Persian Jewish actress Bahar Soomekh earned some serious attention last year when she played a young Iranian in "Crash," the Academy Award winner for best picture. She's now appearing in an even bigger role -- playing alongside Tom Cruise in the thriller, "M:I:III." On the eve of the film's debut, Soomekh spoke about growing up Persian Jewish in Los Angeles and about her career.
The Jewish Journal: Can you share with us a little about your background?
Bahar Soomekh: I was born in Tehran. My father is a poet. We moved from Iran in 1979, but before the revolution. I pretty much grew up in Los Angeles and learned English by watching TV. I went to the Sinai Akiba Academy and later to Beverly Hills High School.
JJ: What sort of training have you had as an actor?
BS: I played the violin for 13 years, but acting was always what I yearned to do. I went to UC Santa Barbara. There were no Persians or Jews there, and I was just able to lose myself and enjoy the college life. I studied environmental studies and did theater for fun -- never thinking I could pursue it as a career. I later came back to Los Angeles, got a corporate job and I was just miserable. I did sales during the day and took acting classes at night. I did that for a couple of years to get myself trained and get a better understanding of the world beyond theater. The scariest thing I ever did was quit my job to pursue acting full time. That was two and half years ago. I quit my job, started pursing acting seriously and not even three months later, I booked "Crash."
JJ: How did you manage that?
BS: I fought very hard to get the part. My agent at the time wasn't very good. I read the script and I was dying, my heart was aching to be a part of it. I loved my character, Dorri, so much and really related to her. I kept calling my agent, and he wouldn't even try. I heard through the grapevine that they were going to offer another woman the part. So in desperation, I called the one Hollywood person I knew, another Jewish Persian girl at William Morris named Ashley Daneshrad. She called them and said don't give the part to this other woman until you give Bahar Soomekh a chance. I went in there and gave them my heart and soul. I went into my car and cried for about 40 minutes. And then two days later, I got the call that I booked it.
JJ: What was it like working opposite a major Hollywood actor like Tom Cruise?
BS: It's so surreal. Tom Cruise was my childhood crush. I was obsessed with him since "Top Gun." I can recite every single line of that film, and here I am I getting to meet him and work with him.
JJ: What was your family's reaction when you told them you wanted to be an actress?
BS: My parents were not encouraging in the beginning. Who wants to see their daughter out of work all the time? Every parent wants their child be a doctor or lawyer. At first they were definitely hesitant, but now they're so proud and excited.
JJ: How important is Judaism in your life now, and how are you involved in the community?
BS: I think Judaism has enriched my life and developed who I am. I hope to instill in my family a belief in tikkun olam. One of my dreams is to bring attention to environmental and children's issues.
"M:I:III" is in theaters now.
Article courtesy The Forward.