In one of the first scenes of Apple TV’s new thriller Tehran, the actress Niv Sultan, who plays an Israeli intelligence agent named Tamar Rabinyan, is sent to Iran on a mission to disable a nuclear reactor. In order to do so, she must take on the identity of a woman named Gilan, who has a job at an electric company. Standing in front of a mirror, Sultan-as-Tamar prepares to take on Gilan’s identity, sticking a post-rhinoplasty bandage onto her face, painting a red lightning bolt of a scar onto her forehead, and applying a cleft-like scar above her lip.
The scene feels almost like a ceremony, as Tamar transforms herself with makeup. But for Sultan, in her real life, there is very little ceremony of this kind—the 28-year-old Israeli actress, who is making her U.S. debut with the release of Tehran today, admits she does not use makeup, save a swipe of mascara on her lashes if she’s got an event to attend. She doesn’t follow a strict nighttime regimen—or in fact, any kind of regimen; she’ll apply moisturizer as she sees fit, and if she feels she doesn’t need it one evening, she’ll skip it. If makeup artists do choose to put something on her face, she’ll scrub it off with soap instead of using a makeup remover. Her approach to skincare is equivalent to the average layperson’s, not a beauty junkie’s. In a refreshingly different kind of Beauty Notes interview, Sultan pokes fun at her own lack of beauty knowledge, shares makeup secrets from the set of Tehran, and discusses why the Tel-Aviv air is the best dryer for her hair.
On your show Tehran, beauty plays a role: as a Mossad agent, you use makeup as a disguise. I was wondering if the makeup artists who were giving you these disguises gave you any beauty tips?
I have to be honest, I don’t put makeup on—never, never, never, never. Mostly what they did was focused on my scars. I put a scar on my mouth, on my top lip. And we had so much trouble with it. Because we had to keep up continuity, and it’s a human being that does it and it always looks a bit differently. And we had to stop takes in the middle because the scar doesn’t look the same and it looks a bit smaller or bigger—it was complicated, and they cursed it, they hated it. Daniel [Syrkin], the director, said, “I can’t believe I thought of this stupid scar.” It was really challenging. But on the makeup side, we didn’t put so much makeup on.
There also was that red scar on your forehead, which turned out to be a defining feature for your character.
We thought about it in the process of working on the part—we thought about something that really can relate the audience to Gilan in order to know that, right now, I’m going to be Gilan, the girl who works in the electric company. We wanted it to be very, very clear to the audience. So at the beginning, we thought about maybe some beauty marks, or birthmarks, or moles, on her chin. And at the end, we decided that the best was the scar on her forehead.
What did the makeup artists use to make that scar? Was it a tint?
It was a blush, a very, very pink blush. It was so easy to do it—[the makeup artist] was brushing and coloring a part of my forehead. And suddenly I had a scar.
You said that you never really use makeup. I’m wondering what your favorite beauty products are—I’m assuming they have to do with skincare.
Well, I’m so sorry—I suck at these things. I’m not a girl. I was supposed to be a boy. I’m not a tomboy, but I’m not so good with this whole world of products and beauty and makeup. I don’t do my nails so often. I hate when I’m on set, when the makeup artist is done, and we’re finished with work, and I get to see my face in the mirror. If I can’t see what he’s done, and if I can’t see any color on my face, in that moment, I am happy. Because my face is small and so tiny. And I can so quickly look like I have a costume on.
Honestly, right now, I’m focusing on drinking a lot of water, because I’m 28 years old and time isn’t on my side.
Do you have any favorite beauty products that you use? Do you put anything on your face?
Just for special events, I’ll use mascara, because I feel that it opens up my eyes. Right now, I have a MAC mascara that I like.
Do you have any go-to hair care products that you use regularly?
Hair? No. My hair has a life of its own, and you know, the best thing for my hair is to just go out of the shower, and the Israeli weather is the best dryer and the best product.
So you don’t use anything in your hair?
You just air dry?
Yes [laughs] I’m so sorry. I was asking myself, maybe I should, you know, find out and learn about some products? But the fact is that I don’t have anything, and I don’t like to put anything on. So this is the truth.
Do you use shampoo and conditioner?
Yeah, obviously. I wash my hair. I’m trying not to wash it every day, but usually I do every day. Because if I’m shooting anything, then usually I wash it every day, but I really try not to.
What’s your hair type?
It depends on the weather here. If it’s too hot in Israel, my hair immediately gets very straight, but usually it’s a bit curly. Like, wavy. But when it’s hot and super dry, then it’s straight.
What brand of shampoo and conditioner do you use?
Careline, it’s an Israeli brand. But I’m constantly changing—I can use the same shampoo and conditioner for two months, and then I change it.
Why is that? Is it because of the weather?
Because of the weather and also because sometimes I feel that it doesn’t work on my hair the same as it worked in the beginning, because my hair just got used to it. And by changing I’m just refreshing. Let me look in my closet to see what else I have here. Oh, do you know this new brand—I don’t know if it’s an Israeli brand or not, but it’s called Love, Beauty and Planet. I have a box of Love, Beauty and Planet products. It’s coconut oil based and has so many organic things that I feel better about putting it on my hair. I recently used it, and it was very good. Coconut is perfect, no matter how you use it, on your skin, on your face, or on your hair.
I’m curious about your skincare routine, if you have one at all. So let’s say you’re in the shower. Do you wash your face?
I wash my face. After shooting, there’s always a lot of makeup, which I don’t really love. So I need to wash my face. Right now, I’m using a Nivea soap.
What moisturizer do you use?
I use a Clinique lotion. I have the Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-Replenishing Hydrator. I think it’s the simplest one. It’s for teenagers. It’s very simple ingredients—there are no oils, and its base is water.
What is your favorite form of self care?
I work out a lot. It helps me release energy and decompress. I also do a bit of meditation, but I’m a beginner. I’m still learning and improvising. I’m not a meditation guru. And as I said, I’m focusing on drinking a lot of water. I really feel that the impact that water has on my body. I spend a lot of time with my family. I think it helps me also, you know, it’s not just for fun. It’s really for my soul.
During the pandemic, did you have to stop going to the gym? Did you start working out at home?
Yeah. I did. It was awful, I hated it. You know, the Zoom workouts. I hate it. You can’t feel it—you can’t feel the people, the energy is not the same. When no one is watching you, you can do whatever you want to do. It’s not good.
Some people like the fact that no one is watching when they’re not in a class, and they don’t risk embarrassment in front of a crowd.
No, I really love the fact that I’m alone and no one watches me sweaty and super red. But I need someone who will count the time for me and be a trainer. Otherwise, in my home, there’s a couch, and there’s a kitchen, and a television, and so many other interrupting things. And at the gym, everyone is focused. They’re all into it. No distractions.