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As the saying goes, life imitates art (and vice versa). For Nazanin Boniadi, that statement rings truer than ever before in her portrayal of Bronwyn in Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
“I knew this role resonated with me because I had been doing this activism for 14 years,” Boniadi tells The Hollywood Reporter about her dedication to fighting for women’s rights in Iran, where women experience discrimination, segregation and a lack of basic human rights under the country’s strict regime.
At the start of the series, Boniadi’s character Bronwyn is a human healer living a quiet life in a village in the Southlands of Middle-earth. She is a single mother to rebellious teenager Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin), and caught in a forbidden romance with elven soldier Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova). When a faction of Orcs threaten to descend on her land, Bronwyn finds herself an unlikely leader.
“I love when you don’t see the inner strength coming in a character,” Boniadi says. “She doesn’t have any kind of superpowers. I love that. Her superpower is being a mother and having that internal strength that she kind of musters into protecting the ones she loves, whether it’s her people, her son or Arondir.”
In the show’s fifth episode, she calls on the Southlanders to stand up against the oppression of the Orcs trying to take over their land. “Who among you will stand with me?” she says in a rousing speech to rally her people to battle. “Who among you will stand and fight?” Come the sixth episode, Bronwyn and Arondir lead an all-out battle against the Orcs.
Iranian-born and London-raised, the Rings of Power actress even dedicated her performance to the women of Iran, while she was at Comic-Con earlier this year. Little did she know, just a few months later, protests would spark across the world in response to the tragic death of 22-year old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police.
“Onstage in Hall H, I dedicated this role to the brave women of Iran, who are on the frontlines of the fight for freedom and democracy in my homeland,” Boniadi remembers. “How could I possibly know that two months later, I would be marching in a protest in Los Angeles fighting in solidarity with the brave women of Iran, who are literally risking their lives for their most basic rights.”
“These brave women inspired me to play this role,” she continues. “I had to sort of channel these women who are risking everything for a better tomorrow. It’s just the bitter irony of all of that aligning right now in this moment. It doesn’t escape me, but I hope that it helps get their message out.”
In a conversation with THR, Boniadi talks about scoring the Bronwyn role, diverse representation in on-screen fantasy, and her work as an Iranian activist.
Read on for the full interview.
Right off the bat, Bronwyn is clearly a badass. What were your thoughts when you first read the character?
I love when you don’t see the inner strength coming in a character. I mean, I’m not the obvious choice for a brawny, sort of action type character, but I think J.A. Bayona really championed that. I think he wanted someone where you didn’t see the physical strength necessarily coming. You saw it sort of brewing underneath, maybe in her demeanor, but you didn’t necessarily see her being able to do that, which is slay orcs. She’s now slayed three on-camera.
And she’s taken an arrow.
She’s taken an arrow, she’s saved Arondir’s life. She’s definitely a surprise in the sense that you don’t see that kind of physical strength coming, which I find really rewarding because strength to me comes in all shapes and sizes. We can never judge a book by its cover. I love that idea of having a character take you by surprise. That was really fulfilling, and really, really exhilarating to play. She doesn’t have any kind of superpowers. I love that. Her superpower is being a mother and having that internal strength that she kind of musters into protecting the ones she loves, whether it’s her people, her son or Arondir.
What was that audition process like for you? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?
I think it was called Untitled Amazon Project. The first audition came through as the Untitled Amazon Project, and then in parentheses: “aka Lord of the Rings.” Then in a second audition, because most of us had multiple auditions — in fact, I think all of us did, maybe except one or two. But I had the second audition come through that was just called Untitled Amazon Project, and they had taken the second part out. I was like, it’s too late, we kind of all know. But we definitely all had code names in the audition process. My name wasn’t Bronwyn. But the lines were — obviously, some evolved over time — but they were scenes from the show. I did four auditions over the course of six months.
Coming from projects like Homeland and Scandal, Rings of Power is a bit different genre-wise. As someone who’s been in the industry for a long time, had you been waiting to take on an action role like this?
It’s really interesting. I’ve done so much TV, but I guess my big, first standout role was How I Met Your Mother, which was comedy. It was my introduction to comedy that happened to be one of the biggest comedies out there. Then, my introduction as a series regular on a drama was Homeland, which had this big trajectory, it had just come out of awards, and I joined season three, so it was definitely kind of in the entertainment and social zeitgeist heavily. And then after that, I did Counterpart which was sci-fi and it was a Starz show that had JK Simmons. Now, it has a cult following, and people are now even discovering it, and it had two seasons and I absolutely loved it. It was sci-fi, so I did do some action in that. But then for my introduction to fantasy to be this show, I’m kind of pinching myself because I’m like, how do I get introduced to different genres in such major ways? Like, yeah, let’s try fantasy, let’s just have it be Lord of the Rings. It’s not by design, but I feel like it’s a pinch me moment when I think back. Someone brought it to my attention, and I was like, Oh my gosh, you’re right. It feels like I just lucked out on every genre that I hit. It’s been fascinating. I had some action in Counterpart, but never to this degree. I had like extensive stunt training for months. Bumps and bruises and battle scars to prove it. it was grueling, but so worth it.
With Rings of Power, the fantasy genre has seen strides in diversity. For example, you’re Iranian and Ismael Cruz Córdova, who plays your love interest Arondir, is Afro-Latino. Does it excite you to be a part of a fantasy project with this greater representation that we’re not used to seeing in the genre?
