By Darius KADIVAR
«One Couple. One Journey. One Child...who would change the world...forever»
–Tagline to The Nativity Story
What is amazing about Shohreh Aghdashloo is that one cannot second guess her eclectic film choices. Her career has been one of ups and downs and yet she has pursued her path with determination and most importantly for an actor with an immense Faith in her Art which was often at odds with that of her community and generation. The rising Star of Abass Kiarostami’s only political movie Gozaresh had to put an end to her career due to a religious revolution that was to tear her country, partly break her marriage to another talented artist Aydin Aghdashloo and force her to exile for a life that was no less bohemian and yet full of happy surprises. Maybe it is precisely Faith that brought Shohreh back where she truly belonged that is the London Stage and subsequently to the sunlight’s of Hollywood where she was to even be nominated for an Oscar in 2003 in a supporting role in A House with Sand and Fog. In a profession where women, unlike men are often denied great roles after a certain age, Aghdashloo seems to evolve like good wine, adding with each film an extra dimension to her wide abilities as an actress of talent. The Former Jodie Foster of Iranian Cinema seems to capture the Camera with her strong personality very much like former Hollywood Legend Bette Davis. Aghdashloo’s unique blend of voice and exotic looks surely remain in everyone’s mind after each of her onscreen performances as she subtly steals the show from her often more famous co-Stars be it : as Sir Ben Kingsley’s tormented wife in Andre Dubus III novel’s screen adaptation, as the cold blooded terrorist Dina Araz opposite Kieffer Sutherland in 24 or as a medic in blockbusters like X-Men 3, The Lake House or The Exorcism of Emily Rose opposite such acclaimed Stars as Hugh Jackson, Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Carpenter. If Hollywood still owes Aghdashloo justice (*) with a great title role that would put her in the limelight of public attention, and a popularity long due amongst Hollywood talents, she creates attention once again by appearing cast as Elisabeth mother of John The Baptist in a much expected Biblical Epic: The Nativity Story directed by Helen Catherine Hardwicke.
"The Nativity Story" chronicles the arduous journey of two people, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac), a miraculous pregnancy, and the history-defining birth of Jesus. In a small village, a young girl lives the last teenage years. To escape the harsh conditions of family life, her parents hope to marry her. Everything was prepared for this important event when suddenly her fate takes a different turn: The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that she will have a child like no other women ever did. Thus the most extraordinary story of Humanity is about to be unfold …
Aghdashloo plays the role of Elizabeth, wife of Zachary and mother of John the Baptist, is to be found in the book of Luke. Elisabeth means in Hebrew "worshiper of God." A descendant of the priestly line of Aaron, she was a kinswoman—how close we are not told—of the Virgin Mary. According to the Gospel, Elizabeth had lived a blameless life with her husband in one of the hill-towns of Judea. Having reached an advanced age with her prayers for a son unanswered, she thought that her barrenness was a reproach. One day, while Zachary was serving in the temple, the Angel Gabriel appeared at the right of the altar, and announced that a son would be born to Elizabeth. It was in the sixth month of her pregnancy that the Virgin Mary came to visit her—a touching and beautiful scene pictured by many great artists. The Angel Gabriel, having lately announced to Mary the destiny that awaited her, also told her that her kinswoman Elizabeth was with child. The Virgin Mary, eager to share in Elizabeth's happiness and to confide that she too would bear a child, traveled down the dusty road from Nazareth. On Mary's arrival, she was amazed when Elizabeth, having foreseen knowledge, greeted her as "mother of my Lord." Elizabeth's salutation was in these words: "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the moment that the sound of thy greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who has believed, because the things promised her by the Lord shall be accomplished." The Gospel story tells us further that at Elizabeth's delivery her friends and neighbors rejoiced with her, and when the child was brought to be circumcised, they were going to call him after his father Zachary, but his mother said, "His name shall be John.
Screenwriter Mike Rich began writing the screenplay of the movie on 1 December 2005, exactly a year before its release. The cast were taught how to use certain tools used 2000 years ago as well as how to build homes, how to press olives and grapes, how to make bread, how to make cheese, and how to milk goats. Rich's script, and it's faithful and reverent to the Gospel accounts, but also brings Joseph and Mary's characters alive in a very human way. They wrestle with fears and doubts and anxieties, all within the framework of unshakeable faith. The film was shot partly in Italy at a Village called Matera. "The joke is that Matera looks more like Jerusalem than Jerusalem does," says R.J. Millard, New Line's marketing consultant. Founded by the Romans in the third century B.C., Matera is home to ancient cave dwellings believed to have housed Italy's first humans some 4,000 years ago. Some of the more "modern" buildings include a 13th-century cathedral, high on a hill in the middle of town. Matera so resembles ancient Palestine and Israel that other Bible movies have been filmed in the same location—Pasolini's The Gospel According to Matthew in 1964, and Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ in 2004.
Iranian Shaun Toub is also playing in an epic for the first time along with an impressive cast, including Ciaran Hinds (King Herod), Alexander Siddig (Gabriel) both of whom are familiar to Epic films since they respectively played as Julius Caesar and Hannibal in the series Rome and the documentary fiction Hannibal.
The film is due for a World Release just before Christmas on December 1st of this year.
Official Website of The Nativity Story: www.thenativitystory.com
(*) Contrary to The Lake House, strangely Shohreh Aghdashloo’s photo credits do not appear in the official websites of her latest movies such as X-Men 3 or The Nativity Story although her role’s are more than just noticeable parts in both films.
(**) Aghdashloo has been Awarded along with another actor of Epics Omid Djalili in the upcoming Persian Golden Lioness Awards in Budapest Hungary organized by WAALM® 2nd annual Awards 2006