Actress Sarah Shahi, That Which Does Not Kill You Will Make You Stronger
Sarah Shahi is beautiful. But despite having graced the covers of countless magazines, it would be wrong to call that her defining quality. To sit down with her is to discover that she has humor, strength and grit that exceeds the average person. Perhaps her steel was forged in the fires of growing up one of the few Iranian immigrants in Texas, or maybe it was from surviving an abusive father who, addicted to drugs, held a gun to her head at the tender age of 6. Either way, this former Pageant Champion turned Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader had enough life force, and the help of an incredibly fierce mother and multiple women's shelters, to find a way out of Texas and onto our television and film screens since 2001. From regular roles on Showtime's The L Word, NBC's Life, USA'S Fairly Legal and CBS' Person of Interest, to her brief but memorable performance opposite James Gandolfini in an Award-Winning episode of The Sopranos, she continues to turn heads. Her portrayal of Rachel Benham on last summer's gritty Boston crime drama, City on a Hill, further solidifies her reputation as an actor with chops. Here, she talks to me about everything from growing up as an outsider and using her pain for her art to how she manages to parent and stay connected to her kids despite an incredibly busy schedule that sometimes has her across the country from her loved ones for long stretches of time.
Sarah's two burning desires as a kid: being on stage or being a doctor, (3:20). Growing up Persian in Texas, (5:13). How doing pageants starting at age 10 proved to be a great training ground for an adult life as an actor, (6:37). Playing a lot of sports as a kid and being a Tom Boy despite the fact that she was doing pageants, (8:43). How sports and doing pageants prepared Sarah for her eventual career, (10:07). Sarah's parents' volatile relationship and how they fled from Iran in the middle of the night, (11:24). Sarah's father's darkness and perpetual addiction, (12:17). When Sarah's father held a gun to her head, wanting to kill her, himself and Sarah's Mom, (12:56). Sarah's Mom as a Superwoman and Sarah's biggest inspiration, (14:36). After Sarah's Dad left for a year, how her relationship with him morphed over the years, including a big break and him re-appearing in her 20's to demand money, (15:21). Hating her father but then feeling like her dark side that she uses in her work is owed to him, (17:25). "My mother and I, we spent about a year, on and off in the women's shelters until the time that I was about 5 or 6", (19:07). Mom's thick accent caused people to try to take advantage of her, but if they did the claws came out, (21:45). The trials and tribulations of growing up in Texas with the name Aahoo Jahansouz Shahi and how she landed on Sarah Shahi as her new name, (22:53). Studying opera for 6 years, (24:14). "My Mom always told me that if I wanted more I had to give to myself, she couldn't do it for me", (25:07). Being the captain of her HS volleyball team despite being "fun size", (25:42). Hated cheerleaders because they were popular and she wasn't but somehow, only 2 years after graduating HS, she graced the cover of the 99/2000 Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Swimsuit Calendar, (26:49). A crazy scheme to get to Hollywood that involved trying out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders first, (29:20). How Robert Altman changed the trajectory of Sarah's career and life, (30:29). "I quit everything: I quit the cheerleaders. I quit school. I had a cherry red pickup truck and, yeah, I packed up my car and my Mom and I drove to California. And then I never looked back", (32:29). No Plan B, (33:23). Hysterial first audition story, (34:11). Kevin Hart, (36:58). When asked if Old School moved the needle for her career, explains that she always feels like she's at the beginning and the hustle never ends, (38:06). One episode of The Sopranos that had a greater effect on Sarah's career than years of other TV, (40:24). The nature of being an actor and knowing that most of our work will go unnoticed by the majority, (42:05). Looking at an audition as an opportunity to exercise her unique take on the material and do it differently than anyone else, (44:25). Acting is like Jazz: it takes place between the lines, (45:13). Doing City on a Hill was a big departure for Sarah, away from Network TV, (47:00). Taking risks in our work still does not guarantee us rewards in our hoped-for timeframe, (49:31). A longtime marriage in the entertainment world, (50:30). Go with your heart, (51:22). Parenting - trying to be an actor and a soccer Mom, (52:09). Shonda Rhimes' book, The Year of Yes, (56:04). Being there for your kids even when you're not in the same city, due to work, (56:56). Coming from a mother who worked, (58:01). Advice to younger self: what age? What advice?, (59:20). "We've only got this lifetime", (59:43).
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