Natacha Karen as American sniper Jasmine “Jaz” Khan Inspires Viewers Far and Wide as a Bad-Ass role ModelEarlier this season, The Brave’s heroine Sgt. Jasmine “Jaz” Khan killed a terrorist leader and was captured by his guards and endured gruesome torture as a prisoner waiting for her team to rescue her.
When this was going on for Natacha Karam, the actress who quickly embodied this bad-ass sniper character on the dramatic television show, she says it felt real.
Although she is portraying a role, stepping into a bright-all-white room, being chained to a chair and having minimal movement, took its emotional and physical toll and tested her limitations.
The Brave focuses on members of American Forces elite heroic undercover military team, who travel the world to bring down the bad guys, save the lives of innocent people and handle missions in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Many of the episodes of the riveting show feel like they have been ripped by the headlines.
The season finale entitled Close to Home: Part 2 airs on Monday, Jan. 29. The action takes place a few weeks before Cpt. Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) and his team finish their deployment and they continue to race the clock on a high-stakes mission. As they learn more about Hoffman (guest star James Tupper), Patricia (Anne Heche) and the group attempt to use his intelligence info to save innocent lives, but the information comes at a cost. Dalton is the leader of an elite group of military professionals carrying out dangerous missions to keep the world safe.
Before The Brave, Karam was best known for her major role on the Emmy-Award-winning Showtime series Homeland. She can also be seen in the Rob Cohen feature Category 5, alongside Toby Kebbell.
Avid fans around the world, especially active members of the military, have high hopes that NBC will order Season 2, and that Jaz, Dalton and the rest of the team will return in the fall.
A year ago, Karam, who made her home in the London, traveled to L.A. looking for her next adventure, and was plucked up for The Brave, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, began a rigorous training schedule, and ended up with a new “family” of actors and crew who she keeps in close touch with.
Now, she has relocated to L.A. and is reflecting back on the stellar year of The Brave, and all of the changes she has undergone in the process. The following is an exclusive PCM interview with Natacha Karam.
When I was watching the torture scenes you were in after Jaz was captured and taken prisoner, I have to admit I was a little bit skittish. Did you have nightmares? Did it affect you physically or emotionally? It just looks so real?
Natacha Karam: It was real. In the morning when I first walked into that space I tried to make myself as ready and available as possible in the moment, so I didn’t spend time preparing for it. The moment I arrived there, I was present and open, and I walked into that space and it was so shockingly white and bright.
That must have been jarring. The whole idea of the sensory deprivation room gave me the shivers?
NK: There was a big box of sunglasses outside and all the crew members were wearing sunglasses when we were filming that scene. It took a really long time for my eyes to adjust and I started to have a bit of a headache, and had to play with the levels of brightness, because it was very white, but it was exactly that scene with all of that white that made it work so well.
How harrowing was it?
NK: I didn’t get up and leave the chair and have my stand-in there like you normally do in between scenes. I tried to just stay in that chair for as long as possible, and have as minimal movement as I could. And I was chained to a chair so that was real. Using all those things to kind of influence my reality in that moment made it quite real, and quite overwhelming, and it was nice at the end of that day to be able to walk out there. It was a surreal evening. I had to go home and have a hot shower, and I hadn’t eaten all day. I didn’t eat much at all while filming that episode.
How did you sustain yourself?
NK: I did a juice cleanse. I didn’t want to eat food and have any heaviness get in my way. I wanted to be completely empty and willing to receive information and everything that was coming at me. It was difficult; but it wasn’t torture. It did take a while to get back into reality afterward. It took a good four or five hours after being out of there to start seeing things normally again, and feeling back in my body, and finally enjoying a nice warm meal.
You started off this show as this bad-ass role model. I was sort of speechless after seeing your capture. How did you and your character turn into more of a bad-ass?
NK: Thank you. I think it was always very important to me, and I was waiting for the moment that I could show Jasmine’s vulnerability; because I think it’s really important to acknowledge the fact that these human beings we are portraying are three-dimensional. They’re not just war machines, and they’re not just ‘go, go, go.’
Please tell me more about that.
NK: They feel things, too, and so having the opportunity to see her [Jaz] still be as bad-ass as she is, and then become even more bad-ass by the fact that she’s willing to allow herself to be vulnerable. I chose a very specific moment to do that. There were lots of different moments where I could have done it, but I remember talking with [the show’s creator] Dean Georgaris and talking with the director, and asking myself, ‘When would be the most important moment to show her vulnerability’ So, it could have been when she got rescued and saw the guys coming to get her. It could have been when they showed her pictures of the team saying that her captors had caught them.
