Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has represented his country in the International Oscar race an impressive five times, winning the coveted prize on two occasions (for The Salesman and A Separation).
His latest feature, the social drama A Hero, is once again a hotly tipped contender for this year’s race. The film, which debuted in Competition at Cannes and won the Jury Grand Prize, stars Amir Jadidi as a man in prison because of a debt he is unable to pay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum, but things don’t go as planned.
Central to the feature is the performance of Jadidi. During the Amazon Studios panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International, Farhadi explains that he didn’t always intend to use a professional actor in the lead role.
“When I started casting I thought all the characters should be people who hadn’t acted before, because I thought it should be closer to a documentary,” he said through an interpreter.
However, when he considered the requirements for his lead role — how he was a “simple character in a complex situation” and how the role would necessitate a nuanced performance — the filmmaker realized he would need a trained actor.
Farhadi had not worked with Jadidi before but had seen his performances on screen, finding himself particularly impressed by his turn in 2018 Iranian feature Cold Sweat. Due to the timing of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the director and his lead found themselves with lots of time to workshop the performance.
“Creating a character who is passive is harder than someone who shows what’s going on inside their head,” says Farhadi. “We worked for months on his physics and the smile on his face.”
The film is full to the brim with social commentary and spotlights numerous topical themes including public shaming, social media and going viral, but the director explains that not all of these topics were present in his mind from the beginning.
“This idea of a society that creates a hero, has a lot of expectations for them, and how they behave towards them, was very interesting to me,” He said. “When I started writing I never thought social media would be a part of this story, it gradually entered… I didn’t want to be a critic of social media, I wanted it to be a part of the film.”
Check out the panel video above.