The new season of Channel 4 drama Homeland has seen Nazanin Boniadi's character Fara morph dramatically from quiet CIA analyst to a key player on the show, working out in the field as live-wire Carrie (Claire Danes)’s protégé. In the flesh the 34-year-old - who also recently squeezed in a run on another hot US TV series, Scandal - is teeny-tiny and more polished than her on-screen persona. “They put a scarf on my head in the last series and I’m wearing little to no make-up” she says. “It takes people a while before they go ‘oh you’re THAT girl!’”
Tehran-born but London-raised Nazanin (pronounced ‘Nazaneen’) originally wanted to be a doctor, but a change of heart in her final year at University of California, Irvine (where she moved from home in London to study) switched her onto a new career track that began with bit parts on General Hospital, How I Met Your Mother and a cameo on Iron Man before she wound up scoring her ‘dream role’ on Homeland. We sat down with her to find out what makes her tick.
So let’s talk about Homeland. Is the show proving there’s life after Brody?
“I absolutely loved Brody on the show, so I was really cautious when I got the script for the first episode. But reading it I just thought ‘wow, how have they managed in one hour to completely reboot it?’”
Your character Fara has a bigger action role this season...
“She proved herself last year in Carrie’s eyes because she put her own family at risk to help Brody, so she’s been brought into her team and is working on the ground in Pakistan. She really does get her hands dirty. She’s an agent now, not just an analyst.”
Do you think it’s a good time for women in television?
“In a lot of ways I think television is better for women than film. I look at Claire [Danes] and her character and how incredibly multi-faceted she is, and I’ve also come from working on Scandal where Kerry Washington is another strong female lead.”
Like Fara you’re originally from Iran. Do you remember much from early life there?
“No, my parents fled to London when I was 20 days old during the revolution. Going back to visit in my early teens it was so different to the way my parents had described it. Back then my mum would walk around in a miniskirt with red lipstick on and nobody would think anything of it. I remember feeling appalled that I had to wear a headscarf. Clothes are a big part of a free society – I think – and what you wear is so indicative of the political climate you’re living in.”
How did your family react to you becoming an actress?
“The entertainment industry isn’t a line of work encouraged in the Persian culture. When I called my dad to say I wanted to quit medicine there was about three minutes of silence. I’m not sure he knew what to do with himself! I said ‘give me a year and if things don’t work out I’ll have a rethink.’”
Ironically your first part was on General Hospital!
“Dad never let me live that one down, he’d say, ‘you’re not a doctor, now you’re an actor playing a nurse on television’, but it was the second audition I ever did. It’s been an interesting progression, going from soap to a sitcom with How I Met Your Mother and now being a series regular on Homeland. It’s exactly the role I’ve always dreamed of.”
Do you get recognised much?
“I get recognised more for How I Met Your Mother and Scandal as I look so different on Homeland. I’ve only really seen crazy fan interactions from watching Damian [Lewis]. He just gets mobbed. I think it’s the female fans, the men don’t quite have that level of energy!”
What’s in your wardrobe at home?
“It's quite fitted. Though when I do fashion shoots or I’m filming my style often shifts because I’m influenced by the clothes. When I was on How I Met Your Mother I wore my character’s brown leather jacket for a year after I wrapped the show!”
Who would be your dream co-star to work with next?
“Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s absolutely amazing. I love that keen sense of intelligence. Claire is bursting with it, too. It makes me go ‘this is great, I want to learn from you’.”
Homeland airs Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4
Read the full interview in the December issue of InStyle, out now
By Lucy Pavia / @lucypavia