Please go on.
NK: But I decided that to me the most important moment was when Jaz and Dalton (Mike Vogel) were in this forced proximity, this intimate space, that she couldn’t escape, and that was the moment when I chose to allow the tears to come and the vulnerability to really let itself out. So, I found that moment incredible and I found those episodes really remarkable. I think for me, acknowledging the sense of the core of these people, their heart, gut and the fire that’s in them, is so important.
The heart and the gut – tell me more?
NK: The heart and the gut. They’ve got this fear and they’ve got this gut and this fire in them. I can’t express how amazing the last year has been for me, meeting so many service women and men on active duty, and veterans. Meeting and conversing with them in person, and realizing the heart behind these people, the spirit, and the personality, makes all of it so much more real for me.
Share with me a fan story.
NK: We were doing a screening of an episode at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, and a woman came up to me afterward to say that she’d been serving for 20-something years, and she’s a marksman, and a better shooter than anyone else she knows. She went on to talk to me about my character, and said she really appreciated Jasmine’s femininity, and the fact that I don’t try and butch her up unnecessarily. She just is who she is.
This is a great story. Please tell me more.
NK: Well, she said it’s so important, and she always tried to remind herself of her femininity while doing her job because being feminine can be hindrance to doing this job at all. She said that sometimes it’s a bonus, and sometimes it’s just a matter of fact. So, she told me that she wears matching lacy underwear every single day under her uniform — something really pretty and pink or red, and any time she feel like she doesn’t feel feminine or she doesn’t feel like herself, she just kind of peeks down her pants and she’s like’ Oh yeah, I’m still sexy.’ I feel that it’s sexy to be bad-ass. Just the idea of that makes me laugh and I always think of that moment fondly.What did you learn about the real service men and women?
NK: They have no celebrities; only these omega teams and clandestine units all over the world, and I think telling these stories, and acknowledging that there are real life heroes out there, sacrificing their lives day in and day out to keep us safe is really important. So, if we are given a Season 2 we would have the space and time to tell you more about these people, and who they are as people, as well as what they do.
How was living in Albuquerque?
NK: I loved Albuquerque. I loved the sunrise and the sunset. I’m a boxer anyway, so the reason I even knew Albuquerque existed, was because of a well-known gym there. So, being able to go out to Albuquerque and training at that gym three times a week, or whenever I wasn’t filming, was such an amazing experience for me. The hiking and the scenery were wonderful. It was a fantastic place to get that job done; to be able to fully commit 100 percent to the physical and mental preparation it took to play this part. After all of us on the team were all living out there we trained a lot together and we spent a lot of time together.
I could see first-hand when I was there in the summer that you were becoming very close friends early in the process.
NK: We were each other’s family when we were out there, and we still kind of are; even though we’re all spread apart now. We’re still very close, and I think that brotherhood is a big thing that’s special about the military, and about doing that kind of training together. It’s something which thankfully a lot of people are responding to. They respond to our chemistry, and the kind of brotherhood, and spirit amongst us that conveys itself on the screen. It’s really important to us, because we felt that early bond when we first all met in Morocco and did our first boot camp together. We were almost inseparable by the time the five weeks of boot camps and the first episode were over.
Then what happened?
NK: Well, we didn’t know if the show was going to get picked up or not, but we all went back to our lives for the next month and a half and we had a group on “WhatsApp,” where we’d all message each other. It was our accountability group, and we’d message each other every day with our workouts and our nutrition plans, and kind of keep it going. We really believed in ourselves, and believed we were going to get picked up, and wanted to keep that spirit alive.
When you travel to any kind of events, what kind of feedback are you getting from the fans?
NK: I have been so overwhelmed, and I’m so grateful for the huge amount of positive feedback that Jaz is receiving as a character. If you put me as an actress aside, it’s Jaz that these people are responding to, and for me that’s so important. The fact that there are a lot of women and girls, and also men, who are responding to a strong female character is so important, especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now.
Do you feel like a role model, especially for girls and young women?
NK: Yes. The more that I can encourage women to step into their own strengths, the better. I have received so much fan mail and letters from young women who have struggled with how tough they are, how strong they are, and that people have made fun of them for how feminine or unfeminine they are, the dreams and aspirations they have that go against the grain of the small villages that they’re from or whatever is expected of them
How do you respond to these letters?
