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‘Persepolis’ Creator Marjane Satrapi Loves Iggy Pop, Bruce Lee, Screwdrivers

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics; Getty Images

Parisian cartoonist Marjane Satrapi first found fame as the creator of the best-selling graphic memoir Persepolis, which chronicled her experiences growing up in increasingly restrictive, post-revolution Iran in the early eighties. She’s since adapted the book into a striking, whimsically animated film that’s making waves at the New York Film Festival as we speak — and hitting theaters nationwide in December. Satrapi sat down with Vulture over screwdrivers and cigarettes at a Union Square hotel.

What was your reaction when you first saw the movie?
The first time I actually saw the finished movie was at Cannes, which is not the best place to watch your movie for the first time. I had all these anti-anxiety pills that my mother had given me, and I was just taking these pills one after the other. By the end of the projection, I almost didn’t know where I was. So I didn’t really see it, actually. I still have not seen the movie really. When I saw it at Cannes, I was close to dying. I was almost dead.

I’m glad you made it. How much similarity is there between you and the Marjane character in the film?
The moment you write a script, the story becomes kind of fictional. Character-wise, it is not very far from me, but today, I am much more like the grandmother than I am like myself in the movie. I was shy back then, I was like 20-and-something, I had stars in my eyes, and I was dumb. Stupid! I think I’m a little bit less stupid today.

What about the things that the character’s obsessed with in the movie: Bruce Lee, heavy metal, Adidas….
Oh, yes, these are for real. French fries with ketchup, and I wear Adidas sneakers and I love Bruce Lee. I have all his movies. I only watch them when I’m alone, because if my husband is nearby and I am watching kung fu, that means I will beat him up. It gets me overexcited. I took three years of karate because of Bruce Lee, you know. I was a green belt. Two years ago I went to take a kung-fu course, but I think the teacher was lousy because he wanted to teach me everything the whole day, you know, the dragon, the tiger, the whole bullshit. He put me on the ground like 100 times! So I didn’t continue.

How would you compare making movies to creating graphic novels?
Well, writing a book is a very solitary pursuit, and I am my own best friend so I enjoy this very much actually! The first six months of working on the movie, I wanted to kill the whole animation team with whom we worked. I was begging God to kill all of them one after the other, because they were in my face all the time. By the end I really loved them, but that was the end of the project. That’s the story of life — when you start enjoying people, it’s always too late.

Iggy Pop is voicing the uncle in the English-language version!
Yes, he’s playing my uncle Anoush. I chose him myself. I was in L.A., and one morning I woke up like, "Jesus! Shit! Iggy Pop has to be the uncle! It can’t be anybody else." Because he has this deep voice, and he’s so virile, and because I love his music. It was so incredible to work with him because he was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s extremely nice, extremely gentle, and very articulate and cultivated. Plus he has that great body. I listen to his music almost every day. The music that I hate the most is R&B. Oh, shit — [sings a few unrecognizable strains]. You know, that nagging, Usher kind of stuff. Oof! That Beyoncé stuff, it gives me goose pimples. Once in a while they play it at the supermarket and I have to leave. No, no, you can not give that to me. It’s too disgusting.

There have been some negative reactions to the film in Iran. I imagine it’s not going to be shown there?
Oh, no. Of course it’s not going to be shown there. But, you know, it’s like everything else in Iran. They say something isn’t supposed to be seen, and then everybody sees it. It’s like how alcohol is forbidden, but everybody drinks. This is the way we are. As soon as we’re told not to do something, it’s all we want to do.

Having spent so much time in that kind of restrictive environment, do you ever have flashbacks when you’re going about your everyday life?
It never really occurred to me as that restrictive, in a way. You can be completely imprisoned while technically free, and you can be completely free being in jail. If you are one of those nasty Christian people like the Mormons, you know, how free are they? They are not, and they are living in a free country. All of that is in your brain. And I think I am free in my brain because I don’t give a shit about what people think and what they say. That is the beginning of your freedom. The best thing I ever did in my life was to ask, "Do I like everybody?" And the answer was no. So why should everybody like me? If people are against me, so what? I’m against them too.
—Sara Cardace