…Well yoga really helps! But in all seriousness, I think it’s important to have gratitude to be able to follow such a great path. So many people would love to be in this business, but it takes a lot of commitment. Many people don’t realize that and don’t put in the effort.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Vida Ghaffari. Multi award-winning Iranian-American actress Vida Ghaffari was born and raised in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The daughter of esteemed NASA scientist, mathematician, and professor Abolghassem Ghaffari and artist and art teacher Mitra Ghaffari, Vida was infused with a diverse artistic and analytical upbringing. Melding the realms of art and science, and hailing from the prominent Qajar dynasty via her mom’s side of the family (Vida has two lines of descent from Fath-Ali Shah) and the aristocratic, artistically and politically powerful Ghaffari clan (who still has a street named after them in Tehran), which pre-dates Islam on her father’s side, Vida — with her royal bearing and Old World formality — often portrays regal, powerful and authoritative women. Vida completed the full improv program at the prestigious Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), which helped her garner a co-starring role in Mindy Kaling’s humorous and much buzzed about show, The Mindy Project, as a struggling immigrant mom Nasreen, where she was handpicked by Emmy winning director Charles McDougall. She also starred in ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and Comedy Central’s Mind of Mencia. These projects cap off a number of successes for the versatile starlet. She was recently featured in Variety for her starring role in multi award-winning filmmaker Harley Wallen’s sci-fi thriller Eternal Code, opposite an impressive ensemble cast consisting of Scout Taylor-Compton, Richard Tyson, Billy Wirth, Mel Novak, Kaiti Wallen and Yan Birch. With the mantle of intellectual authority she wears so easily and so well, Vida played the role of the brilliant and dedicated scientist Nikita, which garnered her international coverage given the power of the story, the all-star cast and Vida’s portrayal of a scientist like her famous father. Vida is also a frequent collaborator with filmmaker Dustin Ferguson, who has been awarded numerous awards for his innovative films. In the upcoming sci-fi thriller Robowoman, she was cast alongside a stellar ensemble cast consisting of Dawna Lee Heising, scream queen Brinke Stevens, legendary action star Mel Novak, Aki Aleong, Sue Price and many others. In this film, she played a highly intelligent medical researcher named Hannah. She recently starred as Dr. Elaine Ripley in Ferguson’s Los Angeles Shark Attack with frequent collaborators, Stevens, Heising, Maxson and Novak as well as Maria Olsen. She also starred in the pivotal role of school security guard Joan in the action film Nation’s Fire with two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern, Primetime Emmy winner Gil Bellows, Lou Ferrigno Jr., Chuck Liddell, Kristen Renton and many others. Her creativity is manifest not only in her acting skills but also in her work as a voiceover artist. With her smooth signature voice, Vida has voiced countless commercials and industrials. She made her animation debut in Emmy-nominated Dominic Polcino’s much buzzed about Lovesick Fool voicing two roles opposite Lisa Kudrow, Fred Willard and Janeane Garofalo. She also has a recurring role in the 3 time Peabody award nominated Suspense Show on XM satellite radio at Melrose Music at Raleigh Studios. Honored by her peers in the entertainment business, Vida has been bestowed acting, voice over, and community service awards by The City of Los Angeles, The West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, The World Networks, Los Angeles Nollywood Film Association, The Universe Multicultural Film Festival, The WIND International Film Festival, The Lucky Strike Film Festival and many others. Vida was also the first person of Iranian descent to be inducted into the esteemed USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Ever the fashionista, Vida recently graced the cover of noted fashion magazine FVM Global Magazine twice as well as Shine On Hollywood Magazine and 1st Class Magazine and was quoted about her knowledge of red carpet fashion for the Oscars by US News and World Report. She has also guested on Voice of America, BBC Persian, ABC Radio, KIRN Radio, GEM TV and many other international media outlets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the DC metropolitan area in a tough but interesting time for an Iranian-American family. It was after the revolution and my family’s life really changed. Many friends and relatives came to stay with us…I remember my parents always going to airports and picking up friends and relatives and seeing how hard life was for these people. It seems like in a way, they were casualties from the political situation in Iran and I really got to see how people experienced life. Seeing this tough reality for many really affected me and how I felt about expressing myself about the human condition led to the arts. My folks were so preoccupied in housing and prepping these people for living in the states and on top of all that, I was bullied a lot in school about being Iranian, so film and television become my own escapes. I studied Theatre and Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is one of the largest universities in the states. These days, I’m a working SAG-AFTRA actress who is always working on improving my craft and growing as an artist.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I got my start as a journalist reporting for some non-religious, non-political Persian satellite TV stations. They liked my voice and the fact that I spoke English with no accent, so I started voicing their promos in Farsi and English. I joke that it was twice the work for half the pay working in two languages. One of the editors graciously offered to put some clips together, which lead to my voiceover demo real and was a good way to find my first vo agent. I also took classes and seminars. My acting career took off soon after that.