For the second week in a row, our gorgeous woman to watch hails from the Lone Star State where she got her start doing musical theater and dancing. Following a courageous jump into the public eye as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, our newest Femme on Fire tackled roles in both film and television – appearing in Old School, Boston Public and a recurring role in spy drama Alias.
After landing a lead role for two seasons as the DJ Carmen de la Pica Morales on Showtime’s The L Word, Sarah Shahi was chosen to headline USA’s feisty courtroom comedy Fairly Legal, where she plays the role of Kate Reed, an ambitious young lawyer who takes over her late father’s law firm alongside his much younger second wife, Lauren (Virginia Williams).
Sarah took a moment to chat with us about the upcoming season finale, being descended from Iranian royalty and being a force to be reckoned with.
Playboy.com: You auditioned for the Dallas Cowboys cheer squad without ever cheerleading before; what did you do to prepare for that? Watch 90s teen movies?
Shahi: I was in a production of Chicago, and one of the background dancers — everybody knew I wanted to be an actress but I didn’t necessarily know how in Texas — she suggested “Why don’t you try out to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, who back in 1995 were on Saturday Night Live?” I was like, that’s my way in! So I tried out cheerleading on Saturday Night Live – it was more like a dance troupe. I had a dance background, so that part of it came well to me. You had to have some pretty high kicks!
Playboy.com: We’ve heard you’re descended from Iranian royalty; any truth behind that?
Shahi: My great-great-grandfather on my dad’s side was one of the first ruling shahs of Iran in the 1890s.
Playboy.com: You changed your name growing up; what prompted that?
Shahi: I got ridiculed just endlessly as a kid with a name like Aahoo Shahi. Growing up in Texas without a name like Anne Smith – you were on the outskirts. I rebelled against my name, I changed it at school – but I never changed it legally. Now that I’m older I’ve really embraced my culture and my background. Only my closest and dearest friends call me Aahoo now, and I like being called that. My name means “deer” in Farsi, so I got a tattoo on my forearm with antlers as an homage.
Playboy.com: Tell us about Kate on Fairly Legal.
Shahi: It’s not necessarily a stretch for me to play Kate; we’re pretty similar. When you spend that much time with a character – and I spent a lot of time with Kate Reed — you can’t help but pour a part of you into her. It’s a mixture of what I am, and (what) Michael Sardo, the creator of the show, intended her to be.
Playboy.com: If you had to sum up Kate in three words, what would they be?
Shahi: Unpredictable and alcoholic and a big mouth [laughs].
Playboy.com: The cast seems to have a lot of fun on-screen; do you guys go out after?
Shahi: Everyone else but me does…I’m always working. And that’s not a lie! The dynamics you see on-screen are the same in real life. That’s what happens when you’re filming on location — everyone forms little families, and as we know, every family is fucked up! Also I have a two-year-old son, so whenever I have spare time I spend it with him. That’s why I spend so much time drinking in my trailer.
Playboy.com: Is Kate ever going to reign in her free spirit and toughen up?
Shahi: Her arc this year was to create some instability for Kate. They wanted to rip her comforts out from under her. They wanted to introduce things that would shake her life up a bit: infidelity from (husband) Justin. The goal was to say, “You need to grow up a little bit, kid.”
Playboy.com: I’m surprised there haven’t been some fists thrown between you and your on-screen stepmother.
Shahi: I would love that. It didn’t appear in season two, but it sure would attract viewers in season three. I’m at a point in my career that I’ll do anything to get viewers.
Playboy.com: Are we going to see some racier scenes similar to your role in The L Word?
Shahi: It’s USA, so I feel like everybody on the show is like Ken or Barbie dolls; we’re all missing bits and pieces and parts. You know, Ken and Barbie don’t have any parts to rub up against each other. There’s only so far we can go. But I’m game; I’d like to be the first person to break that on USA [laughs]. I think I serve a higher god called COMCAST. As it goes, I’m kind of the rebellious one of the network anyway. I’m definitely not going to bite the hand that feeds me.
Playboy.com: Your role as Carmen on The L Word was pretty hot; did you ever get any flak from your parents for the role?
Shahi: I haven’t spoken to my father in many years, but my mom was very supportive. She encourages me to take on other roles and try on different characters – take on projects that scare me and challenge me. She thought it was great!
Playboy.com: What projects have scared you in the past?
Shahi: I did something, hiatus last April, a movie I think is coming out soon, it’s called Static. I play a woman named Amelia. We play a married couple who is having to cope with the loss of their three-year-old son. I have a two-year-old – it was really scary and tough subject manner.
Playboy.com: You took an oral sex class to prepare for your role in Old School. How did that play out?
Shahi: It was a seven-inch white dildo — penis and balls. It was on a plate and all of the girls in class, they went to dinner.
Playboy.com: What was your first Playboy?
Shahi: I don’t remember my first. But I found in an antique store a 1972 Playboy calendar in mint condition; it’s gorgeous to have as an art piece hanging in my house right now.