#GIRLTALK with actress Yasmine Al Massri of the hit series Quantico on ABC
is an actress who was born in Lebanon of Palestinian and Egyptian descent. Not only is she a talented actress, but is also a contemporary artist and dancer. Masri made her debut in 2007 critically acclaimed Lebanese LGBT-themed comedy-drama film, Caramel. The film was screened at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.Yasmine received the Best Actress Award for the film at the 2007 Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Currently, she can be seen on the hot new ABC television series Quantico, where she plays the identical twins Nimah and Raina Amin.
This beautiful spirit chats it up with BCGMAG where we really get to know her views on the industry, bullying, the secret to having amazing skin, and much more!
Yasmine, you play the twins Nimah and Raina Amin.
Tell us how much work is it to play two roles on the same show?
Sometimes it gets very confusing because the directors don’t know if they are talking to Raina or Nimah when they look at me (laughs). This is where it becomes difficult. It’s confusing in the way that it’s very hard to separate the human from the technical; always, on the set of any TV show. It’s the nature of the job. There’s the technical aspect of it, and that has to do with where you stand for the camera. Raina and Nimah cannot overlap each other because this will make special effects impossible. So there are a lot of difficulties and then there’s the don’t do list. I cannot really touch my sister. We always have to substitute for that and trick you, ‘the viewer’, to think that that we really are connected. I think today that is the hardest thing for me. How can I be so connected to something that does not exist visually, but only in my head and not make Nimah and Raina overlap, not only for the camera but also in terms of acting? There’s a constant alarm in my head telling me “that would be Nimah’s reaction, that would be Raina’s reaction.” I separate how each one of them would react to things.
It’s really rewarding when I see it in on screen. The process of it is scary. You have to keep the consistency. People love Nimah and Raina and it becomes more and scarier. The more they love them, I say “shit how am I going to keep doing this (laughs)? It’s really a blessing for me as an actress to play two characters, especially for someone like me who is starting their career in the U.S. I’m really very lucky to be able to portray two women who are that different on one show. It’s a great, great opportunity and having Josh Safran’s (the creator of Quantico) trust, I’m really thankful for that.
What was the casting like? How did you land such an amazing role?
In Europe and the Arab world, I get to be offered roles from what I have done before. In the U.S. I’m really starting like anybody else. I have to prove myself in every casting room in L.A. because this is where I live. I was just auditioning like everyone else during pilot season, going from one audition room to another, and reading one pilot after the other. Something about it is very mechanical and not very human.
All of a sudden, there are lines that you read that stand out from the other lines.
There is some sort of familiarity you feel with the character. You have many pilots in front of you, but there is one little thing that stands out in your head as an actor at that moment. “I know that it looks like something I know.” This is how I felt when I was reading the pilot of Quantico.
When I was reading for Nimah and Raina, it felt very familiar to me. Because I’m a walking contradiction, I am afraid of what’s familiar to me (laughs), so I had a defensive feeling about it because I was trying to tell my manager, I want to do something different. I don’t want to play Arab-Muslim characters who wear veils. I’m here to be James Bond’s woman (laughs). I want to show Hollywood that I can be an actor. It was on my agenda. My manager at the time and my husband who does help me a lot with my management said “go to the audition room, just go and do it! It can be can amazing because you know this character so much.”
So, I was really not sure at the beginning
I went into the audition room and I just really enjoyed having a funny conversation with Josh Safran and Nick Pepper because when I came inside the room they were really tired and bored. I looked at them and said, “Wow, it looks like you were having a lot of fun today (laughs)!” You know again, pilot season, they see actors come in and out of the room. Something about it is so impersonal.
So I was trying to connect humanely to them before the camera was rolling. Robert Ulrich (Casting Director), had a lot to do with making it a great experience, not only for me, but every other actor who auditioned in L.A. He made me feel very comfortable and he made me feel that I could use him in any way I want to show them what I think of Nimah and Raina. We really had fun in the audition room and Robert played Simon Asher with me (laughs). I went out of the room with a big smile on my face because I was really having fun.
I didn’t know if I got the job. I went back there twice. I auditioned three times. The second time I went back it was a crime that happened in North Carolina. Three students were killed because of a racist man. This crime really shocked me because I saw the kids.
They were beautiful and smart and studying to be dentists. So I thought, “who would kill a dentist” just because they pray to a different God.
