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‘Black Adam’ star Sarah Shahi on new roles and new romance

There’s fame, and then there’s superhero-movie fame. Sarah Shahi is about to set out on a global tour for “Black Adam,” with all the attendant paparazzi and fandom that a comic-book movie starring The Rock entails. But on the eve of her departure, she’s focused on an audience of one.

“I just want to be cool to my 13-year-old,” she says, via Zoom, where she’s just home after picking up said teen from football practice. “I’m excited for my son to see his mom on-screen, being a tough badass.”

 “Language!” her younger daughter, Violet, interjects indignantly.

“Moss” gown, price 
upon request at
“Moss” gown, price upon request at Houghton

Shahi’s 7-year-old is briefly sitting in on our Zoom chat, and she’s not letting her mom get away with any dirty words. The actress loves including her kids — Violet, her twin brother Knox, and Shahi’s older son William — in her life whenever possible. “I’m a single, working mom,” she says. “And I think there’s a lot of beauty in being a working mom, in leading by example. Show them there are rewards for going after your dreams.”

The long-awaited DC Comics film stars Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam, a villain/anti-hero in the Shazam! universe emerging into modern times after having been imprisoned for 5,000 years. Shahi plays Adrianna Tomaz, a rebel in his fictional country of Kahndaq. “She’s the leader of this resistance, like a military leader, but she’s also a mom,” Shahi says. “So we also show that more nurturing, compassionate side of her.” Not for nothing, her character turns out to be “the Black Adam whisperer,” she says. “She’s able to tame him and talk to him and get him to do things, in a way nobody else can.” 

Sarah Shahi and Pierce Brosnan in a scene from "Black Adam."
Sarah Shahi and Pierce Brosnan in a scene from “Black Adam.”

Shahi did her own stunts in the film, including wire work, which reduced her to tears in her trailer on the first day. But it was worth it. “I’m going to be able to take my kids to see it and they’re going to be like, ‘My mom actually did that!’”

What’s more, Shahi — whose parents fled Iran before she was born, just before the revolution of the late 1970s — gets to play a Middle Eastern character, a tricky aspect of her career. “I’ve been waiting for a Middle Eastern moment,” she says. “A lot of times, in my projects, they think I’m either too ethnic to play the white person, or too white to play the ethnic person, so I’m like, ‘Where do you think I fit in, Hollywood?’ It’s really beautiful that this movie is giving a whole bunch of Middle Eastern actors a real chance, and it’s completely set in a Middle Eastern world. They’re not shying away from any of that stuff. I’m pretty proud of that.”

Jacket with mohair, $8,400, and dress, $2,650, both at Fendi, 595 Madison Ave.; earrings with pearls and Swarovski details, $388 at; Bucherer B Dimension ring in 18-k yellow gold, $8,400 at
Jacket with mohair, $8,400, and dress, $2,650, both at Fendi, 595 Madison Ave.; Earrings with pearls and Swarovski details, $388 at Mona Assemi

The movie’s timing dovetails with the fierce reckoning in Iran, largely led by women, sparked by the death of teenager Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police.

“I wouldn’t be able to lay my head down at night if I didn’t support the courageous women and men fighting for basic human rights in Iran,” she says. “I grew up hearing similar stories. My mother was a part of the rebellion, and she fled because she didn’t want that life for her future children. The only reason I’m here now is because of the strength of my mother and all the others that came before her.”

“I wouldn’t be able to lay my head down at night if I didn’t support the courageous women and men fighting for basic human rights in Iran.”

Sarah Shahi on her strong support of Iranian women, inspired by her own mother’s battle

So it feels right and true to her to be playing an unapologetically liberated Middle Eastern woman, “who can dance in the street, and show her hair and just be a voice for somebody who may not have one.”

Shahi has described her “Black Adam” wardrobe as Lara Croft meets Indiana Jones. But as for the actress’ off-the-clock style? “My kids call it gas-station fashion,” she says. “I have old, faded Harley Davidson shirts that are 10 sizes too big, and I’ll pair those with Christmas pajama pants and sandals. For the most part, my look is an exhausted mother who doesn’t give a f–k what she’s wearing.” If you’ve seen Shahi’s Instagram, you’ll know she’s exaggerating; she always looks chic, even in goofy accessories, like her oversized, heart-shaped sunglasses. “I’m kinda known for those things!” she says. “They were eight-dollar cheapies at Paper Source. I just got tired of sunglasses breaking, or losing them.”

“Indra” dress, $1,295 at; “Lilou” earrings in 14-k yellow gold with diamonds, $695, and “Palisade” signet ring in 18-k yellow gold with diamonds, $1,490, both at
“Indra” dress, $1,295 at Jonathan Simkhai; “Palisade” signet ring in 18-k yellow gold with diamonds, $1,490 at Brilliant Earth; Bracelet, Shahi’s own

But she was thrilled to step into higher-end fare for Alexa. Her favorite look? “This Bach Mai dress, I was obsessed with it. These variations of color, from white to light green down to this watermelon pink. It’s just unreal, it moves so beautifully. And there was some edgy Fendi that was just heaven! It was like my little-girl dreams come true, these kick-ass clothes.”

