Leila Farzad is currently starring as DI Lou Slack, a character she herself describes as ‘cold’ in a BBC cop drama Better as the Leeds-based police officer grapples with her corrupt past after having a moral awakening.
But the British-Iranian actress, in her forties, is best known for her role in Billie Piper drama I Hate Suzie, where she stars as the troubled character’s acting agent and appeared in some steamy bisexual sex scenes, in a performance which earnt her a BAFTA nomination for the first time at 37 years old.
Farzad, now 39, has previously revealed how her role in the drama has helped her to ‘let it out’, crediting the show’s director Georgi Banks-Davies.
Speaking to the Guardian, the actress, who is mother to an eight-year-old girl but reveals little about her family life, told how she grew up as an only child of her parents who had what she describes as an ‘unhappy marriage’ and divorced when she was a teenager.
Although she was raised in London, she has strong roots in her Iranian heritage and recalled visiting the nation when she was eight years old – at which point she was just about young enough not to have to wear a headscarf, as the oppressive regime requires girls to cover their hair from the age of nine.
Leila Farzad, 39, who stars as corrupt cop DI Lou Slack (pictured) in gritty BBC drama Better, first went to Oxford University to ‘appease her mother’ before attending drama school and struggling to break into the industry for several years. Since making her big break in I Hate Suzie alongside Billie Piper, she has begun to use her platform to speak about injustices in Iran
Recalling her arrival in Iran, she told the newspaper she was stopped by security guards who thought she looked old enough to cover her hair, as they quizzed her mother on why the child’s hair was on show.
She said: ‘I remember my mum, with little trembling fingers, putting a headscarf around me because you don’t want to mess with those people.
‘They are pigs disguised as clerics. That’s quite strong, but it’s just the most horrific regime, as everyone now sees.’
Farzad has remained committed to speaking out about the oppressive regime throughout her career and has often used her Twitter page to speak in support of people protesting against the regime.
Leila Farzad has spoken out about the Iranian regime on social media and was a vocal supporter of Richard Ratcliffe’s campaign to bring home his wife Nazhanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian national who was imprisoned in Iran for six years (pictured outside the Foreign Office with Mr Ratcliffe during his hunger strike)
Since making waves in the industry in the Billie Piper drama, the actress’s status is on the rise (pictured at the Vanity Fair ‘Rising Star’ awards)
When Richard Ratcliffe went on hunger strike to protest against the imprisonment of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian national, in Iran, Leila went to offer him support as he camped outside the Foreign Office in central London.
Posting a photo of herself with Richard on Twitter, she tweeted Boris Johnson, the then-prime minister and wrote: ‘Acknowledge Nazanin is a hostage and settle the debt with Iran. Your silence is shameful.’
She herself has not returned to Iran since she was 14 years old, and believes it wouldn’t be safe to do so as long as the current regime stands due to her playing modern women in roles, including Naomi in I Hate Suzie, who is bisexual.
Although Farzad is now proud of her heritage, she recalled feeling left out at school in London as the only non-white girl in her class.
‘When my friends came over I’d tell my mum to make frozen pizzas or macaroni cheese – anything but the weird stews,’ she said.
Speaking to the Independent Farzad recalled the young girls with ‘sleep blonde hair’ in her class, compared to what she joked was her ‘big frizzy mess’ of hair.
Farzad, pictured as Naomi in I Hate Suzie, has revealed her roles playing modern women, particularly the bisexual character in the Billie Piper drama, means she would be at risk if she returned to Iran
The mother-of-one has revealed her daughter helped her put things into perspective as she received rejections from roles and provided comfort
Since she has shot onto the small screen, Leila has revealed how her eight-year-old daughter has become one of her biggest fans and sneaks notes into her suitcase while she’s filming
‘They all seemed to have these very even features, and I was the ‘creature’ that felt very different and other,’ she said, adding it helped her take on the ‘class clown’ role among her peers and laid the path for her to become a comedian.
Farzad appears to have been heavily influenced by her mother as a child, and has recalled developing a love of acting while visiting the theatre with her mother and aunt when she was little.
However, she bright student completed a degree in French and Italian at Oxford University before moving back to London to study at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
She told the Independent that her initial degree had been to ‘appease her mother’.
After drama school, she has revealed how she struggled to find work for a long time and spent years receiving several rejections.
Although she admits it was difficult at the time, her daughter was both motivation and comfort to her.
‘If I didn’t get a job, I had this other wonderful, ball of happiness,’ she said.
Before her breakthrough role in I Hate Suzie, Farzad took roles here and there in TV dramas, including as a barrister in The Landscapers, however she has reflected on how she was typecast earlier in her career.
‘There were a lot of terrorist wives that I was put up for, and that was how I saw myself represented a lot,’ she told the Independent.
The actress is relatively private about her family life, however she has shared a few posts about her daughter on Instagram, who is now her biggest fan after her mother has found fame in several TV dramas.
She posted a photo her little girl had hidden in her suitcase as she went away to film, which was written in joint-up handwriting and read: ‘I’m very proud of you mummy.’
Although Farzad’s new drama Better, which has been dubbed ‘the new Happy Valley’, opened to lukewarm reviews, critics have praised the actress’s performance with some suggesting the series will pick up after its slow start.
Rebecca Nicholson for the Guardian wrote: ‘It’s a shame there is so much scene-setting in the first episode because once all that is out of the way, the drama is much less superficial than it first appeared to be.’
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