I think the importance of fantasy being inclusive is that fantasy has this unique ability to allow us to explore our humanity in the most basic way. What it means to be human, and these ideas of love and loyalty and friendship and betrayal and hope versus despair. These are various sorts of basic human dilemmas. And these characters are just sort of personifications of that. That is so universal, and it’s so timeless. So, it should belong to all of us wherever we’re from. I think that’s the beauty, especially of our characters, because it’s a forbidden romance, elf and human. But on a deeper level, I’m Iranian, and he’s Afro-Latino. And we’ve talked about this, that there’s even colorism, and all kinds of isms, in our own societies that we have to overcome. That kind of coming together, and understanding what that means for public perception. It’s so funny because we find ourselves sort of mirroring a lot of our own lives. If you look at our characters, I’m sort of the poor human’s human. The Númenóreans are sort of the pristine, regal humans, and then the Southland is sort of the poor man’s human. And [Arondir] is sort of the poor elf’s elf. health. He’s the outcast, he’s not like the others. I just love that you have these two outcasts. In my own community in the Southland, Bronwyn is very much an outcast. She’s considered a single mother, quirky healer. Her word doesn’t mean much until she slams that Orc head on the table, and says, ‘No, no, you better listen to me.’
Tyroe Muhafidin plays your son Theo. This is one of his first projects, and he really stands out in the show. What was it like working with him?
I met him when he was 14, he was shorter than me, and now he’s 17 and he’s taller than me, and his voice is dropping. I love that kid. He’s always going to be a kid, even when he turns into an adult. I’ve watched him grow leaps and bounds as an actor, as a young man. He’s so grounded. I’ve become very close to his real mother, Rachel, who I love. We went on little trips together. We went to Hobbiton in New Zealand. We went on little day trips and lunches and dinners and bowling alleys. I just love him. I think he’s so grounded. He’s so talented. He’s got a real, raw talent. He’s not really done much before this. This is not only his first big thing, it’s his first real thing. To see him hold his own… I mean, he’s with Ismael and I, and we’re probably two of the longest standing actors on the show. And that’s another thing I’ve bonded with Ismael about — I’ve been doing this for 16 years, he’s also been doing it for around that. So I feel like there’s a deep understanding of staying humble and staying grounded, and being in it for the work and being grateful for the moment. All of that was sort of infused into Tyroe from his own mother who is very grounded, but also being in our environment of the three of us together. It was such a magical trio. I’m very grateful for those two.
I know you are a major Iranian women’s rights activist, and I read that you had strongly connected with Bronwyn’s desire to liberate her people. In light of the current protests in Iran, could you speak to that element that you share with the character, as well?
It’s crazy because in July, I was at Comic Con. Onstage in Hall H, I dedicated this role to the brave women of Iran, who are on the frontlines of the fight for freedom and democracy in my homeland. I had no idea — how could I possibly know — that two months later, I would be marching in a protest in Los Angeles fighting in solidarity with the brave women of Iran, who are literally risking their lives for their most basic rights. Not only bodily autonomy, but just their most basic human rights. They can’t sing in public, they can’t sit solo in public, they can’t dance in public, they can’t ride a bicycle. There are no laws to protect them from domestic or gender-based violence. There’s so many layers of discrimination and oppression that they face, and the compulsory hijab became a symbol of their oppression.
But that correlates so strongly with what happened in this moment when episode six just came out. It’s that fine line of art versus life, art imitating life and life imitating art. I knew this role resonated with me because I had been doing this activism for 14 years. And these brave women inspired me to play this role because Bronwyn has this quiet strength, this inner strength that she taps into, this inner lioness that she taps into, like a mama bear protecting her child. And ‘Get away from my love, Arondir!’ and saving people, and I had to sort of channel these women who are risking everything for a better tomorrow. It’s just the bitter irony of all of that aligning right now in this moment. It doesn’t escape me, but I hope that it helps get their message out. If anything, me talking about that plight, which I’ve been doing for 14 years. It’s mind boggling to me that this is happening in this moment when I just dedicated this role —before Mahsa Amini’s untimely murder in custody — to the brave women of Iran. And now this is happening. I’m really grateful that you asked me that question.
It does feel as if you were meant to play this role now more than ever.
I have to tell you, I wake up, and it’s one of those moments where you’re like, art matters. You get to channel something, and then you get to talk about it and use your platform for good. I’m really grateful that I’m able to do that for them.
Thank you for speaking on that. As an Iranian woman and an activist, how would you recommend that people who want to support take action?
There’s an Amnesty International Petition that I think people can and should sign. And it’s to stop the protests, bloodshed and impunity in Iran. The reason that’s important is because the more people sign a petition, we are far stronger united. As the number of people increases on the petition, our voices will be heard more forcefully. And the other thing is, everybody should be calling their representatives, and demanding that their representatives work on creating an international mechanism to hold the Iranian authorities accountable for the human rights violations that we’re seeing. Because without that mechanism, there’s no avenues for domestic accountability or justice inside the country. And the truth is, we’re connected, all of us are connected. As we fight for bodily autonomy in America, we have to remember our sisters in Iran, because if we don’t fight for freedom elsewhere, our freedoms could be taken away and that injustice could land on our doorsteps. We’ve seen reversals of rights. People don’t know this, but women in Iran before 1979 had the freedom to choose whether they could wear the hijabs or not. If those rights can be taken away from us, I just want people to know that if we don’t stand together, we will fall.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power streams on Prime Video on Fridays.
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