Your new movie Jumper
- in a few words, what is it about, and what can you tell us about your
character in it?
is about distressed Middle Eastern crisis negotiator Jack Salama who reports
to my character, Senior Agent Nola Rimes. Just as Jack
decides he cannot continue with his own life, Nola orders him to rescue a
jumper off the ledge, but he is no condition to do so. Nevertheless, Nola
doesnít take no for an answer because she knows that Jack is the only
one in the unit that can pull this off. Her compassion for Jack is
apparent without her having to communicate it. Jack gives in, only to find
himself on a rooftop with another Middle Eastern young man (M.J.) on his
wedding day. Jack quickly realizes that his negotiation tactics wonít
apply to this case and that heíd have to connect with M.J. in a way
heíd never connected with another jumper before. They both find
themselves at the edge of the world, and here, the story takes on another
What did you draw upon to bring your
character to life, and how much Rasha Mohamed can we actually find in Nola
Nola is a strong, confident woman who doesnít let
anyone deter her from reaching her objective. She is hard on herself and
always needs to prove herself. After all, she's in a workplace that is
dominated by men. However, there is a softer, more vulnerable side to her.
Nolaís character helped me tap into own strength and vulnerability. My
previous career was in the financial industry, also a very male-dominated
sector so I had to work harder because I was a woman. I moved up the
ladder until I was in the same conference rooms as C+ suite individuals.
Also, growing up at home, I observed my motherís strength and
confidence. As immigrants from Egypt, both of my parents felt that to
succeed in America, we had to work harder than everyone else. They taught
us to be strong, but they didnít teach us to be vulnerable, because that
was a sign of weakness. It was only when I started acting that I
discovered the world of vulnerability.
How did you get involved with the project in the
first place, and to what extent could you identify with its subject
Iíve always been intrigued by what it takes to be successful and
Iím never afraid to reach out to people whose work I admire so I can
learn from them. So I reached out to Jumperís director Ayman
Samman [Ayman Samman
interview - click here].
However, at that time, Jumper
wasnít even on the radar. But I had
admired his work as an actor and for taking on roles that donít
reinforce the stereotypical on-screen Middle Eastern characters who are
portrayed as enemies of the state. He is also Egyptian-American like me,
which is a rare combination in Hollywood. I learned about his experience,
challenges and what it takes to succeed in the industry. I also discovered
that his vision aligned with mine. We both wanted to create art that
represents our community in a light that humanizes us. Basically, tell
authentic stories of Middle Eastern ďpeopleĒ, not monsters. Months
later, when Jumper
was conceived and Ayman shared the script with me, I
instantly signed up. First, because I felt that the subject matteróthe
struggles of the Middle Eastern LGBTQ communityóneeds to come to the
surface. And because the message of acceptance
and tolerance really resonated with me. As an immigrant seven-year-old
child, who did not know the language or culture of this land, I only
wanted to be accepted and loved in my new home, America. But I had to
accept myself and own my identity first. I identified a lot with M.J. in
What can you tell us about Jumper's
director Ayman Samman [Ayman Samman
interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like?
was the kind of director that climbed the rooftop ladder last. Ok, let me
explain. Most of Jumper
was shot on a rooftop and we had to climb and
descend a very narrow rooftop ladder, many times, while carrying our gear.
That was frightening because I recently cured my acrophobia by climbing
Half Dome in Yosemite, and I was afraid that I would relapse and not be
able to finish the shoot, But Ayman made sure that wouldnít happen.
He ensured everyoneís safety, before he took to the ladder. That to me,
tells a lot about a director. Before anything, he is a human being. Ayman
also knows exactly what he wants and how to communicate it. Having worked
with directors whom clearly didnít know what they wanted to reach, or
knew what they wanted, but didnít know how to communicate it, I
appreciated that in him. However, we still worked in a collaborative
atmosphere and shared our own ideas of how to best serve the story.
