Editor In Chief MUSA JACKSON has an in depth Q & A with sexy talented actress MARYAM BASIR.
Her journey from growing up a strict Black Muslim in the Midwest to living in Harlem as a rising independent NYC actress appearing in Chicago PD, Empire, Mooz-lum, A Boy, A Girl, A Dream, The Chi and her upcoming lead role in the comedy film Holiday Heartbreak.
Q. Where are you from?
A. I’m from the Midwest. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fifty minutes from Detroit.
Q. What kind of upbringing did you have as Black girl living in the Midwest.
A. I was born in Detroit. But my Mom moved to Ann Arbor when I was a baby. I had very special upbringing. I grew up in a very strict Muslim household. My father was very strict, he was a religious leader. An Imam. It’s like a preacher or rabbi but for Islam. So I grew up in a strict household which I appreciate now because it helped me to be so disciplined and so driven. It helped me do whatever I wanted to do with all that discipline. But on my mothers side it was more spiritual. Not as strict but more soul driven. And I was also taught to be creative and flourish in whatever it was I decided to do. So it was good of my mother and my father while they were still together. It was great in a small town because having so many brothers and sisters there were five of us. So we always had our own little group of playmates and friends. We had a lot of cousins and we lived in the same neighborhood so it was always very family oriented.
Q. Nice. What was young Maryam like in that mix?
A. I was a tomboy. A good tomboy. I used to fight a lot of boys. Catch snakes, frogs and crawfish. All kinds of animals. That’s memories from childhood. But when I grew up my mom had me and my sister make African jewelry and sell it at fairs. My creativity was always nourished. I always been an artist. Paint and draw and create and do some things artistically. And I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I used to braid girls hair in my neighborhood and charge five dollars. Then in High School I did everybody’s nails.
Q. So growing up in a strict Muslim household at least up to a point. Did you always want to be an actress or was that a fluke?
A. When I think back on it. I always had it inside of me. But I never thought I could do it because I’m Muslim. Especially the model part. Being a model and being Muslim at the time didn’t really work well together. I never thought of myself like that. I was like I’m going to move to New York and start my business. And I moved to New York and got discovered as a model. I started working a lot. But I remember back, my Mom recording us and asking us to do little skits for her friends. I saw one of those recordings of me as a little kid playing all these different characters. It was in me at 10 years old. Even though at the time I didn’t think of it as a career I’ve always been expressive that way.
Q. What was your first break in the film industry?
A. I did all these independent films. So I’m actually just getting my big break right now to be honest. My first lead role in a big film like this is right now.
Q. You worked on a film, A Boy, A Girl,A Dream. Starring Omari Hardwick and Meagan Goode directed by your brother Qasim Basir. What was that like?
A. It was incredible. It was so unique because it was a oner. Meaning they shot the entire film in one take.
Q. No way. What do you mean one take?
A. (Laughs) Exactly. It took a lot of practice. A lot of preparation. Location scouting and all these things. Basically they never yelled cut. If they say cut then the whole movie has to start over again. So it was done in real time and it takes place during the night of the 2016 election where Trump won. Supposedly, and how he became president of the United States and how people were affected by it. But it was actually not even about that. It was the backdrop of the love story that was actually going on. It was a beautiful film how it was shot. They follow these two characters and it was one take. I was at my location and they kept saying, “They’re coming. They’re coming! “ And we couldn’t mess it up. Because they would have to start the entire one and half hours over again.
Q. Did they mess it up and have to start it over again?
A. They started it over twice. They got it on the third take. You know in film you do so many takes. So you have to have a very talented crew. Omari and Meagan who were the leads of the film they had to know all their lines. You couldn’t mess up. Everyone had to be on point with that.
Q. Mooz-lum, a film starting Evan Ross, Nia Long and Danny Glover. Once again directed by your brother Qasim Basir. It was about a Muslim family. How personal was this film for you?