It shocked me because I haven’t lived here long enough to understand ‘what it means to be an Arab in America.’ All my life I lived in Paris and Lebanon. This kind of was “wow”, a shocking reality check in my head. The next day I had to go back to the audition room at ABC Studios. I told Josh Safran that “I’m here for a different reason today. I’m here for those three kids. I want America to love me.” Josh was really open with his heart and mind. He was just listening.
We started talking about Islam and the way I was educated about Islam in Lebanon. It’s not at all what I see around me today. It’s not at all what I see outside the Arab-Muslim world. So I started telling him hilarious things; in Islam, if you give your wife an orgasm in bed you get blessings (laughs). Josh found this hilarious and we just thought that there’s a side of Islam the world doesn’t know about and maybe it’s worth it to tell this story. To show the humanity of people who come from this faith and that they can be as loyal to America as any other country.
That was the procedure I followed. I had to audition a third time at ABC Studios. It was early on Saturday morning, the studio was empty, and I had my son sleeping in the stroller. My whole family (my husband and my manager) came with me on my second audition. My manager had me wear her mother’s veil. It was for good luck. It meant a lot to me going inside the audition room and wearing that veil. There were a lot of good reasons. There were good thoughts in my head when I went inside the room. It made me feel like I’m not selling anything or buying anything. I’m here because it makes sense. It felt almost like it was my responsibility to be there and to speak about something I’m so familiar with.
Keeping up with the lights and cameras can weigh heavy on your mental and physical wellbeing. How do you stay uplifted, motivated or even inspired to push through and maintain happiness within your career?
It’s very hard to disconnect with reality and to feel that you are losing your inspiration especially when you are working in TV. I come from film and this is my second TV experience. TV is kind of draining while cinema is inspiring. It’s a place where you have to show up every day for nine or ten months of your life. Something about it becomes mechanical. Sometimes, your character has to say things that are repetitive because this has to do with the new viewers that just started to follow the show. There are a lot of politics into what your character says that you cannot personalize the lines. You have to respect the lines because of the way the editing works. Everything has to stick to a rule so they can control the outcome. It becomes quite compromising for me as an artist and the only way you can preserve yourself as an artist is by doing at least two things that are important to you:
- We are shooting Quantico in Canada and all the cast is from Los Angeles. Many of them are here without their husbands, wives, kids, and boyfriends. I’m one of the luckiest people on the cast along with Tate Ellington who plays Simon Asher. I have my husband who is also an actor and he knows the nature of what we do. We have made the decision to stick together. Our baby is only three years old. So for now, wherever I go, they come with me and when I come back home I have to hug Liam and catch up with them. That’s the first thing, keep connected with family, you have to have a family to go back to.
- Something that resources your mental and emotional self, outside of whatever you are shooting. Whether it’s a book you are reading, a script you are writing or a movie you’re watching. I just started taking singing classes with my dialect coach and I went back to flamenco dance classes. I was a dancer in Paris. Now I’m trying to take flamenco classes whenever I can. So you really have to give yourself one or two days a week with something that is artistic and has nothing to do with what your shooting. I leave at four in the morning and come back at midnight. Sometimes I can’t work out for two or three weeks. This is a business that makes you shoot for fourteen hours a day. There’s no joking and there’s no place for mistakes because you are a part of a very big team. They have to be able to depend on you like you have to be able to depend on them.
Can you share some tips for those who are striving to make it in this industry?
I have a few of them.
I prefer to put myself on tape instead of going to the audition room, but that’s just me. When I put myself on tape, I make my own movie. I don’t do an audition to please a casting director or a producer or a director. I take complete control of what I think my character is. For a few minutes or days, the time that I have to put myself on tape, I take every decision about who the character is, and what their relationship is with other characters in the scene, and I literally make my own movie. I do think actors who are really starting in Hollywood should do that.
I believe the first door into this business is the audition. I do not think all casting directors are Robert Ulrich. Not all of them are qualified to discover the next talent. I think they are overwhelmed or overworked sometimes. The only way you can stand out is by having your own individual voice representing your vision and your talent. You can only do that by creating your own world with your own colors. You are the creator. For the first five to ten minutes, you are the director, producer, writer, and actor. You should enjoy them. Enjoy every second and keep making mistakes. Something will happen.
Although you have been acting for many years, when you perform do you still get nervous or anxious? What do you do to stay calm especially during auditions?
Of course, yes. I think it’s very human to be afraid. I think the more afraid you are a more aware you are of what is involved. I think, especially for me as a dancer, I always had my knees shaking before we had to dance. That shaking feeling is beautiful. It’s the respect of the people waiting to see you on the other side of the stage. It’s the fear of not being loved. It’s a very good fear.
