Nazanin Boniadi is on screens now as the mysterious Adnan Salif on the hit show Scandal.
The Iranian-born actress tells NPR's Michel Martin that she loves the role because it plays with people's perceptions. "The beauty of Adnan Salif is, is she a bad guy, or is she just completely lost, is she just damaged goods?" she asks. But she believes that ambiguity is also the key to the show. "The thing that I love about Scandal is every character, it's not clear if they're good or bad. Everyone is both good and bad."
Boniadi admits her other current TV role is less of an enigma; she plays strong-willed CIA analyst Fara Sherazi on Homeland.
"Here's a Muslim women who has ambition, who has goals, who has a strong sense of self, who has a strong sense of justice, what's right, what's wrong," she says. And she points out that the feedback she has got from playing the role has been overwhelmingly positive. "I love that role from the depth of my soul just because I think it is very ground-breaking, in the sense that Muslim women aren't usually portrayed in any kind of positive strong light on television or on screen."
She also loves the fact that her character Sherazi works towards a very American goal. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the American dream, and keeping America safe," she explains. "Because Fara understands that what she's fled from is a life of repression. What she wants to guard more than anything is freedom."
On switching from medicine to acting
You know, medicine, anything academic is a very Persian Iranian route to take in life, in one's career. but I always knew I wanted to help people so that's really why I wanted to pursue medicine. I thought that was maybe the only way I could help people ... But as I grew older, I realized it wasn't really my true calling. I had to work really hard to get those good grades, and I did graduate with honors from [University of California Irvine] ... and then I had to call my very Persian father and tell him, "thank you for paying for university, but I'm going to go act now."
On her father's reaction to the decision
I understand the concerns. He just wanted me to be secure and safe and happy, and have an income really. But I said to him, "give me a year, and if I'm not making a living as an actor in a year, then I will take whatever you say seriously, and I will reconsider." But fortunately it took me about nine months to start working professionally as an actor, so I knew I'd made the right decision.
On how she is feeling as she celebrates Nowruz (Persian New Year)
Being upped on Homeland to series regular and having this amazing ride on Scandal. It's been...2014, I'm still pinching myself!