Collaboration was key to him, and thatís what made working with him such
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!
read once that the most fun Anthony Hopkins had was on the set of Hannibal. I was astonished, considering how eerie the film was.
emulated that because we had so much laughter telling a very difficult
story. Mico Saad [Mico Saad
interview - click here] (star/producer) kept us laughing while on the
ledge. His energy was contagious. Shakeel Bin Afzal (director of photography) and Mohamad Raheem Sultan
(sound) are such wonderful human
beings and so much fun to work with. I mean if youíre not having fun,
then why are you in this business? Something else was that we were only a
five-person cast/crew, and all are people of color. Three of us are
Egyptians (Ayman, Mico Saad and me). Iíve never been on a set with such
a demographic. There was a common thread that bound us together.
future projects you'd like to share?
We have two short
films in post-production that Ayman and I co-wrote, starred in and
produced with Mico Saad, Receive and The Pitch. Iím also working on a
screenplay about Executive Order 13823. This order aims to
keep Guantanamo Bay Prison open, reversing Obamaís executive order to
close it in 2016.
What got you into
acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the
When I decided to become an actress, I believed
that in order to succeed in this unfamiliar territory, I first had to set
my purpose. And that was to give a voice to the Middle Eastern, Arab and
Muslim community that has been portrayed in American media as ďthe
otherĒ. The seed for this started when I published my masterís thesis
in Mass Communication and Journalism which was a content analysis of the
portrayals and images of Middle Easterners, Arabs and Muslims in American
media. The findings were astonishing because there is no other group in
America that has constantly been vilified like this group of people since
silent films. African-American, Italian, Jewish and Latin communities have
seen their share of stereotypes and negative images on the screen, but
that has changed and continues to change. But our portrayals havenít.
Although the images changed, the negative messages didnít. According to
the media, we are the enemy, the ďotherĒ, the villain. We are
barbarians that need to be civilized and only America can do that. As for
women, we were previously portrayed as harems, exotic and belly dancers.
That has morphed into images of women who are oppressed, submissive and
weak. At that time, I concluded that one of the reasons that the
ďrealĒ us is absent from the media was because very few Middle
Easterners worked in the media and they were not decision makers. So I
guess all this was in my subconscious, and finally it poked my conscience
and said hey, this is important to you, do something about it. So I
decided to be one of those people that fill that gap in the media. Because
thereís no better person to tell your story than you. So I enrolled
into acting school and that was the first step.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
actually started acting only a year and a half ago, and at that time I was
focused on theater and working on my craft. Since then Iíve been in
three theater productions. As for film, I have starred in a few shorts,
co-written and produced two. Iím currently developing my own short film,
which I plan to direct.
would you describe yourself as an actress, and some of your techniques to
bring your characters to life?
Well, when I started acting,
there was a voice inside my head that told me that I entered this industry
too late and that I should just quit now. I told my acting coach about my
concerns because I felt lost. He said something that silenced this voice
forever. He said that being a latecomer was actually to my advantage,
because I had a life prior to acting. And that I would be able to channel
my experiences and breathe life into my characters, whether good, bad or
ugly. I guess I would describe myself as a medium. But the most important
thing is that I give myself the freedom to continue exploring different
parts of my character, even if Iíve already my made my choices. For
example, in a play that I just finished, I discovered something completely
new in two of the characters that I played, in that last week of
production, so I readjusted and made different choices. I felt more
Actresses (and indeed
actors) who inspire you?
Viola Davis, Taraji P Henson, Meg Ryan, Tracee Ellis Ross, Dustin
Hoffman, Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix.
Your favourite movies?
La vie en rose, Dead Ringer, Rope, Sleepless in
Seattle, Rain Man, Memento.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Any film that
deliberately aims to make America the savior of all humankind.
website, Facebook, whatever else?
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Anything else you're
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
to Cannes Film Festival was such an honor that we had not
anticipated. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such
an incredible team who cared about the story and about each other. The
energy that we put into Jumper
was what helped bring it to the
international community. I am grateful for it all.
for the interview!