There's always a time when we look back at our lives and wish we could go back to either change something or just say something. What would you say to a younger version of you or, what would you change?
I grew up in a country that has amazing surviving instinct. The Lebanese people have an amazing love for life. They live like they are going to die tomorrow. When I was fifteen, Lebanon was rebuilding itself after the Civil War.
When I moved to Paris, I was very scared. I was alone and I didn’t know who I could trust. This made me avoid many people who could have been friends, and it made me avoid a lot of opportunities to do things. My fear of what I didn’t know made me avoid me a lot of people that I came across in my life because I traveled a lot. I didn’t want to be a part of any projects because I thought I would get hurt or not be able to trust because I didn’t know enough. If I could go back in time, I would just jump in more fearful situations and figure it out later (laughs).
As a woman, you must feel you have to be more cautious...
It is challenging, especially, for women because they teach us to be cautious and afraid. They make it your responsibility how men react to you. Society is very judgemental of women in a very patriarchal way. So, if a man acts around you in an unhonourable way, that’s your responsibility as a woman. Our society is still not ready to embrace the fact that women are equally responsible to our society. I think if we tell little girls more and more, that they don’t have to worry or be afraid and they are not responsible because “they are girls.” They are not responsible of how society reacts to them. It’s about their intelligence and what they do.
We've seen tons of photos of you and each photo showcases your flawless skin and your luxurious hair. Can you share just a few of your beauty secrets to getting and maintaining it?
Good genes. I do come from a very very good line of people in my family who have really amazing skin and hair. What is not genetic, that I did not inherit is, my mother took very good care of her skin and hair. So from a very young age, I was very aware that I had to take care of my skin and my hair. I always saw my mother taking off her makeup, putting her creams on at night and in the morning. I always saw her put a mask on her hair. The difference between me and that generation of women in my family is the kind of products that I use, and how much money I spend (laughs).
I’m always hunting for new products and I always buy the best things on the market. Things that have the balance between being environmentally friendly and are pharmaceutically approved. I always make sure that I have an amazing mask on at least once a week. I sleep with it on at night. When I have a blow dry, I don’t do curls with an iron, I use a blow dry brush. It dries your hair less. When I go to bed at night, I take some of my masks and I put it at the ends of my hair. I take my hair to the side and put in a bun. When I wake up, I just undo it and my hair falls exactly where it should.
Skin products Yasmine recommends:
Phytomer (day cream, night cream, mask).
We've spoken to so many females and thought bullying was just for teens, but learned that it comes in many forms and can show up even with adults in business. Have you ever had to deal with this in your field? What can you offer to female adults that may currently be being bullied?
Well, the only feeling of intimidation that I had was when I was in school with this girl who was really big in size. She was three times my size. The idea of having a fight with her scared the shit out of me (laughs). I never got into a fight with her. I avoided her because I knew going to face her I was going to beaten very badly (laughs). I think you have to be smart about who is bullying you and how you want to speak up. If you feel this is going to end up with a physical confrontation, and the person in front of you is 3x bigger, I think you would want to reconsider. Go back to your cousins and friends. You know... I think building a community helps. Usually, kids who are bullied in schools are the smaller kids. They are not the kids who are most confident about themselves. I believe that until those kids get to speak about it with their parents and start getting help to work on their fear, it’s good to a build a community around themselves. I, myself grew up in a family of fifteen cousins. Growing up in a big family or in a community, and knowing that there are people who will stand up for you and have your back if you are in danger, changes things. Knowing that you're not alone, helps a lot.
When my son starts going to school, the first thing I’m going to check on is who are the people who are going to be his friends, not his enemies. That’s life, that’s nature...to have people who will come after us. People who are insecure and who are frustrated and showing their anger on the weaker members around them. Having the right friends around you is what helps you in succeeding in life.
What's next for Yasmine, what can we expect from you in the future?
I just joined Innovative Artists Talent Agency. I have new people working with me now. My husband is my first advisor and friend. I have a nice team of people working for me at Innovative and we are talking about the future. It’s hard for them to get the next project because I’m working on Quantico right now. I’m definitely looking to do a movie during the hiatus or be a guest star on a show that is very different from the characters, Raina, and Nimah. The most important thing that I’m doing for my career right now is building the right team. Quantico has given me the luxury to do so. I get to choose to work with more interesting people who will help me build the career that I want.
Keep up with Yasmine.