Many actors and even ordinary people do their best to look beautiful before the camera, but Mahtab Keramati was among few actresses who did her best at the peak of her career not to look beautiful! This is an accepted principle that cinema is the world of beautiful faces and even the greatest film stars lose their appeal as wrinkles grow around their eyes. There is, however, a big difference between a “star” and an “actor.” Stars walk on the red carpet under the glamor of big projectors as long as they are attractive. As soon as the attraction is lost, they also lose the acclaim and glamour. A good actor, however, gets more precious as they get older.
Mahtab Keramati’s current credit is perhaps owed to her inattention to red carpet and the glamour which is associated with stardom. Therefore, instead of being concerned about old age, she is comfortably going through proposed screenplays looking for a good part. Sometimes, she finds a respite after appearing in serious movies likes Twenty, Green Fire, Alzheimer’s, and Round-the-Clock and appears in a commercial film like Women Are Angels, when she can wear more trendy clothes and act like younger people to remind her audience that there is a “star” half to her character as well. Perhaps, her success is also a result of the balance she has kept between appearance in commercial and independent movies. We discussed her part in Alzheimer’s and Round-the-Clock in the following interview and, of course, chatted about Absolutely Tame Is a Horse, which will be on public screens soon.
Like a number of other Iranian actors, Mahtab Keramati is UNICEF’s peace ambassador.
Film International: Your approach seems to have changed after Twenty as you accept parts which are older than your age or have to change your countenance with makeup.
Mahtab Keramati: Of course, I actually adopted this approach in (Ebrahim Hatami-Kia’s) Red Earth. I had to start somewhere and win the trust of directors to give more serious parts. Many filmmakers in the Iranian cinema are not willing to take risks. Therefore, they base an actor’s new part on their previous parts. As a result, an actor should show his/her willingness to accept new parts and get out of ordinary casts. You need to risk to achieve this state. Perhaps, Red Earth was my first step by which I let all directors know that they should see Mahtab Keramati in different, non-star parts. It was a form of expressing my willingness to enter new areas and explore more complicated and different parts.
FI: But your part in the Red Earth was not as different as it was in Twenty and was not very distant from your real countenance. You were just older and sadder.
MK: Yes. But changing face and acting style to play the part of an Arab woman was a totally different experience and also very daunting. I felt that the part was like a double-edged sword; if I failed, I would have been done for along with the film. The experience, however, had positive result because it addressed TV audience and I tried to communicate with them. Perhaps, many critics were not positive toward this experience and wonder why an older actress has not been chosen? This was, however, a necessary risk to take and the first step on a path which has taken me here when many people say with every new film I appear in that they expect a different part. In fact, this has been one the most pleasing complements that I have ever heard.
FI: Of course, it is good to go for different parts, but it should not turn into an obsession and affect your ordinary choices.
MK: That is definitely true. If an actor fails to appear in films for some time, they would be forgotten. Choosing different parts will allow me to expand my options, so that, people would not just think about my face. Meanwhile, filmmakers will reach the conclusion that they can count on me for unconventional parts. Of course, this needs a lot of tact.
FI: How can you keep the balance between stardom and experimentalism? If you deform your face a few more times for films such as Twenty, Absolutely Tame Is a Horse, and Alzheimer’s, they won’t cast you in younger parts anymore. In Iranian cinema, nothing is so balanced and everything may readily become a cliché.
MK: You have pointed to a terrifying fact which I should be wary of. Despite all precautions, it may be difficult to maintain that balance because there is a serious problem with film screening in Iran. It does not allow you to make precise plans. For instance, we spend a lot of time consulting before accepting every new part. I take care in my choices to behave in such a way that if I appear in an experimentalist part, I should also appear in another movie to show my real face and forge a balance between the two. The issue of screening, however, is so unexpected that it usually does not allow you to make plans. Films are not screening in order of production. Almost concurrent with Twenty, I was also cast in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, which was not screened in theaters and directly went into home video network. If that film had been screened on time, I would have been seen in my usual way in Heaven, Hell, Purgatory in addition to my unconventional part in Twenty and the balance would have been realized.
... To Be Continued