Abu Dhabi-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami on starring in hit crime series ‘NCIS: Hawai’i’

Actress describes her role as victory for greater representation in mainstream television

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Yasmine Al-Bustami arguably has one of the best acting gigs in show business.

As one of the stars of NCIS: Hawai'i, the latest addition to the two-decade-old hit television franchise, she gets to spend up to nine months a year shooting in paradise.

The well-received debut season is available for streaming on Starzplay, with season two set to return next month.

Al-Bustami's casting marks not only another important industry step towards achieving diverse representation on mainstream television, but a personal milestone for the Abu Dhabi-born actress whose father is Jordanian-Palestinian and mother Filipina.

She is well aware her role as series regular Lucy Tara, the tenacious investigator, could resonate well beyond the immediate fan base.

"What I am really happy about is the fact that I play a character that you can just insert any ethnicity or background in and it doesn't affect the role," she tells The National.

"No one needs to mention or add some kind of storyline that explains that they might be an Arab or an Asian because that's not the focal point of the story.

“The character is just who they are and it is the plot that we pay attention to.”

Quality over ethnicity

This is also the way Al-Bustami has approached her career.

After relocating to the US from Abu Dhabi, aged 3, with her family, she developed her passion for acting in university.

“But it was more on the business side at first because part of me thought that it couldn’t be a sustainable career,” she admits.

After taking part in a few amateur productions, she began to envision a life in front of the camera and by the time she was 25, Al-Bustami had landed a recurring role in the fantasy series The Originals, followed by a selection of regular television parts in the 2016 drama The Inspectors and the 2019 romantic comedy I Ship It.

Al-Bustami also featured in the powerful music video for John Legend's 2016 track Surefire, in which she plays a Muslim woman facing bigotry for a relationship with a Mexican man.

She says all of her roles have been chosen based on the material’s quality as opposed to making a broader industry or political statement.

"Honestly, I just enjoy reading the diverse things that come to me and whatever works sticks," she says.

"Thankfully it is very rare that I am offered a role where I felt that I completely couldn't do it."

Telling authentic stories

When it came to NCIS: Hawai'i, Al-Bustami says the cast and producers were compelled to represent Hawaii and its cultural life accurately.

It features a number of Hawaiian actors — such as Anthony Ruivivar, Moses Goods and Danielle Zalopany — and Al-Bustami says the plot lines are inspired as much by its people as the location.

"What I appreciate is the writers really set out to showcase Hawaii and bring in some of its history and culture in order to make the show a learning experience as well and not just a backdrop," she says.

"It is also a cool place and I wonder whether I am cool enough to be there. Everything about it is exactly how you see it.

“When you take pictures, you can only wish to capture what you see live. But with Hawaii, it is only when you are there, you really appreciate how beautiful and amazing it is."

Yasmine Al-Bustami and Jason Antoon star in the crime series 'NCIS: Hawai'i'. Photo: Karen Neal / CBS Broadcasting Inc

Such moments make the career grind worthwhile, she says. Now she hopes to maintain her trajectory in the competitive field of television acting.

"Everybody has their own journey and ways of getting where they want to go. For me it has always been fun and I never felt that this was too gruelling, despite the hard days.

"I think it comes down to me understanding that what I do fulfils me in a certain way that other things in life can't.

“This is not to say that it was not tough at many times during my career, it’s just that I don't want to give this up."

Updated: August 21, 2022, 7:09 AM