In The Kite Runner (opening Friday in area theaters), actor Homayoun Ershadi plays Baba, an Afghani intellectual and father of the child Amir, whose friendship and eventual betrayal from the servant boy Hassan forms the crux of the story. Ershadi is a graceful actor, whose intelligence and dignity shines in this movie. Originally an architecht, he was literally plucked from his car to play a role in the Iranian film A Taste of Cherry. Mr. Ershadi was kind enough to speak to me on behalf of the film, based on the bestselling novel by Khaled Hossein.
Rake: What brought you to this project? I know you enjoyed the novel…
Ershadi: I had finished reading The Kite Runner three months before they called me. Kate Dowd, the casting manager based in London, called to say that Mark Forster (the director) had seen my first film, A Taste of Cherry, and wanted to meet me. So I went to Kabul to see Forster and audition.
Rake: For the sake of authenticity, the characters speak Dari. Did you speak that language yourself?
Ershadi: No, but it’s very close to our language, to Iranian Farsi. The accents are different. Khalid Abdalla, who plays the older Amir, didn’t know one word of Dari so he stayed one month in Kabul and he learned. Now he speaks better than me and some people there. Before shooting we had a teacher who helped us learn Dari.
Rake: What was it like working with the children? You had a great rapport with both Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada [who play the younger Amir and Hassan, respectively]. Not only were they children, but totally untrained as actors.
Ershadi: I had the experience before. I had a television show in Iran where I was a schoolteacher and had to work with kids. But these two kids—I can’t explain, I don’t have the words. They are so fantastic, so talented, diligent. They didn’t speak a word of English when they came to Beijing [where some of the production began]. It was very easy working with them.
Rake: Had you ever been to pre-invasion Kabul?
Ershadi: Never. This was my first time in Kabul.
Rake: What was it about The Kite Runner that especially intrigued you? Is your relationship with Iran similar to the relationship that Baba has to Afghanistan?
Ershadi: Yes, you can tell that. There’s some similarity to the story of Baba. I left Iran and went to Canada and returned in 1991. But you’re asking me why this book made me want to be part of the movie? When I read the book I couldn’t even imagine being a part of the movie. I was very proud when they called me. And I hope this brings out more Iranian actors. We have lots of talented actors and actresses. I hope this is a start for the movie industry in Iran.
But The Kite Runner is a story about friendship, guilt, forgiveness, redemption. These are the terms that people connect with. It is not just for Afghan people, it is very human, it crosses religion, culture, background. The story’s human.
Rake: What were some of the more interesting challenges filming The Kite Runner?
Ershadi: We never had a problem. Everything was very smooth. There was teamwork—everyone helped one another. It was a big crew, 200-300 people. I never worked with such a crew, but we all worked together.
Ershadi: Yes! They knew, but had to learn a little bit before they came to Beijing. Kite flying, you know, is a part of their culture in Afghanistan. Still you go to Kabul you’ll see kites in the sky. But as you know, they can’t afford to buy kites, they make them from plastic bags you get for garbage or from stores.
Rake: You don’t physically resemble the character you play in The Kite Runner. He’s described as big, as someone who could wrestle a bear. But the director, Mark Forster, noticed that you "acted from the inside". What does that mean?
Ershadi: When they called me to go to Kabul I was surprised. Baba in the book is 6′ 8", big hands, etc. I saw Mark and I said, "Are you sure I’m the right person?" He asked why. I explained our differences, and he said, "Don’t worry about that. Read your lines." After that I realized that he saw the 6′ 8" and the big hands in my heart and my face and the way I read my lines. It was a big risk to cast a small guy as Baba.
Rake: Are you still in touch with a number of the actors?
Ershadi: Before The Kite Runner I had one son and one daughter. But with Khalid Abdalla, who plays the older Amir, I realized that I had two sons and one daughter. He became my son, too. Our relationship grows. Even now we talk every night on the phone, asking about each other’s day. The other actors I email and call.
Rake: Your performance is very touching, very impressive.
Ershadi: It was not acting. [Touches heart] It comes from here.