Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are appearing in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track… So, we’re going to do the hard work for you.
This week we head to Iran, where filmmaker Nima Javidi’s debut TV series has been winning awards and generating plenty of attention. Taking inspiration from the Bard himself, the show follows two friends who use their acting skills to help solve cold cases. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, it turns out. Having won the Series Mania Grand Prize, attracting the attention of thousands of important attendees at the annual Lille confab, The Actor’s creator and seller now have their sights set globally.
Name: The Actor
Networks/streamers: Filimo and Namava
Producer: HA International
Distributor: HA International
For fans of: Shakespeare, The Last Act
“All of us play different roles in our lives, day in, day out,” says Nima Javidi of the themes layered within his Series Mania Grand Prize-winning drama series The Actor.
The Iranian auteur, who has over the past couple of years turned his hand from movies to the small screen, wanted to create a show that made the viewer sit up and think about the characters they themselves inhabit every day. For a dollop of extra help, he enlisted the UK’s greatest ever playwright, William Shakespeare.
In The Actor, which took home the top prize at March’s Lille confab and is available to stream on Iran’s Filimo and Namava, Ali, a naturally gifted but unknown theater performer, and his friend Morteza, use their acting skills to perform at parties.
Blending drama, mystery and black comedy, the duo, who are played by Navid Mohammadzadeh (Law of Tehran) and Ahmad Mehranfar (About Ely), receive an offer from a detective agency to use their skills to help solve cold cases. Through a 20-episode run, they find themselves in increasingly daring and dangerous situations, while simultaneously trying to deal with the problems in their own lives.
“All of us play different roles in our own lives, day in, day out, and this is part of our existence as human beings,” says Javidi, who speaks to Deadline via a translator from a village close to the Iranian capital, Tehran.
“This seemed really interesting to me and I wanted to work on the concept, which was fresh. It is not only actors who act but people in the world are acting everyday.”
Javidi was inspired by Shakespeare, and one of the Bard’s quotes appears before each episode – the first, of course, being “All the world’s a stage” from As You Like It.
For Javidi, Shakespeare, who he describes as the “greatest English-speaking novelist in history,” taught him how to write characters that are “multi-dimensional and complicated” – a serious feat for someone who died more than four centuries ago.
Produced and distributed by HA International, The Actor would never have happened without the Covid-19 pandemic, during which time Javidi – whose past credits include Iranian movies Melbourne and The Warden – ditched his long-gestating plan for a film that would have been tricky to fund and decided to give the small screen a go for the first time, which he describes as a “pleasant experience.”
“Over the past few years I had realized that series production had started being taken really seriously in the world,” he adds. “Many series are better than movies in terms of their details and that’s why I took this great opportunity to experiment with a TV show.”
Casting was always going to be integral to a show that requires its main actors to often perform several different roles per episode and Javidi took a long time to select Mohammadzadeh and Mehranfar, who he deliberately chose due to their theater prowess.
“Having this theater experience helped them get closer to the characters and at the same time gave them the ability to play their different roles,” adds Javidi, who, beyond Shakespeare, sought inspiration from 1991 Iranian movie The Last Act, in which two siblings hire a troupe of actors to persuade their dead brother-in-law’s widow to commit suicide so they can inherit her house. He has watched the movie 10 times.
With their main cast playing numerous roles per episode, however, the production team faced obstacles when it came to areas like costume design and make-up. One episode, in which Ali and Morteza dress up as older men, had to delay filming by several months as their make-up wouldn’t stick in the hot weather, Javidi explains.
Much like last month’s Nordland 99 Global Breakout, The Actor eschewed linear TV and is only available on VoD, but Javidi believes Iranian streamer shows tend to be more professional and of a higher quality.
The show ranks in the current top three most-watched on Filimo and Namava and has won tonnes of international recognition. HA International Head of International Affairs Ziba Shahpouri, who sells the show, says a sale to a “major platform” is now close.
She partly credits The Actor’s marketing and promotion, having spent months attending festivals around the world spreading the word about what is a “very universal story.”
“Many countries and many cultures can relate to The Actor so a big part of this was marketing, promotion and creating relationships with the buyers,” she adds.
In the headlines
Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody last September, Iranian politics and culture have been generating headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Since then, dozens of local movie and TV stars have spoken out and many have left the Middle Eastern nation.
“When you get on the street you will see this is having an effect and is obviously impacting society,” says Javidi.
But, he goes on to say, things are as they were when it comes to production in Iran. “We are making movies and series with the same policy and rules as before,” he considers.
Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” remains front and center of Javidi’s thinking. Local and global players will be eager to see what this moviemaker-turned-TV-creative comes up with next.