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I booked the Mindy Project, my character Nasreen was covered in a headscarf. Since I was acting in the pilot and there is a lot of emphasis on that episode, the producers and even the network was very worried that the scarf would loosen up or not look right again, so when they broke us for lunch on the Universal lot, I ate in the commissary with a full on headscarf. Needless to say, I remember how hard it was to chew with such a tight scarf..I have so much respect for women in Iran. They are really subjected to a lot and have handled their situation with grace and dignity.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s not really a big mistake, but I remember I took an acting class out here when I first moved out here and it was probably 4 to 5 hours long. I was shooting a film earlier that day and didn’t get a chance to eat dinner. I took a health bar with me and ate it in class, to which my instructor singled me out in front of 30 others students, “What do you think this is Miss Ghaffari, a dinner theatre?” I probably should have stepped out to eat that bar. For the rest of the time I took the class, other students would joke and call me out on it. Mind you, I was very hungry and it was a bar.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My film Eternal Code will have a big premiere world premiere this fall and will be released in 10 major markets. I got to play this femme fatale scientist and it was a nice change for me. I just shot Los Angeles Shark Attack, where I also played a smart character — a marine biologist. I also shot the mystery thriller Miranda Veil, where I play a concerned working mom. I just booked a thriller where I play the head witch in a coven! Really excited about that. That will be a different kind of character for me to play for sure!
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Growing up, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or even had a name like me represented in TV and film. It was very hard to experience and to relate to others. Additionally, our society is thankfully more diverse and there needs to be better representation of that. We can grow more as a culture to represent all this diversity.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Give more opportunities to women and minorities. Not just parts, but writing jobs. I’m actually a member of a couple of groups for artists of Middle Eastern and a lot is going on with inclusivity. No enough but it’s a start.
Maybe start a film collective. I was going to do this with some Iranian friends in the business, but we were all so busy with our careers, we never made a game plan and stuck to it. I could only imagine the cool projects we could have created using our different voices and experiences.
Maybe also incorporate a diversity day not just with SAG-AFTRA but the Directors Guild and the Writer’s Guild. All elements involved should be a part of this. There used to be the Ivy Bethune tri-union diversity awards, which I was a part of and it was wonderful, but when SAG and AFTRA merged it stopped. Ivy is a friend and very accomplished and inspiring actress who was a civil and women rights activist.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
-Focus on one aspect and one career path. I was an actress, voiceover artist and I still had my news show! That’s too much!
-Network! It’s a social business, so it’s great to network with directors, producers, casting directors and even other actors!
-Be sure to have great representation and keep them posted of your projects! There are a lot of agencies with huge rosters and I make a point to keep my agent posted on bookings and shoots. You’d be surprised how many actors book roles and neglect to tell their reps and find they have auditions they can’t make! That’s a conundrum that can be easily avoided. I am grateful to have a great manager and publicist, Joe Williamson and I’m thankful for all he’s done. He doesn’t allow me to get lost in the shuffle.
-Be ready! I have an actors kit in my car…emergency sewing kit, a change of clothes for auditions/last minute bookings, makeup wipes and brushes.
-Be continually working on your craft, especially now that self-tape auditions are the norm. There is no excuse not to practice, especially now that many actors record auditions on their phones!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well yoga really helps! But in all seriousness, I think it’s important to have gratitude to be able to follow such a great path. So many people would love to be in this business, but it takes a lot of commitment. Many people don’t realize that and don’t put in the effort.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to have more body positivity out there. LA is a city full of glamour and glitz and it’s easy to get caught up in that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m very grateful to my mentor in voiceover Doug Rye who was kind enough to refer me to a voiceover workout group that was very affordable, in a professional studio with seasoned voice over actors. Most importantly, I am most grateful to my immediate family, my mom and my sister. They are so supportive and keep me grounded!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not a religious person, but I do subscribe to the Golden Rule, where you should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s very important, especially in a career and town that is very isolating.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂 ??
I am so inspired by powerful women in this business. Oprah of course, as well as Issa Rae, Ava DuVerney, Oscar winner Kathyrn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins. I could go on!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thanks for asking! My instagram is
Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/officialvidaghaffari/
Thank you for your great insights!
I really enjoyed this interview! This was very meaningful, thank you so much!