Tehran returns this month for its second season, much to the delight of adrenaline junkies everywhere. The spy thriller Isreali – set in the Iranian capital and featuring dialogue in Hebrew, Farsi and English – follows Tamar Rabinyan, an Iranian-born Israeli and rookie Mossad agent, as she undertakes her first assignment. Tehran was also the first major mission for Niv Sultan, who plays Tamar. Getting inside the mind of a spy required the rookie actor to dig deep — from intensive martial arts training to immersive Farsi lessons — but in some ways the role is surprisingly close to his own experience. Sultan. Born in Jerusalem to Moroccan immigrants, the 29-year-old actor is no stranger to feeling like he wants to make his family proud. But Sultan also discovered a new family on the set of Tehran— a compound of Israelis, Iranians, Greeks and countless others who brought the Emmy-winning drama to life. Here she talks to a member of that family, the legendary Glenn Close, about stepping inside the mind of an undercover agent, creating art out of conflict and the thrill of putting on a show. revolutionary without the help of Hollywood.
GLENN CLOSE: Lv.
NIV SULTAN: Hello, hello!
CLOSE: It’s so wonderful to see you.
SULTAN: You too. I’m so excited to chat.
CLOSE: It’s amazing to have such an intense experience, like we had, and not see each other for so long. But now I feel like we’re getting back to it.
SULTAN: It feels like yesterday. What an amazing experience.
CLOSE: I’ll start by asking you: how did you become Tamar? How did you get into her character and what attracted you to her?
SULTAN: It was a crazy process, because the character is so different from me. I had to learn so many things. The biggest challenge was Farsi. I thought it would be similar to Arabic and learning it would be easy for me, but it’s a completely different language. I had to immerse myself in Iranian culture to tell this story. I needed to understand what it means to be Iranian, how rich this culture is. When I met Iranians on set, I realized they were homesick, they love their culture and they miss their country. It was really powerful. I also had to work on my martial arts skills.
CLOSE: Did you learn to shoot a gun?
SULTAN: I learned to shoot and fight, it’s very difficult to make it real. It doesn’t matter how many times you rehearsed the choreography – when you step onto the set, everything is constantly changing. Suddenly, there is a sofa in the middle of the frame, or a person, and you have to adapt everything you have practiced on site. It made me feel alive, I loved the action scenes. Psychologically, I had to get inside the mind of a Mossad agent living undercover and what it means to sacrifice your life for your country or for a larger goal.
CLOSE: Did you use your imagination or talk to people?
SULTAN: Only my imagination. I had no one to talk to, honestly. I don’t think many Mossad agents will tell you these things.
CLOSE: How did you access this side of yourself?
SULTAN: At the heart of it all was Tamar’s family, and mine too. In the first season, Tamar’s father is very important to her – my father was born in Morocco, he is also an immigrant. I think immigrants, no matter where and when, all experience the challenge of finding their place in a foreign society. Tamar has this strong motivation to make her father proud and to make him feel part of Israeli society. I must say that I feel this pressure to succeed in order to make my people and my family proud. That’s what I relied on.
CLOSE: What was the first scene you and I did together for Season 2?
SULTAN: We fired at the hospital.
CLOSE: Oh, I forgot that. I remember that the man who played the Revolutionary Guards was actually a refugee.
SULTAN: That’s a very interesting thing about the show. We shot in Athens, and there are a lot of refugees in Greece. Most of our extras were refugees, and they had crazy stories of escaping in search of freedom.
CLOSE: How was your relationship with Danny [Syrkin, Tehran’s director]?
SULTAN: He gave me a lot of freedom. At first I panicked because it was too much. I said to myself, “Talk to me! Tell me what to do!” Eventually he said, “Look, you’re Tamar. In the end, you know what’s good for her. found the confidence to try things, knowing that he trusted my instincts.
CLOSE: How did you feel when you learned that Tehran was picked up by Apple TV+?
SULTAN: I panicked. I’m super grateful for this opportunity, but at the end of the day, I’m mostly happy to know that so many people around the world have been touched by this story. Having people see me speaking Farsi and English with an Israeli accent was a huge thing for me. I’m only at the start of my career, so knowing that so many people loved the show is an amazing feeling.
CLOSE: Did you go into this project knowing it would be with Apple?
SULTAN: No, we had no idea what would happen.
SULTAN: We did the first season without a platform. We felt the magic of what we were doing, but you never know. Then, all of a sudden, we won Best Drama at the International Emmys.
CLOSE: Tehran is the first Israeli show to win an Emmy and the first non-English speaking show on Apple TV+. You pioneered what I believe will become the new normal, and I salute you for that.
SULTAN:[Laughs] Thank you.
CLOSE: Why do you think people around the world were so engaged in the first season?
SULTAN: First of all, it’s a very engaging and fun series. Second, we tell a timeless story about relationships and challenges. It doesn’t matter where you live or what conflict is impacting your life. At the end of the day, we all love our families and we just want to protect our people. I think everyone can relate to that.
CLOSE: What was it like growing up in a region of great conflict?
SULTAN: Israel, of course, is full of conflict. There are countless shows, movies, and plays about it. When I read the script, I remember thinking that this show offered a different perspective on the Israeli-Iranian conflict. It was not a question of politics, it was a question of humanity. I was also very charmed by the way the show portrayed Tehran. I never experienced the magic, music and beauty of Iranian culture on screen, I only knew what I had read in the headlines and newspapers. I was really proud to be part of the show.
CLOSE: What is Tamar’s journey from Season 1 to Season 2?
SULTAN: In season two, Tamar is very good at putting her feelings aside. She was trained for it, but in season two we find her really emotionally involved. It’s a bad thing for an agent because there’s so much at stake.
CLOSE: What do you think makes Tehran particularly unique?
SULTAN: I think the beauty of Iranian culture hasn’t really been explored on screen on this scale before. It’s not about governments, it’s about people. Conflict exists between governments, but the real people of Iran and Israel don’t live conflict, we live our lives. The series shows us that a connection can exist between Iranian men and Israeli women [Tamar and Milad]. I think that’s a very interesting point of view. It’s also a very underground series, in a way. There’s something edgy and dark and imperfect about it, which I love. It’s different, organic, authentic, not American.
CLOSE: It was one of the things that attracted me. The cast and crew did not speak English. What kind of project would you like to undertake next?
SULTAN: I’m only at the beginning, so I want everything. I want to continue playing characters that challenge me and hone my skills.
CLOSE: We are very lucky to do what we do.
SULTAN: I have to tell you that before you arrived, the Israeli crew was really nervous. They didn’t know how to react to you, and everyone was whispering. But you came in with this joyful energy. I don’t know if you remember, but one day, between takes, you were walking around singing. After that, everyone relaxed. It was very warm, we became a family on the set.
CLOSE: Oh, that’s good. It’s so important to build that trust.