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Behind the scenes of Apple TV’s new Israeli thriller ‘Tehran’

Apple TV+ Deep in the heart of Tehran, a Mossad agent works against the clock to carry out a top-secret mission aimed at paving the way for an IDF airstrike against an Iranian nuclear reactor. For once, this isn’t a story ripped from the headlines. Rather, it’s the plot of “Tehran,” an Israeli-Iranian spy thriller coming to Apple TV+ this week after a successful run in Israel. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro spoke to the cast and creator about their experiences filming the much buzzed-about show

Blurred lines: In the series, the streets of Tehran are actually in Athens, the Iranian-born Mossad agent is an Israeli actress with Moroccan heritage and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard henchman is played by a Jewish-Iranian expat living in Los Angeles. And that dissonance perfectly personifies the fast-paced new thriller, which blurs the traditional lines of good guys and bad guys and works to humanize the very enemy people have been conditioned to hate. Actress Niv Sultan plays Tamar Rabinyan, an Iranian native who immigrated to Israel as a child, becomes a computer hacker with the Mossad and sneaks into Tehran for a top-secret operation that goes horribly wrong. 

Both sides: The show, filmed in Farsi, Hebrew and English, follows Tamar as she is stuck in Tehran, racing against both the clock and the enemy to carry out her mission without being caught. “I think one of the most beautiful things about this series, in my opinion, is that it tries to show both sides without favoring any of them,” Sultan, 28, told Jewish Insider in a recent interview from Tel Aviv. “As a viewer, your feelings are constantly changing every episode, you can relate to both sides. And you can also hate both sides.” Moshe Zonder, the show’s co-creator and co-writer, told JI that while the nail-biting series centers around espionage, hacking, evasion and violence, it is really about so much more. “The show is about identity, nationality and the importance of your roots and your family,” he said. “From day one it was not a show of good guys against bad guys. Israel is not a good guy and Iran is not the bad guy.” 

Complex characters:Shaun Toub (“Homeland,” “Iron Man,” “Crash”), a Jewish native of Iran who now lives in Los Angeles, portrays Faraz Kamali, the head of internal investigations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is hot on the trail of Tamar. Toub said he was particularly drawn to Faraz because he was a “multi-dimensional character… one-dimensional characters really bore me.” With Faraz, he said, “you see the humanity in him. You see how he is able to juggle life and the love of country and the love of his wife and his family,” Toub told JI. “You see the complexity of the character and the struggles that he has — like anyone else.” 

Intense study: For several months before shooting began, Sultan was immersed in intensive Farsi lessons in order to convincingly play Tamar — something she said was harder than anticipated. “It was so challenging,” she told JI. “The pronunciation — it’s so different from Hebrew and different from Arabic,” which she was exposed to at home since her dad is a native of Morocco. “I thought, ‘oh it’s probably going to be similar’ — but it has nothing to do with Hebrew or Arabic.” Despite the physical challenges of the role, and the intensity of filming — almost entirely at night — for three months in Athens, Sultan said that “as an actress, this is the type of role that I dreamed of.” 

Melting pot: “There were so many languages on set and it was so, so special because we were so different, but also, at the end, the same,” said Sultan of the diverse cast and crew. “We have the same dreams and so many things in common, and we just put everything aside and focused on telling the story in the best way that we can.” Toub said he hopes the series can break down barriers and prejudices between Israelis and Iranians. “The way the script was written, the hope is that people can just really watch this as a series and enjoy it without any hesitation, without any prejudices,” Toub added. “The show basically tries to show that people are just people and everybody is the same — and we all have our issues and our problems in life.” 

Read the full feature and watch the trailer here.

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