Exclusive Interview, with the Award Winning Actress, Influential Writer, Director & Producer
By Dr. Farzad Farahmand:
Published in the March 2012 issue of the Calabasas Times Magazine:
Award wining Iranian actress, influential writer and producer Mary Apick, was the first actress in the history of Iranian cinema to win best actress award from the Moscow International film festival in 1977, for the movie Dead End, written and produced by Parviz Sayyad.
She has been a human rights activist for the past 3 decades and has actively been striving to fight against the ongoing brutality against the women and children in Iran.
She has also been active in making educational videos and projects for children, in order to keep the Iranian culture and language alive.
While working with husband Bob Yari, filmmaker and producer of the Academy Award winning film “Crash”, Mary wrote and starred in 2 different political Satires which were presented at the 2nd annual Los Angeles Theater Festival. One of those plays was, “Beneath the Veil” a play that raises awareness as to what is happening in terms of the rights of women and children in Iran and the neighboring countries.
Farzad: Hello and welcome to the Calabasas Times Magazine. It is a pleasure to be talking with you today. I understand you were very young when you started your career in Iran. Please tell us how you got started.
Mary Apick: I am a second generation actress. My mother was a legendary actress within the Iranian theater, Television and Cinema. Her name is Apick Youssefian.
Farzad: Her first name is your last name right?
Mary Apick: That’s right!! I watched her in the theater when I was a child and dreamt that one day I would be under the limelight.
Farzad: I believe she is still working with you.
Mary Apick: Yes she’s still working with. I used to watch her and have my own theatrical thoughts. I remember when I was at about age 5, I created a theater group in our neighborhood with all of my friends. I would often direct and star in the plays.
Farzad: It was only a year before you left Iran that you won the Moscow Award for the best actress.
Mary Apick: Yes, And it was for my last featured film in Iran called Dead End. I was the first actress ever in the history of Iranian cinema to ever win an international award.
Farzad: Not just from the Moscow Award
Mary Apick: No, and from no other festival. This was a big step for Iranian cinema and Iranian women. This was a blast. A few years prior to that in Toshkam film festival, my first featured film Dashakol won an award. But only the film itself and not the actors.
Starting at a very young age, my career was blooming and boosting at that time and basically everything stopped.
Farzad: Stopped because you had to leave the country?
Mary Apick: Yes and it was horrible!! It was like a little blossom that you cut off.
Farzad: So your husband’s name is Bob?
Mary Apick: Yes, Bob Yari.
Farzad: Is he from Iran as well?
Mary Apick: Yes, but he was brought here at a very young age.
Farzad: He is a filmmaker. He made the Academy Award wining movie, Crash which you also had a role in.
Mary Apick: Yes, it won an Oscar. We never expected it would win. We were up against Bro Back Mountain which was an amazing picture. But what happened was that Opera saw the picture many months prior and she stood behind it because of the racial issues involved in the movie.
Farzad: And before we get into the main topic, I should say that you have a very special interest towards children.
Mary Apick: Yes, I have many branches. Because I am a very creative person and I had classical music training in Tehran along with Persian Literature. I never went to acting school. Mostly my talent came out by me watching my mother and just naturally from whatever I learned from phenomenal people.
I have tremendous amount of love for Iran. I think that by trying to touch the Western world through my art and talent, I realized that there is tremendous amount of respect and national duty that I carry within me, without being under the influence of any particular group. Just independently.
Farzad: Mostly human rights?
Mary Apick: Yes!! And then it expanded to more specifically the rights of women and children, and what happened in Iran in the past 30 years and all the mistreatment against them.
Farzad: So your main passion lies in the topic of Human rights, most specifically women and children, specially lately.
Mary Apick: Actually my passion lies mostly in acting and directing.
Farzad: Yes, you are using your art and talent to raise awareness. And this is not just something new. For the past 3 decades you’ve been active in this field and it’s ongoing.
And one of your recent creations has been attracting a lot of media and critical attention internationally. It is the play, “Beneath the Veil”. How long ago you wrote that?
Mary Apick: I wrote Beneath the Veil in 2005 and we took it to the Los Angeles International Theater Festival for 9 productions, and it became the critic’s choice. It’s a very powerful piece that focuses on women’s rights in Iran and the Middle East. It includes the life of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian reporter from Canada who went to Iran and was killed there. Her son is still fighting hard to retrieve his mother’s body. The Iranian government won’t release her body since they don’t want anybody to find out how she was killed.
The play includes Zahra Kazemi’s story, plus the story of 9 other women, and it’s told from the point of view of an America author who is writing an article or a report. She falls asleep and all the characters that she is researching become alive in her dream.
Farzad: And it’s from the point of view of an American, an outsider looking in.
Mary Apick: Precisely, the way the stage is set is very simple. The lighting is very extensive and the music is live music that I wrote.
Farzad: It’s not all serious and dramatic. It is also a comedy as I understand.
Mary Apick: I mean actually in reality it’s a tragedy, but in the surface it becomes a comedy. I chose these stories from a 110 stories that I researched. They are all true stories.
Farzad: I heard that one of the stories is regarding your friend’s 16 year old daughter who committed suicide. Can you tell us about that?
Mary Apick: Yes, her name was Melody. She had pictures of Michael Jackson and was showing it around in school. The school was being run by the government. They caught her and had her sit in from of 400 other student at the Morning Prayer, and they cut her hair. She was so upset that she went on the 5th floor of the school building, threw herself down and died.
Farzad: What you’re doing is very important. You are like a vessel. You take this information and you project it to others to raise more awareness and create thinking in them. It is then up to them to do something about it.
Mary Apick: That’s exactly right, the play leaves people thinking what to do next!! After the plays people tend to come up to me and say, tell us what to do!! And I tell them, no I cannot tell you what to do. I presented it, now you go and create a better world by taking steps tomorrow morning. Because I cannot tell you what to do. I am just presenting and I have affected you. And now you’re thinking about it.
Farzad: You, yourself are part of them. You don’t necessarily have a solution yourself, but you just want to say, this is what’s going on.
And also what you’re doing is to let the voices of the ones you cannot see to be heard. The veil does not only cover them visually, but metaphorically it also masks their voices as well.
Is the play still going on?
Mary Apick: Yes!! It’s an ongoing play with 12 actors, dancers and musicians on stage and travelling with them. It’s not an easy task.
Farzad: How do you feel about the Iranian film, A Separation, winning an Academy Award at the Oscars?
Mary Apick: With all due respect to the filmmakers, directors and the actors, the government of Iran is using their talent for their own credibility and advantage. And I would not allow that.
I mean the picture itself is very well made. But within the political circumstances of the world that we are having where women are being stoned to death, you cannot dismiss the situation,
Imagine if it was 1942, and Hitler’s government was exterminating the Jews, would the Oscar and the Academy accept a picture from Hitler’s government? Thank you very much!! So here I am closing my statement, and I’m going to create a riot tomorrow at CNN.
Farzad: So what is now in store for Mary Apick?
Mary Apick: At the moment there is a film project that has come to me that is in the works. And it’s called Prisoner in Tehran, written by Marina Nemat.
I also have to finish my play in the form of a DVD which it was recorded last year at the Alex Theater. That way instead of taking the production all over the country, we can distribute the DVD worldwide.
Farzad: Oh yes, much easier.
Well, our world needs more and more courageous, brave and outspoken people like you. Thank you for using your art, your talent and your fame to raise awareness regarding some of the injustices that are going on around us most of which are hidden from our views. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, and I wish you good luck in all of your endeavors.