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Interview: Niv Sultan on Bringing Tamar Back for Season 2 of ‘Tehran’

The Israeli thriller Tehran is back for its second season, following Mossad agent Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan) as she fights to maintain her cover in Iran while executing a dangerous mission. Glenn Close joins the cast as Marjan Montazeri, a mysterious new ally for Tamar and Milad (Shervin Alenabi).

Awards Radar had the opportunity to speak with Sultan about taking on her first action series role, how she thinks the series is received by different audiences, and playing a part on a very different series for Apple TV+, That Dirty Black Bag.

Q: Hello! I’m a big fan of Tehran, and I’m very happy that it’s back for a second season.

A: I’m happy to hear.

Q: How would you say that season two is different from season one?

A: It’s different in so many ways. First of all, we see my character, Tamar, two months later, and I feel like she has been through a lot. And if in season one, Tamar is a young Mossad agent sent in for a very small and specific mission in Tehran, in season two, she’s much more active about everything. She goes deep undercover in Tehran for a much more complicated and dangerous mission. And her motivation this season is much more personal. She’s emotionally attached in many ways. She has Milad in this season, and also, I don’t know if it’s something that I should say, but let’s just say she has a personal motivation for the mission.

Q: Her relationship with Milad really has evolved. What is it like working with Shervin Alenabi?

A: It was really amazing to go back with him on set. We have this beautiful relationship already where we understand each other just by a look. We have an amazing time working together. In terms of Tamar and Milad, I think it’s much more complicated for Tamar, because now she has so much to lose. She doesn’t need to take care just of herself, she really needs to take care of him also. That’s a bad thing for an agent, because her judgment isn’t objective. And again, she has so much to lose.

Q: What has it been like working with Glenn Close? How familiar were you with her as an actress before this?

A: Oh, obviously, I’ve seen everything and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening when they first told me. I think when they first told me that Glenn was joining the cast, that was the moment I realized that this show is really an international show. I think that before, in my perspective, it was still an Israeli show. And they called me and they told me that she’s joining, and I asked them how? What do you mean, how did you do it? And they told me, what do you mean, it’s an international show, we sent her an offer. She read the script, she watched the first season, and she loved it. And then I started realizing that what we’re doing isn’t only an Israeli show, and it’s really global. It’s amazing, I graduated acting school four years ago, and then suddenly this, working with her on set. That was the real drama school, real acting school. I was able to watch very closely how she how she works, how she thinks, how she analyzes her character. And besides being obviously a huge and super talented actress, she’s a beautiful human being with amazing, amazing energy.

Q: What is your on-set dynamic like with Shaun Toub? Faraz is really Tamar’s enemy in a lot of ways and they’re rivals, but I’m sure there’s a much warmer relationship between the two of you as actors.

A: Oh, for sure. In the first season, we had only I think one or two scenes together, and I was really lucky in the second season to get more scenes with him. There’s a moment where very good actors are in front of you and you don’t need to do much. Shaun brings this powerful and strong and scary energy and even his eyes are so strong and I didn’t need to do much. That’s a gift.

Q: What would you say audiences would most be surprised by in terms of how things are filmed and how they appear differently on screen?

A: Obviously, first of all, we’re shooting in Athens, not in Tehran, because we can’t get into Tehran. The art department needed to recreate Tehran streets in Athens. The very small details, like street lamps or street vendors that are typical for Tehran. So many things that Iranian crew members, when they first saw the set, got really excited because they told me it looks very similar to Tehran. And relationships between actors on set, because what you see on screen, they’re all very good actors. Behind the scenes, we felt like a family, everyone.

Q: How much of the hand-to-and combat scenes and chase scenes are you and how much are stunt doubles? What do you enjoy about those?

A: I try to do as much as I can, because I’ve never actually done an action series. And so I really enjoyed all the fighting, jumping, running, everything. I try to do as much as I can, unless it’s too complicated and then we have our stunt people. But I really enjoyed it, working on it, learning, practicing Krav Maga, martial arts. I really enjoyed exploring this new territory.

Q: You mentioned before that this is an international show. Do you think that Americans will perceive it differently from Israelis?

A: I have to say, no, because, although we’re telling the story about the Iranian-Israeli conflict, at the end of the day, the bottom line of this story isn’t about politics, or about where you come from. It’s really about relationships, and people, and how everyone, at the end of the day, we’re all the same. So I think that it doesn’t really matter where you come from, you can really find yourself in every character, every storyline, every struggle or difficulty that our characters are going through.

Q: I like that. Have you been surprised by any reactions you’ve heard from friends or fans?

A: I was really happy to find out that many people in Iran are watching the show, and loving it.

Q: That’s interesting!

A: That’s huge, actually!

Q: It definitely is. And I’m sure that for Iranians living in America and other places, it’s also very interesting to see.

A: Yeah. Also, this season, Glenn had to learn Farsi for the role. Seeing people’s reaction to Glenn speaking Farsi, also me when I was talking Farsi on screen, it was amazing to see.

Q: I also saw you in another show this season, which is definitely very different from this one: That Dirty Black Bag. Can you talk about signing onto that show?

A: Of course. That Dirty Black Bag is a Spaghetti western. It was really cool to take part in. We don’t have Westerns in Israel, obviously, so I was so happy to get this opportunity. And it was a very intense shoot, because we were shooting in Italy, Spain, and Morocco. It was during COVID. So we were basically stuck there, very beautiful places to be stuck in. And I had this very different and beautiful character. It was the madame of the brothel, a very strong and powerful independent woman. I also looked different. That’s the most amazing and challenging thing with this profession, you get the opportunity to do so many different things and different looks and to tell different stories, and the character is still in my heart.

Q: Do you want to do another Western?

A: I do, I do!

Q: I first saw you, I think, in the film Almost Famous, which I enjoyed a lot.

A: Really?!

Q: Yes. I know you were also in Flawless, which I saw at Tribeca a few years ago.

A: Wow, I’m surprised.

Q: We have a lot of great Israeli cinema that makes it to the US. I haven’t seen your Israeli TV shows before this. What would you say is most different between working in film versus television?

A: First of all, time. We shot Tehran for almost six months, so I carried the character and the story for a very long time in Athens. And in terms of movies, you have a short amount of time, shorter amount of time that you were working on the character. In series, I would say that the process is much longer, not only in terms of days of shoots, but you get to wake up every morning with the same character, and go to bed with it. You go through a lot as a human being, and that impacts the process and the character.

Q: Do you have a preference between film or television, or do you like doing both?

A: I like doing both. I think that the most important thing is the story and the script, the character you’re playing.

Q: I haven’t finished watching this season of Tehran yet. Do you think that we’re going to see a season three?

A: I have no idea. When they first told me we’d have season two, I was really excited, because I love Tamar, I love this character so much. I want to continue to work on this set with these beautiful people from all over and get to know more and more people from all over. I can only hope.

Q: That’s great. I really enjoy the show and your performance. Thank you so much for speaking with me today.

A: Thank you so much. I’m happy to hear.

Season two of Tehran is streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes premiere Fridays through the season finale on June 17th.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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