House Proud

updated 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Long before landing the plum role of a proud immigrant in the drama House of Sand and Fog, Shohreh Aghdashloo was a noted film and theater actress in her native Tehran, Iran. Then the Ayatollah came to town. "I went to the Drama Workshop, and they had built a wall right in front of the door with cement and brick," she recalls of the 1978 revolution. "I knew there was no place for liberated women like myself."

After Aghdashloo fled the country, the Iranian press banned mentions of her name. Now the rest of the world is learning it: As Nadi, an Iranian wife and mother trying to hold her exiled family together, Aghdashloo, 51, quietly steals scenes from her Oscar-winning costars Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. With best supporting actress awards from critics' groups, Aghdashloo, who lives with her actor and playwright husband, Houshang Touzie, 53, and their daughter Tara, 15, in Calabasas, Calif., is a potential Oscar dark horse. At her audition "she made everyone cry," says producer Michael London. "I think much of Shohreh's life experience was channeled into Nadi's love for her family and for Iran."

Her mother, who still lives in Tehran, says that Aghdashloo's performance in House has proved stronger than the media ban on her name. Even her father, who disapproved of her acting at first, has been ecstatic to read about her in Iranian newspapers. "Mom was jumping up and down, a 72-year-old woman! Of course, what makes me really proud was my father's happiness. Mom said, 'Your dad is so happy.' I was like, 'Thank God. At last.' "

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