Golshifteh Farahani is the protagonist of Anup Singh’s third feature, “The Song of Scorpions,” and the film, world premiering at Locarno, is another stepping stone for an actress who keeps on challenging herself. In the film, Farahani’s character Nooran lives in India’s Rajasthan desert, training to heal scorpion bites with her songs, until tragedy envelops her. The Iranian actress, now based in France, sat down with Variety to talk about embracing a new language and culture, and how, having been forced to leave Iran, she finds comfort in the discomfort of exploring her own limits with each role.
What attracted you to this role, or to the director?
I met Anup (Singh) after I saw “Qissa.” I thought he was one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met. He’s a poet, he’s an incredibly sensitive and wonderful artist, and he has something magical about him. His attention to – and knowledge of – women is quite incredible. I think finding male directors that understand the deep corners of the structures of women’s minds are rare. When he talked to me about the project, how he had dreamt of it and then wrote it in one night, I knew I just had to do it.
How was your experience preparing for this film, considering it was a new language, culture and country for you?
I have acted in seven languages, so it is funny now to be familiar with performing in languages that aren’t my mother tongue. First, I worked for six months on the language, to be able to speak the dialogue. Language is a very difficult challenge, especially when you are a perfectionist. And as a musician myself, I wanted this aspect to sound perfect. Then we went to India and I went to the desert, just being in the environment and seeing the women, how they walk and talk. Rough, but at the same time fragile.
This is a film about a singer: Can you explain your relationship with music?
In a funny way, music is following me like a shadow, even in cinema, and it has helped me a lot in every aspect of my life. Music is like a little butterfly that jumps from one flower to another, and I just keep following. If there is a heaven, it would be flowers and music.
When you are taking on a role in which the character undergoes so much pain and anguish? How do you separate yourself from the character?
Sometimes you can separate yourself from the character, and sometimes you can’t. The character’s curse can capture you and you’re a prisoner of the pain they’re experiencing. I’m not a method actor. I don’t bring my characters back home, but a character’s feelings and sensations can stick to your skin, or sometimes they come back on your body, or as a sickness. In this project, I had breakouts of extreme hives, which has never happened before. My character’s pressure, her trauma was coming out of me. As an actor, you need help from the universe to be able to not fall into drugs, and to not commit suicide. You need care.
You’ve been working on films in many different locations, languages and cultures? Why is this?
The reason I work in cinema is the message that the cinema is carrying. These scripts come to me and they are stories that need to be told. Of course, it is killing me. I love pushing myself to the edges to challenge myself and see if I can manage things that seem impossible. Whatever seems impossible, I have to make it possible. The most important thing is that you have to give yourself fully, and be ready to die for any part you are playing.
How do you balance all of these projects you are undertaking, in film and otherwise?
Through chaos. I find balance in work. I find comfort in the complete discomfort of working. but my mecca of joy is what I do, and I’m committed entirely to it. I’ve lost my country, I’ve lost my comfort, my family, almost everything because of this work. That is what it is, it’s me.