Shahi was born Aahoo Jahansouzshahi in Euless, Tex. She changed her name to Sarah in the second grade, and went on to be a beauty pageant queen and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader before moving to LA. She quickly began snagging roles, including on “Person of Interest,” “Chicago Fire,” and “The L Word,” where she’s known for her role as DJ Carmen de la Pica Morales. And she’ll play a part — about which she says she’s forbidden to reveal anything — in the upcoming “Red, White & Royal Blue,” a film adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s hit 2019 romance novel, in which the son of the president of the United States and the Prince of England fall in love.

“Medusa Corset Enver” dress, $9,425 at; Bucherer B Dimension earrings in 18-k yellow gold, $1,630, and “B Dimension” ring in 18-k yellow gold, $8,400, both at
“Medusa Corset Enver” dress, $9,425 at Versace; Bucherer B Dimension earrings in 18-k yellow gold, $1,630 at Tourneau; Bracelet, Shahi’s own

She’s played plenty of fearless characters, but Shahi took it to the next level on Netflix’s steamy 2021 series “Sex/Life.” Her character, Billie, is a stay-at-home Connecticut mom obsessing over the life she left behind in Manhattan — and the ex (Adam Demos) with whom she had the best sex of her life. A lot of it. 

The show, which is created and directed by women, doesn’t shy away from the explicit, which is a substantial part of its wide appeal. But its sex scenes are directed from a female gaze, with an unwavering emphasis on women’s sexual pleasure. There’s plenty of nudity; one full-frontal scene of Demos had the entire internet wondering whether he was wearing an XL prosthetic. (The verdict is still out: “I can tell you what Adam Demos says about it, which is, a gentleman never tells,” showrunner Stacy Rukeyser has coyly said.)

“Watermelon” dress, $5,850 at; Bracelet with Swarovski stones, $588 at; “Pia” earrings in 14-k white gold with aquamarine, $795 at
“Watermelon” dress, $5,850 at Bach Mai; Bracelet (right arm) with Swarovski stones, $588 at Mona Assemi; Bracelet (left arm), Shahi’s own; Earrings (top), price upon request at Versace; “Pia” earrings in 14-k white gold with aquamarine, $795 at Brilliant Earth

The show is “really centered on sexual empowerment, female empowerment, owning your sexuality,” Shahi says. “It’s OK to be a mother and to feel desired at the same time. Billie kind of got under my skin. I was inspired by how brave she was. It made me look at myself and think, wait a second. I think I’ve been repressing things that maybe need to come out. I’m actually writing a book about it.”

At the end of Season 1 — spoiler alert — Billie makes a bold move toward trying to have it all. And if you thought you’d seen it all in the show’s first eight episodes, the new ones will up the ante. “The sex is different than Season 1 — it’s a little bit more experimental, a little bit more playful,” Shahi says. 

Adding a meta narrative that delighted the show’s fans, Shahi began dating Demos in 2021, after separating from her husband, actor Steve Howey. “This is the first relationship I’ve had where I love fearlessly,” she says, sounding like she’s channeling Billie. “I love without condition, I love without wanting anything back. I’m kind of crazy in love.”

“Flame” bodysuit, price upon request at; Bucherer “B Dimension” ring in 18-k yellow gold, $8,400 at
“Flame” bodysuit, price upon request at Houghton; Bucherer “B Dimension” ring in 18-k yellow gold, $8,400 at Tourneau

She and Demos haven’t been shy about letting the public in on their partnership, posting cute photos and mushy messages to each other on Instagram. “I feel like, if you’re going to dive in, then dive in, and enjoy it,” she says with a shrug. “There’s a large portion of our relationship that’s not in the public eye, and is just for me and him. And what’s out there is a choice that he and I made to put it out there.”

She says Demos was a standout from the moment he auditioned. “We saw a lot of guys for that role, and he was the only one that wasn’t acting it — he just was it,” she says. “He’s effortless. It’s beautiful to be the other person on-screen for that.”

Shahi gets feedback about “Sex/Life” and Billie constantly, she says, sometimes in inconvenient places. “Whether it’s DMs or people I run into on the street, I do meet women who are so inspired by Billie. They want my advice, they want to have hope,” she says. “I have to be careful at parent-teacher nights at my kids’ school, because I kind of get accosted by people who want to talk about the show, and stale husbands, or husbands that don’t understand them. And I just want to talk about my kids!”

Sarah Shahi outtakes on the beach.

But she’s excited to write about everything she’s experienced through making the show. “It’s no secret that I myself have kind of lived nine lives, and I’ve learned a lot throughout my life. Relationships are messy. Children, career, the whole thing.”

Speaking of messiness, there is now a smoke alarm going off behind her. “This is my life,” she says with a laugh. “Just another day in the Shahi residence!”

Photographer: Sheryl Nields; Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Fashion Assistants: Madeleine Shepherd, Gillian Hormel; Photo Editor: Jessica Hober; Hair: Christian Marc at Forward Artists; Makeup: Sarah Yuslan at The Visionaries Production:
3Star Productions

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