A. It was very emotional. The way that my brother shoots these films he’s so sensitive which is such a really good thing because those intricacies and those feelings really get captured by the films that he does. This film was our story growing up of our family. The only difference was there were two kids instead of five kids. A lot of things that happened in the film actually happened in our household. It was kind of hard to watch. Being a part of it working with my brother was crazy. I had been modeling and acting already. I get this call from my agent and I had to audition. I really appreciate that because it was his first big feature film and he wanted to keep it professional. And wanted the best person for the job. Getting that film was harder than getting some of the other parts I got. He told me later than I was the best person for that role. It wasn’t just up to him there was whole group of people who had their hand in that film. It was an incredible experience working with him. He’s just laid back. I learned a lot just watching him.
Q. Tell us about The Chi and your role as Pumpkin?
A. That was so much fun. They made this belly for me. I was supposed to be pregnant. I love to just go crazy and play different characters. It’s a departure of who you are. But you have to live in that fantasy world. Who am I as Pumpkin? Even if just for a moment. I met a lot of really talented people. When you go on set you never know how it’s going to be. It’s always like these little microcosms of families. I feel like I have a family at The Chi. The longer you work on something the more you get tight with them.
Q. Did you get to work with Lena Waite?
A. Not directly. But it was an honor to be a part of it.
Q. How do you feel the industry treats Black actresses?
A. I feel like it is our time. With the Me Too movement. Their were times when I felt uncomfortable about a few things. You feel like you don’t have a say. I feel the Me Too movement has empowered women. It has made it so that a caliber of treatment is just standard for women. A certain level of respect is just standard. And being on set has just been different since then. I feel like as a Black female actor we have to work triple harder to get the same thing. We need to even out the playing field. So now they’re looking for Black actresses. We are out there. There are so many Black actresses who could be leading ladies. And why not be leading ladies of a main stream film? Why does it have to be for a Black show. A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman. A talented woman is a talented woman. I think that now theirs so many opportunities opening up for that. In Hollywood they’re starting to see that. And social media has opened up a lot of doors for us because we are creating our own content. You can’t deny the beauty, the melanin because it’s out there.
Q. So what have you learned about yourself during Covid that you didn’t know before?
A. Wow, where do I start? ( laughs) I learned to just be still. The world just moves by so fast that it forces us just be. I went back to Michigan and I was in my Moms basement for a month. I went through a lot. I had just moved back out to New York in January just to go back. I had go through a lot just to move here only to go back I felt a little defeated. But everyone in the world had went through something behind this so there was a universal energy of uncertainty. Of what do we do now? I used that time to be creative because I need to be creative. I also realized let me just be. Let me meditate. Take some time to just do nothing and be okay with that. I’m an overachiever and that can be to your detriment sometimes. I was grateful with quarantine to just sit back and evaluate what my real goals are. What I’m going to go after as soon as thing is over. Where my life is going to head. I know family is always important. All these things can be gone but your family is still there.
Q. This leads up to your latest project. A leading role in Holiday Heartbreak. Tell us about that?
A. Yassss! Holiday Heartbreak is a holiday film. It’s about my character Monica, a hopeless romantic. She is cursed with all of these relationship problems after her father mistreats a woman back in his day. He was a chauvinist who played the wrong woman who put a spell on him. And cursed his first born daughter with relationship problems. So it’s Monica’s journey of being cursed and falling in love with the wrong guy. It was fun because I got to play two characters. One was pre curse and the other was post curse. It was two totally different characters. She had different tastes in men. She dressed differently. She had different goals in life. Her hair was different, everything was just different. It’s a comedy. Everyone did an amazing job. I felt very honored to be in that space with everyone.
Q. What’s next for Maryam?
A. What’s next for me is another film I’ll be shooting in two weeks ( early November ) in Houston, Texas called Blind Currency. I’m very excited it’s a crime film. I play the lead female.
Q. What advice would you give a young Black actress?
A. I would say look in the mirror every morning and affirm to yourself that you’re great. To be your biggest advocate for yourself. Because only you know what best for you at the end of the day. I would say throw it all away once you’ve done the audition. Don’t obsess over it. You leave it all on the audition floor because did all that you can do. Just move on. So when you do get it, it’s a nice surprise.
MARYAM BASIR: RED HOT! @maryambasir_
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