By Brad Pomerance
Special to TelevisionWeek
Shohreh Aghdashloo received an Oscar nomination in 2004 for her work in “House of Sand and Fog,” but to the American audience, this highly acclaimed Iranian actress remained mostly unknown-that is, until her powerful performance as Dina Araz in the Fox hit “24.”
“She is probably the breakout TV villain this year,” said Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming for Fox. Yet Ms. Aghdashloo’s performance offered more than just a potent portrayal of a terrorist. She managed to transform her calculating character into a devoted mother.
“Ms. Aghdashloo was able to communicate more than one agenda at the same time-global terrorist and sympathetic mother. And yet the audience still sympathized with this mass murderer. They overlooked that she was a murderer-and not even our murderer,” said Evan Katz, executive producer of “24.”
And the multidimensional nature of Dina Araz proved critical when Ms. Aghdashloo decided to take on this role. “I didn’t want to play a terrorist. All terrorist characters were merely a façade of terrorists. You could not get into the psyche of the terrorist, but with Dina Araz, I realized I could get into her psyche-her background, her education, her family. That is what the audience is watching,” Ms. Agdashloo said.
At the same time, Ms. Aghdashloo turned to bona fide terrorists living seemingly innocent moments as the inspiration for her character. “We all saw the surveillance tapes of the 9/11 terrorists as they went on their mission, proceeding through airport security. They were like any other ordinary people. I remember hearing one person comment that one of the terrorists wore too much cologne. Think, on that morning, he did not even forget to put on cologne. Outside they looked proper, but inside their adrenaline must have been pumping. So I have played my character like that ordinary person whose inner psyche has to be in constant conflict,” she said.
This performance has been made all the more demanding given the unique elements in “24.” Ms. Aghdashloo is faced with morphing her character from an evil terrorist to a doting mother in the matter of a single day.
“Our program is presented in real time. I have enjoyed the challenge of offering contradictory emotions over a 24-hour period,’ Ms. Aghdashloo said. All the while, she is delivering these conflicting emotions with minimal guidance from the producers.
Mr. Katz noted that “these scripts are underwritten, with little direction. And there are many scenes without any dialogue and even during these scenes, Ms. Aghdashloo has been able to communicate all these feelings and emotions, letting the audience into Dina’s head.”
Others to Consider
2004 Drama Supporting Actress Contenders
Winner: Drea de Matteo, The Sopranos (HBO)
Other nominees: Robin Weigert, Deadwood (HBO); Tyne Daly, Judging Amy (CBS); Janel Moloney,
The West Wing (NBC); Stockard Channing, The West Wing (NBC)