KT interview: Abu Dhabi-born Yasmine Al-Bustami on NCIS: Hawai‘i and dealing with Hollywood stereotypes
Abu Dhabi-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami who has featured in The Originals, Nashville and S.W.A.T., is hopeful that Hollywood continues to expand its representation of communities that have been stereotyped or neglected for decades on screen.
Yasmine, who is of Palestinian and Filipino ethnicity, is currently making waves as junior field agent Lucy Tara on NCIS: Hawai‘i, currently available in the UAE on the STARZPLAY network.
NCIS: Hawai‘i is the latest spinoff of the popular action-packed franchise and is the first to feature a female lead; Vanessa Lachey stars as Jane Tennant, the first female boss at NCIS Pearl Harbor. The first episode of Season 2 is scheduled to drop in September.
Yasmine in a Zoom conversation with City Times described her NCIS character Lucy Tara as “kind of more the scrappy person who does not really need to follow rules.”
“Lucy is the youngest member of the team. She has just joined and is basically trying to figure out her way and position in the team, and how she can help overall. I think what I have found with Lucy is that even though there are rules set in place and probably correct procedures of how to do things, she does not mind going against that, and I love that about her.”
The challenges and rewards of being part of such a famous action franchise as NCIS, Yasmine emphasized, “are kind of the same.”
Action mode in Hawaii
It certainly seems like the Orbital Redux actress, who also featured in John Legend’s 2017 music video Surefire, loved getting into action mode for NCIS: Hawai‘i.
“Whenever I work really hard at something I can’t help but feel like it was just such an accomplishment… because I know how much work I put into it. But overall, it’s just been the consistency of the work in terms of the gruelling day-to-day action involved; I think that was the main thing for me, because I’ve never really done so much action before and consistently. That’s been a cool thing to keep up with.”
Did the switch to an action series entail much preparation on her part?
“I try to work out as much as I can just to keep up with everybody else. The stunts team are awesome and really cool, I try and do everything they say the first time, but say, if something needed to be altered then (I’d be) working closely with them to find a way to make it work. Overall, it’s just making sure I keep up with my general health, and working with the stunts guys and gals,” shared Yasmine.
Shooting on the island of Oahu in Hawaii appeared to have inspired a bit of wanderlust in Yasmine – she expressed hopes of being able to shoot on other islands as well though she doesn’t know if that’s coming up. The overall experience has “been great”, she said, adding, “I have never been or shot here before, so the fact that I get to come here to work has been amazing. I’m also a big traveller – so on the off days it’s fun to just go around and check out the sights as well as meet people and locals. Anytime I go to a place I’ve never been to before, I really like learning about its history and culture, so taking in all of that in Hawaii, the folklore and the stories they have… it’s a beautiful place. It’s just really inspiring.”
She’s happy with the feedback she’s received so far about NCIS: Hawai‘i from the UAE. “I love when I hear from people back in the ‘motherland’ – I feel like I’m doing a good job if they like something, you know?”
The acting bug and big breakthrough
Yasmine’s journey to becoming an actress was a rather unconventional one. She admitted she “never really took acting classes” but an “interest or fascination” for the craft developed while she was in college.
“I never really pursued it or wanted to go that route, because I just didn’t think that I could do it as a career. So the career that I pursued was on the business side. I followed through and started working in business.”
Revealing how she just needed “a bit of a jolt of life”, it was acting Yasmine turned to for inspiration. “I remembered that I came across casting calls in college which were kind of like interviews for actors; after college, I went to one and it was filled with a bunch of student films. I happened to get one, enjoyed the process and so I continued to do it. The breakthrough, I feel, was probably, if not those student films then honestly a combo of the student films, because that was where I found that I really loved acting. And so that pushed me to continue to do it. I guess the more mainstream breakthrough would be The Originals (she played Monique Deveraux on 10 episodes of the vampire drama)”.
Beauty of multiculturalism
Hailing from a multicultural background was inspiring personally and professionally as well, Yasmine shared.
“Oh my gosh, it just makes me want to tell everybody that everyone should just embrace everything! I feel like only because I grew up in a multi-cultural, multi-religious household do I understand how much it can impact your life in a positive way; that’s a testament to how my parents raised me and I just think they did it so beautifully.”
She recalled the bumps in the road as well and values her parents all the more for the efforts they made.
“It wasn’t easy obviously; now, looking back, I can see the struggles. How they faced them and approached them together especially in a place that is neither of their homes – Texas – and raising two girls, me and my sister, I only appreciate them so much more as an adult.
“Growing up when I would watch my parents share stories with each other, either about their countries, their backgrounds, their culture, their religions, anything to do with their lives which again are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum.
To listen to them share and either find similarities or if there are no similarities learn from one another through sharing and seeing how that made their love blossom and create this environment at home where, instead of pointing fingers, it was ‘oh, that’s how you do it, this is how we did it’ and then learning from that and fusing it in a way to help their children grow up in that kind of an environment – now, as an adult looking back I appreciate the work that they put in to do that.”
In the past few decades there are ethnicities that tended to have stereotypical portrayals in Hollywood. Does Yasmine feel the industry has progressed as far as inclusivity is concerned?
“I’d like to think so, and then sometimes I think, not so much. I need to work on my patience, is probably what it is! I think I am seeing it, but I guess I just want to see more; a lot of people who are from different backgrounds or ethnicities also want to see it. So I know that it’s out there – I just really hope that it starts to pop up in the mainstream more often.”
Amidst charting a course to conquer stereotypes in Hollywood, Yasmine is excited to return soon to her place of birth which is a melting pot of cultures. “I don’t have any memories (of the UAE) except for what pictures my mom and dad show me. I left when I was 3. If today did show me anything, just the fact that I’m talking to you probably means that I should go to the UAE because I haven’t visited since, and I would love to go!”