably necessary to the writing process. I don't wish to know everything
about the character and never ask anything about him to the writer or the
director. I think trying to explain the character's behavior through his past is
only a way of justifying his present contradictions. But I feel that the
contradictions should be accepted in order to make the character real. Trying to
erase them is useless. Trying at all costs to understand a character doesn't
help the actor perform the role.
Is Ahmad's function to help the others speak and reveal certain things?
What's true about Ahmad is that he cares so much about these people, he can't
help trying to help them sort out their problems. But this is not his natural
tendency, he's not that involved in other people's lives and he doesn't feel
he's able to help them solve their problems. He's involved only because of the
affection he feels towards them. That is one of contradictions. If he cares so
much about Marie's life, how could he leave her? That's his personality. He may
be representative of a generation in Iran. Truthful people who care about others
and wish they could help them. But the times don't encourage them in this way.
They feel torn apart. Help the others, but to what extent? They try to preserve
their own lives but they've been taught selflessness.
Ahmad's expression is very soft...
I may speak slowly because it's in French. But in real life, even in Farsi, I
do speak slowly and I'm a slow person. It's my way of being. But it's also a
reaction. I feel the French speak very fast. I can't help behaving differently
between actors who have something in common. So, the faster they speak, the
slower I feel like speaking, even if I know my lines and I'm able to say them
Is your character Asghar Farhadi's spokesperson? Does he for instance
represent the gaze of an Iranian man on a French couple?
I don't think Asghar Farhadi wishes to have a spokesperson in the film. Based
on what I know of his work and his approach, he would specifically avoid having
anyone represent him, or making a film that would be a kind of a manifesto.
Nevertheless, because this character is Iranian, he must have transferred more
of himself on him than on the others.
What was working with French actors like?
It was a very friendly atmosphere. I never felt like I was working with
foreigners. I don't know if it's always the case, but with Berenice, Tahar,
Pauline, I really felt supported. Quite often, when I would make a mistake in
French or say a wrong line and someone would come and correct me, Berenice would
try to minimize my mistake, saying I had a cute accent! I really felt they were
looking after me as fellow actors. I really appreciated this professional
solidarity that I felt in French cinema.
Is a French shoot different from an Iranian shoot?
The principles are very similar. We must have borrowed a lot from French
cinema. Although here, things are more formal, more substantial.
Is THE PAST a French or an Iranian story?
I think the strength of this script is that it's neither French nor Iranian.
It's a human story.
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