Sarah Shahi on “Sex/Life” Season 2 and How to Support Iran

When Sarah Shahi first read the scripts for sex/lifeNetflix’s steamy drama about a suburban housewife and mother of two longing for the hectic existence she lived with her ex-boyfriend, the Iranian-American actress jokes that she was both terrified and excited.

“From the moment I got this role, I made no secret that Billie Mann definitely pierced my soul,” Shahi says of her liberating yet morally complex character in the provocative series, which returned for its second. season earlier this month. “I was deep in personal reflection: I am a mother of three children, I was married and I just wanted more. I felt like I got lost along the way. I put myself in my own prison, and I also held the keys to freeing myself.

“What is most admirable about Billie is her courage,” adds Shahi. “No matter if Billie failed, she couldn’t deny herself. [what she wanted]. I found a lot of inspiration in her, so I started making small changes in my [own] life.”

Atlanta caller Shahi, whose past screen credits include black adam, The word IAnd The Sopranos— opens on O about the show’s exploration of the female gaze and the personal responsibility she feels to help raise awareness of the current social movement in Iran.

Why do you think it’s still a cultural taboo to talk about female pleasure?

Throughout the history of the world, women have definitely been suppressed, and it’s nice to be a part of something that’s forward-thinking and says, “We have needs. We have desires. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.” When it comes to sexual empowerment, often in movies and on TV we see men pleasing themselves. We see women as a way to serve the story This time the roles are reversed, it’s all about female pleasure and what turns them on, and then, where appropriate, seeing men through that female lens.

With a role like this, you have to come clean and figuratively out, but you have the advantage of working with intimacy coordinators.

Let me tell you something: these scenes suck. [Laughs.] Even if it’s a closed set and the other actors are there with you, you’re very vulnerable; standing there physically naked in front of people is a whole different kind of vulnerability. [Having Casey Hudecki, the intimacy coordinator] was really lovely because we were talking about what was forbidden. It’s become a dance that you try to choreograph. There are no surprises; you know what to expect, where the moves are, where the kisses and touching are going to happen. I was really proud that the sex scenes, I felt, came from an emotional, narrative place.

Last fall, following the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests in Iran, you write an essay for Harper’s Bazaar in which you detailed the consideration of your own cultural heritage. How do you talk to your kids about what’s going on?

There was a special I was in – it was a group of Iranian Americans, and we were talking about [our heritage] and what it means for us. [It’s important] so I can show it to my kids. I’m definitely someone who treats my kids like little adults, so I want them to know what’s going on. My mother was one of the first protesters in the 70s. That’s what led her to [immigrate to] America. So when this all started, I saw the stories I used to hear when I was a little girl.

My mother grew up in Iran and was denied an education, but she was so smart and enrolled in college when she was 15. here. You have no idea how lucky you are to be an American, to have resources at your fingertips. You think of everything and you can succeed. I did not have this opportunity. ” SO [I want] give my kids that perspective as much as possible.

How does opposition to the current regime play out in your daily life?

The other day I was working with someone who is Persian. I was like, “Do you have any friends that are there right now? What’s going on?” I’ve never been there and I probably wouldn’t be allowed to go. But he was saying that the morality police are now walking around very randomly and taking people’s phones. What if you have posted [about what’s happening], then the type of repercussions depends on the officer’s mood – whether it’s a beating, just taking your phone, or putting you in jail. If you haven’t posted anything, they’ll still take your phone, but you can get it back a week later.

I don’t know why we can’t do more, why we can’t send people there, why world leaders choose to turn a [blind] eye. Instagram and social networks are [the protestors’] connection to the outside world. And as long as their voices keep flowing, as long as we keep talking about it and posting about it, then for them it’s like, ‘Okay, our efforts aren’t wasted. The world can see what is happening. They do not require intervention; they don’t ask us to come in and invade. All they’re saying is, “Please keep talking about it.”

On this subject, I wanted to ask you a few questions of O‘s Culture Diet. Do you have any favorite social media accounts to follow that shine a light on what’s going on in Iran?

I recently met actress Nazanin Boniadi and loved her, so I started following her. She is in the political world and she is very good at publishing factual and up-to-date information. Another is a journalist Masih Alinejad. She is seeking asylum in France right now, and she has received death threats upon death threats, but nothing is slowing her down. There’s another one called @HelpFreeIran, and I go back and forth between those three. I don’t really watch the news, but NPR is a place I go for national stuff.

So normally you don’t watch the news, but are there any TV shows that have kept you up at night?

Well I have to admit I’m a fan of Brad and Billie [the actress and her costar and real-life boyfriend Adam Demos’s characters on Sex/Life]. It’s funny because Adam and I are in different places right now, and he called me the other night to catch up with me, and I was like, “I have to let you go. I can not speak now ! [Our characters] Brad and Billie are getting married! [Laughs.]

I love how you manage to separate yourself from your characters.

I do not see myself. I wear a completely different hat when I’m an audience member, and I was swept up in their romance as well, so I had an all-nighter the other night. [Laughs.] I’m also really into the second season of The White Lotus. I watch a lot more movies than TV shows, so I’m catching up on all the movies that have been nominated right now.

Adam Demos and Sarah Shahi attend Netflix sex/life special screening of season 2 on February 23, 2023 in Los Angeles.

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix

Do you remember the last movie you saw at the cinema?

It was Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. I took my kids and really liked it. And the last movie I saw that wasn’t a kids movie was The Fabelmans. It was classic Spielberg, very nostalgic.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

There are two books I’m reading right now; I always go there as a couple. One of them is called It ends with us by Colleen Hoover—I also read something called Betty’s Body [by Dr. Stephanie Estima]. When you reach 40, women’s bodies change. It’s something I’ve been on a journey to try to figure out: what my body needs right now. I am also writing a book!

What albums or playlists are you listening to right now? Do you have songs on loop?

It’s everywhere; I’m very hippy-dippy and pretty fluid as a person. There’s this artist that I adore called Charlotte Cardin, she’s a French-Canadian bluesy singer. I was able to get it in season two of sex/life. I can’t deny Miley [Cyrus]; I like a good Miley album. And I love SZA.

I listen to movie soundtracks like Hours a lot. I have a lot of noise around me, and sometimes the last thing I need is lyrics, so I also listen to a lot of vibrational music.

Do you believe in astrology and what is your zodiac sign?

Oh yes, I know that. I’m a Capricorn, and I really got into my [full chart]. The other interesting thing about my ancestry that I didn’t know until recently is that as a culture we are very attached to the stars. The followers of the first religion in Iran were sun worshippers. I often realize how small I am compared to everything in the world and how connected I am at the same time. This sentiment creates a feeling of, “Wow, you have to let things go, and you have to believe that there is some kind of world order, and just go with the flow.” Ultimately, as long as you can look in the mirror and be happy with what you see, the rest is out of your control.

Leave a Comment