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Kiwi TV star Ghazaleh Gol’s comedy challenge

The Iranian showcases life and laughs from her homeland
Photos: Robert Trathen

Ghazaleh Gol is a director on Kiwi soap Shortland Street and new series Miles From Nowhere. Deeply inspired by her Iranian heritage, the writer, author, filmmaker and sometimes actor wants to tell stories from her culture on a mainstream platform.

The Auckland creative, 42, is going from strength to strength, with the Sky Open series Miles From Nowhere being billed as the first Muslim comedy-drama to hit local screens.

“About 10 years ago, there were no stories about us or our community,” shares Ghazaleh. “I wanted to write characters I, or someone like me, could potentially play.

“When I first started out, I never looked into my own experiences or whakapapa [ancestral lineage],” she reveals. “A really significant moment was in my last year of high school when we had to do a history project and for some weird reason I chose Abraham Lincoln. My history teacher was like, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you should do something on Iran.’

Ghazaleh Gol and the Miles From Nowhere cast and crew
Miles From Nowhere and loving it! Ghazaleh with cast and crew members.

“For the first time in my life, I realised I didn’t know anything about the revolution. It embarrassed me, but also inspired me to interview my parents and go on to write characters about myself.”

Ghazaleh moved to New Zealand at six years old – a decision her parents made after they were caught drinking alcohol at a family party, subsequently spending the night in prison with a young Ghazaleh and her sister.

She explains, “In 1987, during the Iran-Iraq war, we lived in the main city Tehran. Sharia law had come into place with really rigid rules, including a ban on alcohol, and mixed gatherings of men and women. It was a volatile time.

“I was five years old when authorities arrested us. They had public lashings for the men and some women. Authorities spared my mother, confining her with us kids and other older women in a cell for the night.”

In her book The Girl From Revolution Road, Ghazaleh shares personal essays about this time and growing up in New Zealand as an immigrant. Despite the trauma, she and her family have found ways to move on and even find comedy in the experiences – something she explores in her work.

Making a doco in Iran 17 years after she moved to New Zealand.

In 2011, for the first time in 17 years, Ghazaleh returned to Iran while studying for her masters in screen production, supervised by filmmaker Annie Goldson, to shoot Iran in Transit – a documentary about going back to her homeland.

It garnered international acclaim, clinching an award and transporting Ghazaleh to Tel Aviv and Beijing for screenings.

“You never know who will resonate. But sharing that connection with others through your own work will always send shivers up my spine,” she says.

It was the start of a promising career. She went on to receive a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to top LA film school the University of Southern California and interned at the Sundance Institute before coming back to Aotearoa. It was here in 2020, while studying for her PhD, she landed a guest character role as Detective Roshan on Shortland Street.

“It was the perfect intro to Shorty and a really fun part-time job,” recalls Ghazaleh, who loves acting when the opportunity arises and has a cameo in new film The Moon is Upside Down, set to hit our screens next month.

She’s now also a director on Shortland Street and is writing her first feature-length screenplay. Speaking to the Weekly, Ghazaleh is deeply impressive, but also funny and grounded. She jokes that her real claim to fame was once meeting the Prince of Wales at a bar in London.

In Iran.

“It was the early 2000s, before Prince William was married,” she tells. “Prince Harry was there as well. We chatted and met their bodyguards. The most interesting part was how human everyone seemed, even though you know they are very different to you. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but when I was introduced, Prince William made a joke. It was a weird and exciting anecdote to have.”

Laughing at the memory from her OE, Ghazaleh returns to talking about her current aspirations, and how she hopes to see local TV and film embracing diversity and inclusivity more.

“Like a lot of artists and creatives, the self-doubt and imposter syndrome for me is real,” says Ghazaleh.

“It eases with age and experience. In my twenties, I had people tell me, ‘We won’t hire you because you’re a woman. We love your look, but do you have a brother?’ Or, ‘We love your work, but we need a Pākehā.’

“But I have hope with emerging creatives like [Miles From Nowhere actors] Roxie Mohebbi and Arlo Green. Seeing what they’re achieving is really exciting and with every generation, it’s getting better.”

Watch Miles From Nowhere on Sky Go and Neon.

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