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Behind the Headlines'All the anxiety and the suspicions -- it was crazy'

WATCH: Star of ‘Tehran’ Liraz Charhi on dangers of collaborating with Iranians

The Israeli-born actress and musician strongly identifies with her parents’ native Iran, and reaches across borders to work with Persian artists — despite the risks this can pose

Singer and cinema and television star Liraz Charhi was born and raised in Israel, but she has always felt an unbreakable connection to Iran, her parents’ native land, she said in an exclusive Behind the Headlines interview this week for The Times of Israel Community, which led her to a risky collaboration with Iranian musicians in her upcoming Persian-language album, “Naz.” (Join the Times of Israel Community here.)

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Republic of Iran has considered Charhi’s homeland an enemy state, making visiting, and even artistic cooperation, a punishable offense in Iran.

That didn’t stop Charhi, 42, from reaching out to citizens of the fundamentalist nation to partner with her in creating a headline-making studio album, her first, which was painstakingly assembled through covert collaborations with Iranian artists.

“The minute that I understood that I’m going to go for it — just to do my biggest dream, which is to write an Iranian album with artists from Iran — I said, ok, it’s going to be easy because I’m in touch with them… on a daily basis on Telegram, on Instagram,” she said.

“We all love each other, support each other, we are very curious to visit each other’s countries,” she said. She floated the idea of a collaborative album on social media and after several Iranian artists quickly responded, they got to work.

Screen capture from video of Israeli singer Liraz Charhi. (YouTube)

“But, then all the anxiety and the suspicions — it was crazy — it was a sleepless night of being afraid that someone was going to hurt one of the artists that I’m working with, or my family, god forbid. As I got deeper into this project, people told me, Liraz, you have to take care of everyone,” she said.

She said that some of the Iranian artists told her, “‘I don’t care, I’m going to jail anyway because I’m not going to participate with this extreme regime.’ And some of them told me, ‘I will give you my song, but I cannot write my name on the song. So I’m bailing out,'” she said.

“So many things that made it like a roller coaster made it so difficult for me to understand why the hell am I doing what I’m doing, but each time I had the same answer to myself and to them: that it is the only way we can support each other with our love and it is the only way we can be artistic and to build this bridge in this crazy situation between these two complex countries,” she said.

This week, Charhi spoke to Times of Israel Opinion & Blogs Editor Miriam Herschlag on Behind the Headlines, an online video series in which ToI reporters and editors interview influential individuals from a wide range of fields. All sessions are aired exclusively to The Times of Israel Community before being shared with our broader readership.

The Israeli actress, singer, and dancer discussed her music projects, the influence her Iranian heritage has on both her life and creative endeavors, and the reactions of Iranians who’ve seen her in her role as a Mossad spy.

Speaking to Herschlag about her background, Charhi said that though her parents wanted to raise her and her brothers as Israelis first and foremost, she’s always felt that her Persian roots were a strong part of her identity. She said that one of the songs from her newly released album, “Naz,” is even more resonant and universally true in both of her “homes” now than when she wrote it.

“‘Injah’ is a song I wrote before this world revolution we have now, but… I feel now, when I’m going to the Balfour demonstrations in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, that this song was written, like it was now,” she said. “It’s about freedom and releasing each other with love; even though we are letting each other go we’re still friends, any crisis we’re going to go through, we’re still friends.”

Charhi spoke about the moment she realized her music had gained popularity among native Iranians, and the interactions she had with them online.

“I was slowly understanding how to watch their stories and their posts, and I’m seeing inside their own apartments, and I saw how they cook, and so I got very enthusiastic about it, especially when they send me [videos of] underground parties dancing to my music,” Charhi said. “And so I said I really want to meet them, I want to meet these guys, these beautiful ladies.”

But Charhi is also making a name for herself among viewers in the United States and elsewhere around the world who follow her on the hit Israeli television series “Tehran,” where she plays an Iranian-born Mossad spy named Yael Kadosh. The series is now airing on Apple TV+ with English subtitles.

“On the one side, [‘Tehran’ character Yael Kadosh] is very determined and strong, and on the other side she’s very fragile because her emotions are very complex,” Charhi said. “On one hand, she has this mission she has to be very successful in — but who is she? Is she Iranian or is she Israeli? She’s asking the same questions I’ve been asking myself my whole life.”

“When I’m touring with my music in Europe, because my Iranian followers can’t see my music in Israel, they’re coming to Europe and I meet them in my tours in Europe, which is amazing,” she said, but added that acting in the series “Tehran” has provided even more meaningful opportunities.

“When we met on the set of Tehran, which was in Athens, there were maybe 50 or 60 actors from all over the world who left Iran at some point, and we met in Athens, and I felt like I was meeting my fellows. Like, oh my god, what is going on here, here they are, and we’re collaborating together,” Charhi said.

“We felt like a whole big family, but from time to time it was a little bit scary because they are not allowed to go back to Tehran if they participated with an Israeli production,” she said. “But we kind of left these negative feelings and we really had this great partnership of making this TV series.”

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