Actress Nazanin Boniadi

Whether you know her as Nora, the woman who stole Barney’s heart on How I Met Your Mother, or CIA analyst Fara Sherazi from Homeland, there is no denying that Nazanin Boniadi is quite the acting chameleon. And this year Boniadi is taking on one of her biggest (and we mean that literally) roles yet, as Esther in the movie remake of Ben-Hur.

Apart from acting, Boniadi is also extremely passionate about human rights and has been a spokesperson for Amnesty International for the past six years. We caught up with the insanely inspirational Boniadi recently to further discuss her activism, and also picked her brain on her favorite foods and food cities. Stunning, smart, and selfless? Nazanin is the triple-threat Hollywood never knew it needed.

From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

I have a deep love for chocolate and sugar. But realistically, I like foods that are both tasty, healthy and don’t deplete my energy. So I like to eat low-glycemic, alkaline, organic foods whenever possible. It’s fun to discover new ways of preparing flavorful dishes that, ideally, also have health benefits. For example, I love Persian food but it contains a lot of white rice (or “polo” in Persian). One of my favorite dishes is Zereshk Polo (rice with saffron and barberries), usually served with chicken. So my mother introduced me to a healthier version, which I think tastes even better than the original — she simply substitutes the rice for tricolored quinoa and cooks it with chicken broth to give it more flavor. It’s delicious!

How do you usually start your day? What’s your go-to breakfast?

I love almond milk smoothies. I usually add reishi, maca and cordyceps for energy, fruit for sweetness and flavor, a plant-based protein powder, and hydrolyzed collagen powder for skin, hair and joint benefits.

How do you practice beauty from the inside out? 

Hydration is key. I drink a lot of water. I find that mindfulness and yoga help bring about a sense of serenity, gratitude and happiness, which I think are always attractive. Acupuncture, vitamins and nutrition can also help you feel good and shine from the inside out. I also enjoy relaxing scenic hikes; I find the combination of cardio and fresh air adds a healthy glow to the skin.

What are your morning and nightly beauty routines? 

In the mornings, I wash my face with a paraben-free facial cleanser, and cold water to reduce puffiness. If I have any blemishes I use the Blemish Touch Stick by Desert Essence. I then use Hylunia’s Neroli Mist toner followed by their Moisture Infusion moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and plant stem cells. Finally, I use an organic SPF 30 sunscreen. I replicate this at night, but I replace the moisturizer with Hylunia’s Ultimate Antioxidant Cream and I skip the sunscreen. If my skin feels dehydrated I will add a couple of drops of their Nourishing Face Oil with apricot to my moisturizer. I also use the Clarisonic brush to cleanse and exfoliate my face at night three times per week.

Were you excited to be part of the Ben-Hur remake? How do you relate to your character?

It was a real “pinch me” moment when I booked Ben-Hur because it was on my bucket list to be in this type of epic film set in that era. As an activist myself, I relate to Esther’s optimism and fervor for a better and more just world. Her shortcomings are overshadowed by her sheer determination and moral compass. It’s so exhilarating playing a woman of such great strength and conviction. I strive every day to have Esther’s grace and resilience. I learned so much from living in her skin.

Did you watch the movie when you were younger? What makes its message so important in our world today?

Yes, I loved the 1959 version, but it has been fifty-seven years and I think now is the perfect time for a new take on Lew Wallace’s powerful novel. Ben-Hur is ultimately a story about forgiveness and redemption, making its appeal both universal and timeless given the ongoing global turmoil, intolerance and injustice. It is a story that inspires hope and change and leaves us with the feeling that love can truly conquer hate. The world really needs this kind of unifying message right now. We can all afford to be kinder to each other and more forgiving, to stop pointing fingers and take responsibility for our own actions. I hope people who watch the film are inspired to do just that.

Is there an issue in this day and age you’re most passionate about? What is it and why?

Human rights remains among the most pressing issues of our time. This includes child marriage, human trafficking, gun violence, poverty, inequality, the refugee and migrant crisis, international justice and more. In my six years as a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA, I campaigned for the rights of disenfranchised people across the world, with a focus on bringing attention to the unjust treatment of women, children and prisoners of conscience in my homeland of Iran. I continue this work today as a member of the board of directors for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Although my parents were forced to leave Iran during the Iranian Revolution when I was only twenty days old, I feel a deep connection to the Iranian people, who struggle every day to overcome oppression and injustice. I believe the realization of human rights and freedom in Iran will lead to greater stability in the Middle East and beyond. So it really is an issue that ultimately effects people everywhere. I’m also passionate about encouraging the development of policies that empower women on a global scale. Women comprise half the world’s population and are the nurturers of future generations, so protecting the rights of women is essential to any peacekeeping, security, enhanced productivity and social development objectives.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The worst?

Best advice: “Compromise on everything but the truth.”

Worst advice: “Mid-20’s is way too old to start acting. You’ll never make it”.

“You are what you eat.” True or false?

True.

The hair products you can’t live without…

Pureology Purify Shampoo and Nano Works Gold ShampooMilbon Moisturizing Treatment and Milbon Prejume Hair Styling Milk 1 — I apply this after my blow dry to polish and tame flyways.

What foods and drinks make your skin feels its best? its worst?

My skin is happiest when I drink a lot of water and avoid caffeine and refined sugar.

What advice would you give women getting up, looking in the mirror and getting dressed in the morning?

It’s a new day. You’re alive. Make it count.

Who/What do you think you were in a past life? Why?

I’m drawn to antiquity so I think it would have to be a warrior princess, or perhaps Pantea Arteshbod, one of the all-time greatest female Persian commanders during the reign of Cyrus the Great. I’m inspired by strong, unfaltering, compassionate and resilient women.

You never liked X till you tried it at Y…

I never liked Bloody Marys until I tried one at Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano, California.

What’s your perfect salad comprised of?

Beets, arugula, cucumbers, avocado, red seedless grapes, feta cheese and walnuts, with fresh squeezed lemon juice, Himalayan salt, cayenne pepper and a dash of balsamic.

What are your favorite current cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?

My taste buds forever love Florence, Italy! Trattoria Cammillo is a fabulous restaurant where I had the most amazing lunch: Insalata Carciofi as the starter, followed by Pappardelle sul Cinghiale, which is a Florentian pasta and boar ragu. They also had a curry dish with mango chutney which was outstanding. I followed it up with the most incredible gelato at the legendary Gelateria Santa Trinita.

I like Granger & Co. and Ottolenghi in Notting Hill Gate, London. In Rome, I like Antica Pesa, La Rosetta, Ferrara Enoteca, La Gensola, and Gelato at Il Giolitti. And I love the world’s first ever pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, in Naples.

In the same vein as ‘what is the new black’ in fashion, what’s the new potato right now?

Podcasts are the new radio and the new blogs, rolled into one. From Dear Sugar and Fresh Air, to Women in Diplomacy and Freakonomics — I’m hooked!

Have you read our interview with Kathryn Hahn? Also see our actress Rebecca Hall.

*Nazanin Boniadi, photographed in Los Angeles, CA by Danielle Kosann