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