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December 14, 2015

Press Stops to Black Ops

Ann Farmer

Ayla Sayyad was pushing her luck during season three of House of Cards.

At a White House press conference, the notoriously pesky reporter character, played by actress Mozhan Marno, hounded the president on his gay-rights stance. The next thing she knew, her White House press credentials were revoked. And thus, Marno's stint on the hit Netflix series came to a screeching halt.

"It was heartbreaking," says Marno, who at least exited in a scene-stealing blaze of journalistic credo. Besides, her character could plausibly return. "That's for the creators to decide," she says with a shrug.

Marno, meanwhile, had already been tapped for another formidable recurring character. On NBC's The Blacklist, she plays Samar Navabi, an Iranian recruited by Mossad (the Israeli national intelligence agency), who teams up with the FBI's Blacklist task force. In season three, which premiered in September, her various allegiances are put to the test.

"She keeps her cards very close. I love that," says Marno, who insists that she is the antithesis of her poker-faced persona. "I am a goofball," she says.

If so, she is a clever goof. The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Marno speaks four languages, including Farsi. She earned a bachelor's degree in French and German comparative literature from Barnard College and subsequently a master's from the Yale School of Drama,

Although she was born and raised in Los Angeles, Marno's cultural heritage keeps coming into play. Her sonorous voice helps narrate the video game 1979 Revolution, based on the uprising against the shah of Iran. She also played the title character of The Stoning of Soraya M., a film about an Iranian villager stoned to death after her husband falsely accuses her of adultery,

And it doesn't bother Marno a whit that on Blacklist she plays an Iranian in cahoots with Israeli counterintelligence. Especially after a Palestinian actor friend confided that he had also played a Mossad agent. "It freed me up," she says, laughing.

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