Israeli actress Niv Sultan was just a few years out of acting school when she was cast as the lead in Tehran, an Apple TV+ series about Tamar, a young Jewish woman born in Iran but raised in Israel. Now a Mossad agent, she is sent on an undercover mission in Iran. Things go horribly wrong, so Tamar goes into hiding. While there, she begins to reconnect with her local roots while at the same time being hunted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The show’s second season launched earlier this month, with actress Glenn Close joining the cast.
Sultan spoke to Casting Networks about the role and how the series’ success led to her next role, that of a brothel owner on the current AMC+ streaming series That Dirty Black Bag, starring Dominic Cooper and Travis Fimmel.
Do you remember when you got the call to audition for the role of Tamar, the Mossad agent in Tehran?
I was standing in my kitchen when I got an email about the audition. I remember thinking, this has to be mine. It’ll break boundaries because as an actress, I’d have to do so many things — speak Farsi, do action scenes. The way she was written, she had so many layers and colors. It wasn’t just an action character. She was also facing her double identity in Tehran. The role seemed very, very challenging, and I wanted it.
How did the audition go?
It wasn’t good. Actually, it was an awful audition. I was really nervous. I remember leaving it and crying. I thought I really messed it up. Sometimes when you want something too much, you get too nervous, and you can’t bring the best of you to the room. I didn’t hear from them for two and a half weeks. I thought, okay, it’s not mine, moving on…
But then you did hear from them….
Then they called me and asked me to come in again. They sent me a different scene, and I did it. And a few days later, they called me to say that I got the part. Then we started to work on casting Milad’s character (Tamar’s Iranian love interest), so we began chemistry auditions over Zoom. This was before Covid, and I didn’t think (chemistry reads could work) from computers or videos. I was surprised to find out that when you have chemistry, it doesn’t matter if it’s in-person or virtual. When I met Shervin (Alenabi), who got the part of Milad, after a minute, we — the director and the producer and I — just knew. I was surprised to feel it through the screen, but we felt it.
Now that the show is back for Season 2, did you have a hand in crafting your character more, or did you leave it all up to the writers?
It happened very naturally together. The writers are amazing. At the beginning of Season One, Danny Syrkin, the director, told me, “You are Tamar, and Tamar is you, and she’s in you. So I can only advise you from the outside. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for her because she is in you.” We have very open conversations. I trust Danny. I trust the writers. That’s a very beautiful thing to have. When things didn’t feel right, we talked about it on set or the night before the shoot. It was a never-ending process.
Glenn Close has joined the cast for Season Two. How is that? I imagine that any young actress would die working opposite such an iconic person like her.
I did! [laughs] I didn’t know what to expect or how she would be. I was nervous, happy, and excited all at the same time. We had a rehearsal together with everyone — the director, the producers — and when she got in the room, the first thing she did was hug me very warmly. We started working, and she gave me this feeling that we were actually partners, equal partners. I had the opportunity to watch up close how she thinks, how she analyzes her scenes, and how she makes decisions. Besides all that, she’s very humble, funny, and warm. I love her.
What kind of impact has the success of Tehran had on your career?
I got a part in Spaghetti Western called That Dirty Black Bag on AMC. I spent the last year shooting it in Italy, Spain, and Morocco. It was during Covid, and the cast was all stuck together — we couldn’t go back and forth — which made the experience even more incredible because we became a family.
What was the casting process for Black Bag?
I was sitting in my place in Tel Aviv during Covid when I got the audition. I sent a tape from Tel Aviv, then I had a Zoom meeting with the filmmakers and producers, and two weeks later, I was on a plane to Italy. I was happy to jump into this experience. All the actors stayed at this fantastic place in Italy, where we needed to quarantine first. We got to live together, know each other, sit together morning and night to talk about things, rehearse, and read the script.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in your acting career so far?
Realizing that if I don’t get a part, it wasn’t supposed to be mine in the first place. And then moving on quickly without taking it personally. Because it’s not only always about me, there are so many other factors (in landing a role). If it happens, great. If not, it wasn’t supposed to. It’s a process, obviously. I get disappointed so many times. But that’s part of our profession.
Do you enjoy auditioning in general?
I have to say it’s very individual. Sometimes I get on that Zoom and I’m nervous. I want it too much, or the energy is stressful. Or I’m excited that this may be a new adventure in front of me, so let’s see if it will be mine or not. Other times the challenge of the audition is very exciting. But like everyone else, sometimes I just want to vomit in the room [laughs].