Interview with German-Iranian actress Lara Heller (November 1, 2016)
Lara Heller was born in Brighton, England to a German father and Persian mother. She was raised in Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
She moved back to England and studied law at London School of Economics. She got her MA in acting from the Arts Educational Schools London
in 2010. She is active in both stage and film productions all over the world. Lara performs in 4 languages fluently; English, German, French and Persian.
PT: How did you get into acting?
LH: There was this beautiful monastery in the Ardenne Forest in Belgium that monks would rent out to The Central School Of Speech And Drama. Teachers and students would fly in from London. They'd do these intensive summer acting courses in this beautiful setting deep in the forest.
The school was usually for adults and I was 13 at the time. The teachers explained that they work on serious subjects and it would be hard because I was under 18. I said well if I can get my parents consent could I come... my parents agreed and the teachers let me in!
PT: Do you remember the moment you decided to be an actor?
My parents decided to bring me up without live TV until I was around 7. So I grew up watching actors like Gregory Peck and Grace Kelly. This golden era in Hollywood pulled me into acting. I saw To Sir With Love, Roman Holiday, Some Like It Hot, Doctor Zhivago (which incidentally is where my name originates from) - a lot of wonderful films. I was blown away by the caliber of these films and wanted to be a part of that world.
PT: What made you think this was the right career decision for you?
LH: I love mimicking- they called me a parakeet when I was little. I grew up with so many accents-Persian, German, Iranian and French. I also went to The European Union School in Luxembourg. The schoolyard was filled with children from every member state of the EU. There were so many voices to copy, so much cultural diversity and limitless body language to study. It was the perfect environment to get material for acting.
My friends and I made two action adventure features from the age of 9-16. We would travel around Europe and filmed in some amazing locations. We would write and improvise and my father was roped into being cameraman for years. He was such a sport! Filming is addictive and this became a part of our summers. I thought it would be incredible to do this full time.
I used to work during summers vacations too. I tried all sorts of jobs but the one that stuck out the most was my time in a large bank. Almost all the bankers had hidden talents like painting, drumming or writing. They said; you need to pursue your dreams when you are young. Life flies by and gets quicker with every year.
I guess these are some of the influences that pushed me to take the risk and follow my heart.
PT: Were your parents supportive of your decision to become an actor?
LH: Yes my parents were incredibly supportive. My dad filmed the features I made with my friends, my mother would help out behind the scenes and my Persian grandpa would act in them too. They were all also artistic in their own right. My Baba Bozorg (Grandfather) would recite pages of Rumi and Omar Khayyam. He could even say some of the poems backwards. He had an amazing memory! My father and the whole German side of the family are great painters. I suppose I took after them. They saw it coming from a young age.
My parents were supportive but injected me with a dose of reality too. They warned me that they knew no one in this world of acting. They said you need to have knowledge of contract law and an armory of skills at your defense as the entertainment industry is tough. So I decided to read law first. Law and acting are very similar. Both require public speaking skills and an ability to understand people and draw them in. The background in law has helped me on countless occasions in acting.
PT: How did you get cast in the film 'The Cut'? How did you like working with the Director 'Fatih Akin'.
LH: I saw a worldwide cast show up for The Cut. I submitted my info and the team asked me to talk about something I was passionate about. Being a shikamoo I spoke about my love of eating delicious tahdig and fesenjoon and about the warmth and generosity of the Persian culture. How I love to dance to Kamran and Hooman etc.
I couldn't believe it- I was invited in to meet the team. It was an emotionally tough audition as the subject is painful-the Armenian Genocide. The team flew in from Hamburg, Rome and Paris for the audition. The lucky stars aligned because on my way home from the audition I got a call saying you've got the role.
PT: Why do you prefer sport and action roles so much?
LH: Action and sports has played a huge part in my life. I was a professional swimmer for 3 years and a competitive figure skater for 13 years for Germany. I'd hike a lot in the mountains and forests of Europe & North America (with a stash of cutlets and Persian bread). Nature and sports makes me feel very happy and this is why I get a thrill out of action roles.
Acting is as much about using your body as using your mind. But diversity is important too. In the same way we like to watch action, drama and comedy I feel a pull to work in different genres too. I'm excited by something as sensitive as The Cut and likewise by something with action like Ben Hur.
PT: Do you have a mentor or role model?
LH: My parents and Baba Bozorg (Grandfather) were my mentors. They taught me not to assume anything will be given to you on a golden platter. The harder you work the luckier you become.
Fatih Akin is one of my industry mentors and Audrey Hepburn is a role model I've looked up towards due to her warmth, grace and generosity of spirit. And I just adore Bryan Cranston and Meryl Streep's work.
PT: What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your career as an actor?
LH: The greatest challenge is to be a long runner rather than sprinter. It's hard. From the outside movie making could be seen as glamorous with the exotic locations and beautiful outfits. But once you wrap a film and are at the finish line you are straight back at the start line again. The challenge is keeping the stamina and momentum up. I believe that's achieved by making your own work and most importantly having a great group around you. I suppose it's like with most challenges in life- good family, friends and colleagues give you wings to fly.
PT: What suggestions do you have for other diasporic Iranians interested in acting?
LH: Persians really are artists. I feel some of the greatest poems and stories come from Iranian writers. The films coming out of Iran are incredible. Persians are so passionate. We love hard, the language is so rich, we are animated even in the way we speak-and that translates wonderfully into acting. I'd say go for it - it's never to late to follow your dreams.
It helps to make your own work, write and gain as much experience as possible on film sets. There's great demand for Middle Eastern actors-Homeland and Tyrant are two examples. The Middle East is being discussed greatly in politics and this filters down into film too.
PT: What films are you working on now?
LH: I just worked on Troy-The Odyssey, a Tekin Girgin film. The story is about a young Trojan warrior, called Circe, who is stolen out to sea by Greeks fighters. Circe was a lovely character to play as she is tough and brave and fights as good as any of the Greek sailors. The characters have this 10-year long adventure with sea monsters and Cyclopes. The mythology reminded me of old Persian tales.
We filmed in Thailand in jungles, on old sea boats and in underground caves. The US production companies, The Asylum and Benetone Productions are due to release it in 2017.
PT: What are your plans for the future?
The plan for the future is to keep acting as much as possible in as many different languages as possible.
Lara Heller Reel 2016
The Cut and Ben Hur can be found on Apple iTunes and Amazon Prime. Troy-The Odyssey and Welcome To Curiosity are due for release next year.