When Yasmine Al Massri read the part of Nimah Amin in Joshua Safran’s “Quantico,” she was shocked.
“I said to my husband, ‘Can you believe this guy wrote those lines and they’re coming out of the mouth of a Muslim girl?’ ” she recalled of the character. “I thought that the lines she spoke were very bold, very intimidating. She wasn’t a stereotype, and neither were the others.”
“Quantico,” an ABC thriller that premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday, follows a group of young and ethnically diverse FBI recruits.
The show cuts between the present, as they endure the rigors of training, and the future, when one of them is suspected of masterminding the biggest attack on New York since 9/11.
Each has a secret, and Nimah’s may reside in the way she pins her hijab. The idea of being veiled gave her pause. “Although I come from a family who is Muslim — my mother is Egyptian, my father is Palestinian — my mother only puts a veil on her head when she has a bad hair day,” she said.
Al Massri, now 36, was 20 when she left Beirut, where she grew up watching black-and-white Egyptian movies and studying the Quran, to attend the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Mining her identity through dance, “I had to fight to be looked at as an equal,” she said.
“I was perceived as an exotic fruit, and they liked me,” she added. “But they would not allow me to become more than that funny girl with the sun-kissed tan.”
In 2010, she portrayed a Palestinian mother in Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” and not long after that, actor Michael Desante, who had grown up on the same street she had, beckoned her to Los Angeles. She went, married him, had a son and has never left.
Two days after she received the “Quantico” script, three Muslim college students were killed in North Carolina. “And suddenly where I came from made sense,” she said. “To be a veiled Muslim woman on screen is a very scary minefield for me.” But like Nimah, she added, “I am a contradiction myself. I’m always looking for something that scares me, because when I’m not scared, I’m not stimulated.”