‘Quantico’ Star Yasmine Al Massri Opens Up About Racial Tokenism

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Photo Source: Benjo Arwas

“Quantico” star Yasmine Al Massri is once again pulling double duty as FBI agents and identical twins Nimah and Raina Amin. She speaks with Backstage about Arab-American visibility, struggling with auditions, and becoming a New Yorker.

AUDITION: “Quantico” is now seeking NYC actors!

On auditioning.
“[I used to feel like I] was losing ownership of myself [by] doing a performance for two people in the room who, for me, cannot decide if I’m a good artist or not…. It took time to understand that being the actor, losing ownership of myself was actually a way to being a better actor. You’re giving strength to something greater than you.”

On relocating to New York City.
“I lived in Lebanon, in Egypt, in Paris… Spain, Budapest. I spent time in Germany, Vienna. I lived in Los Angeles the last five years…. New York is 10,000 times more than anything I have experienced. I think we’re so lucky to be in New York. Not only shooting the show, but the chance to live in a city that decides what happens around the world—it’s an amazing experience.”

READ: “How to Become a TV Background Actor in NYC”

On tokenism in casting.
“There was one scene [from Season 1] that is really attached to my memory. [One of the FBI handlers told Nimah and Raina], ‘The only reason why we’re here is because the enemy looks like you.’ I told [the writers that] if I am lucky enough to be on the second season of ‘Quantico,’ I hope to be here because I am a great actress, not because I’m representing an ethnicity. Give me juicy scenes, make it messy. I want to act.”

On becoming a ‘mainstream actor.’
“Most of my [earlier] movies were very political—[things] that you would see in the world cinema. That’s where I come from. Most of those movies were about talking to the press, and the people would never see them. I discovered in America the pleasure of people seeing my work, not the press. Being a mainstream actor gives you a platform that connects you directly with people, and people are the main thing that makes your success. I learned so many things that I had no idea existed when I was studying the arts in Europe. And now that I’m aware of them, I’m just enjoying acting.”

On being a witness to change.
“In the rest of the industry, I’m seeing all the auditions, the breakdowns becoming more and more creative. What is written for a man can be cast for a woman, what is written for a white American girl can be cast for an African-American girl. [Showrunner] Josh [Safran] is a part of this generation, and we got very lucky, I think, because ABC gave him that power to develop these characters the way he thought they should be. An Arab is not who you think they are; an Indian girl is not who you think she is; a white Christian girl from the South is not who you think she is…. [‘Quantico’] is really a revolutionary show in every sense.”

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Benjamin Lindsay
Benjamin Lindsay is managing editor at Backstage, where if you’re reading it in our magazine, he’s written or edited it first. He’s also producer and host of a number of our digital interview series, including our inaugural on-camera segment, Backstage Live.
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