NK: I have handwritten a letter back to every single one of them, because I want more than anything to inspire women to be stronger. I have had my own journey, too. I wasn’t always the person that I am now. I worked hard at it, and now I’m really grateful that strength is something that’s at my core, and it’s at the core of a lot of women; sometimes they’re just too afraid to step into it.
Where are these letters coming from?
NK: Everywhere in the US. A lot of girls in Texas, Arizona, and Philadelphia. I even had one letter from Brazil. People have been sending these letters and fan mail packages with photos that they want me to sign. There’s a few women on active duty who reached out to me and asked for signed photos, so I went to the post office the other day with a printed stack of photos and filled out all the customs forms to send them pictures. I mean the thing that touches me the most is the young women who are inspired to be stronger.
What else is involved?
NK: The other thing that touches me the most is the women who have served or are serving who are responding positively to my character, because they would be or should be and deserve to be the harshest critics. The fact that they’re responding positively means that the effort I’ve put in and the effort all of us have put in, the storywriters, our technical advisor Mikal Vega, everyone is paying off. The authenticity that we’re trying to convey and our heart behind it and how much we care about the stories that we’re telling is coming across, and that’s really incredible.
You’re done filming right now, right?
NK: Yes, we are, and I’ve moved to LA. with my dog; he’s a half pug and half King Charles Spaniel, he’s my best friend. I took him to the set of The Brave every day, and he made great friends there, too.
NK: Who knows what’s next. I’m keeping my eyes open. I don’t have anything lined up as of yet, but there are meetings and I’m working with my agents and my managers to find out what I’m going to do next. I’d love to do a little bit of lighthearted comedy maybe in the interim before going straight into something serious again.
This has been quite the journey for you?
NK: Oh, yes. A year ago, I stepped into the NBC building for the first time for a general meeting with the head of casting in there and it was the first time I had ever set foot in LA. I recently saw Grace Wu, who is the head of casting at NBC, and we had a laugh and talked about how much things have changed and how the first time I walked into her room she thought I was going to do a comedy. And then a week later I land on her desk as a suggestion for Jaz. It would be fun to be light- spirited for a while and then I’d like to get straight back into another bad-ass full physical embodiment role, and then Season 2 – fingers crossed.
So, are you and your fellow actors on The Brave going to keep in touch?
NK: Oh yeah, we’re all in touch every day. I just spoke to Mike [Vogel] yesterday and Face Timed him for a couple of hours while being passed around from kid to kid. I got to know his children when they spent time on the set.
I am curious, how do you spend your free time? Are you working out?
NK: I’m still working out. It’s in me, it’s ingrained. It’s a regimen. I mean I always have. I’m boxing more now, because I’ve got more time, sometimes six days a week, which feels amazing, and then fitting in some hiking, and weights, and yoga every now and then, as well. Most of my week is scheduled around two workouts a day and then meetings and things. I just got an apartment, so I’m decorating and building furniture and all of that stuff.
Do you binge watch anything on TV?
NK: The last thing I watched I really loved on TV was Mindhunter on Netlfix, so that was really great. I love all of the psychological stuff, and getting inside people’s heads.
Did you see any of the Oscar contenders?
NK: No, I haven’t seen most of them. I’m just now settling back into more of a social life. I bought myself this movie pass thing for $10 a month where you can see unlimited movies in the cinema in LA. That’s a novelty for me. It’s perfect so now I can go see all of them.
Have you found all the wonderful book stores in L.A. One of my favorites was Book Soup?
NA: I was just there the other day. One of my goals for myself this year is to read 100 books. I’m on book seven and it’s the end of January.
Are you a different person than you were before The Brave?
NK: I’d say I’m probably more confident. Having all those guys in my life, and having that kind of family that we had in Albuquerque, has also allowed me to become a little bit softer as well as vulnerable. I’m not as standoffish.
Why do you want the show to continue to Season 2?
NK: I think everyone’s gotten to know our characters and the credibility is there now. People feel like they know us and what we’re all about. So, now I want to take it to the next level, and I want to show more about personal beings and personal stories. I think that a show like this needs to be on the air anyway, because of all the amazing people who are out there doing this in real life; people who can’t get the spotlight shone on them. I think it’s great to be reminded that there’s a whole web that’s just working to look out for us; people just doing things and not getting in the headlines or getting the credit for it.