An Iranian actress whose strong political beliefs almost led her to a career as a journalist, Shohreh Aghdashloo decided instead that she could reach more people by working in film and theater -- and with her Oscar-nominated role in the tragedy House of Sand and Fog, she found an audience the size of which she never dreamed possible. Born in Tehran in 1952 to an intellectual, creative family, Aghdashloo was drawn to the theater at an early age, and by her twenties was performing in various cutting-edge performance groups, among them the acclaimed Drama Workshop of Tehran. Filmmakers often drew upon talent from the Workshop, and Aghdashloo was cast by directors Abbas Kiarostami and Ali Hatami -- two towering figures of the nascent Iranian New Wave -- to play starring roles in several of their formally adventurous, socially progressive productions, including 1977's Gozaresh and Sutedelan.
But in the late '70s, with the Ayatollah Khomeini reintroducing an era of strict rule based on religious doctrine, Aghdashloo's work as a performer was either censored or forbidden outright. Eager to escape the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution, Aghdashloo left her husband and her career to go to London, where she earned a degree in international relations. She was on the verge of accepting a position at a newspaper when a friend presented her with a play, called Rainbow, about the Revolution and its discontents. He had written a role specifically for her, and Aghdashloo believed in the project enough to put her journalism career on hold -- for what would turn out to be an indefinite length of time. Rainbow was such a success, it toured the United States, where Aghdashloo was reunited with a Workshop colleague of hers, Houshang Touzie; a romance soon developed, and two married in Los Angeles in the late '80s.
Discouraged by the dearth of non-stereotyped roles for Middle Eastern women in Hollywood, Aghdashloo focused her attention instead on stage work, even creating a traveling theater troupe with her husband that performed plays in Farsi for Iranian audiences. Her occasional film work included roles in such topical dramas as America So Beautiful and Maryam, both about the struggle of Iranian immigrants in the U.S. It was such work that caught the attention of director Vadim Perelman, who was looking to cast the supporting role of Nadi in his big-screen adaptation of the bestseller House of Sand and Fog. Perelman and his casting agent contacted Aghdashloo directly -- at the time, the actress had no agent or manager -- and were soon convinced that she was the woman for the part. Having read the book upon its release, Aghdashloo had long envisioned ways that she could play Nadi, a strong but subservient Iranian-American wife and mother caught between her husband's wishes and her own conscience. Opposite the formidable Ben Kingsley in a cast of established performers, Aghdashloo's subtle, simmering performance brought her kudos from the New York Film Critics and Los Angeles Film Critics Associations, both of whom named her 2003's Best Supporting Actress. The Academy followed suit, nominating her against such Hollywood stalwarts as Renée Zellweger and Holly Hunter.
Following a recurring role on the wildly popular television hit 24 that served well to introduce the increasingly prominant actress to audiences outside of the art-house circuit, Aghdashloo turned in impressive supporting performances in such popular wide release films as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, American Dreamz, and X-Men: The Last Stand. In 2006 Aghdashloo would heed the call of Hollywood once again to take a featured role as the best friend of Sandra Bullock's lonely character in the romantic fantasy remake The Lake House. She went on appear in The Stoning of Soraya M., The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and House of Saddam, and narrated the documentaries Iranium and For Neda.