For Medalion Rahimi, not only is it a dream to be starring on NCIS: Los Angeles, but she also gets to make history as her character, Special Agent Fatima Namazi, sports a hijab — the first series regular in America to wear one.
“That was why I gravitated toward the role and was super excited about it because rarely do we see a hijabi Muslim female character lead in government. It’s super important to see a Muslim character in a heroic role and on a huge show that reaches so many different types of people in the world. It’s syndicated everywhere,” the 30-year-old actress, who is a first generation American from a Jewish Muslim family, exclusively tells GRAZIA USA. “That’s why I wanted to do it. It’s cool to see this strong Muslim woman who is taking power in her career and has a zest for life.”
“It’s important for women, especially for young girls to see,” she adds. “It’s a big responsibility. I feel like I’ve had to educate myself on a lot of Middle Eastern relations. Actors shouldn’t always be at the forefront of these social movements unless they are extremely educated on the socio political happenings, but I am proud to to play this character. I’m doing my best.”
In the upcoming Sunday, February 19, episode, the team is searching for a missing Navy Lieutenant, who has been kidnapped by her cousins that are associated with a radical Islamist group. Fatima (Rahimi) and Kensi (Daniela Ruah) are also kidnapped, but they find a way to take down the bad guys.
At the end of the show, there’s a pivotal conversation between Fatima and Sam (LL Cool J), who are both Muslim characters. Fatima says, “Zhin, Zhiyan, Azadi,” meaning “Woman, Life, Freedom.” The statement acknowledges what is going on in Iran, where women and girls are standing up for their rights as they face inequality and oppression.
“It shows how people from a multicultural background have to reconcile with what their culture expects of them and what they want for themselves,” the star explains. “It’s important to touch on and to make those life decisions for yourself, especially as a woman.”
Since Rahimi has been part of the show since season 10, it’s not lost on her that she gets to play such a “unique” character that hasn’t really been seen on television before. “I personally love movies that take us out of our reality. I love action movies and playing this badass character. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s fun. I also get to work with veterans in the industry as well. These people have been in the business for 15 years, so it’s been amazing. It’s a special experience for an actor.”
Also, the TV lead gets to show a different side of playing a Muslim woman. “My morals align with Fatima, but at the same time, I have a lot of different views on religion and spirituality, and it’s been interesting to find the balance there,” she notes. “I also feel like I’ve been able to educate people around me on the show as well, which has been really exciting. I obviously advocate for the women of Iran for their freedom and everything that is going on there. I just hope roles like this where religion doesn’t fully define the character come about more.”
Now that she’s gotten used to playing Fatima, Rahimi feels “humbled” by the experience. “I hope I can be a positive role model. I also get messages and support from people who are thankful for any sort of media attention. It’s fueling them and giving the energy to keep going. It’s been really beautiful.”
All in all, it’s been a “real pinch-me moment” to appear on NCIS: Los Angeles alongside LL Cool J, Eric Christian Olsen, Chris O’Donnell and more. “When I got the part, I couldn’t believe it. It’s such a long-standing show, and I admire all these people who I’m acting with. The fans have been amazing, and there are no other fans like this. They are so loyal and supportive.”
“I’ve learned to become a technical actor,” she says of what she’s picked up along the way. “I hit my mark and find the light — stuff they don’t teach you in theater school.”
As a kid, Rahimi always knew acting was in her future. “I wanted to make my parents proud, but I was afraid my career wouldn’t take off,” she recalls. “I thought about it and said, ‘Do I want to settle or follow my dreams?’ My parents were so supportive, and I decided this is what I want to do with my life.”
Fortunately, it all worked out as Rahimi has also gone on to star in Netflix’s series From Scratch and Hulu’s Pam and Tommy. “Those are both really special shows,” she gushes. “I couldn’t believe how well received they were by audiences. It’s exciting to be part of shows like that. It was so much fun. I also got to work with Seth Rogen and Taylor Schilling, which was amazing.”
“I feel so lucky and grateful,” Rahimi, who is currently writing some new projects and has a short film making the festival circuit, declares. “I’ve worked 11 years to get here, so I am extremely grateful to be where I am.”
With NCIS: Los Angeles wrapping soon, Rahimi shares the cast will go out on a high note. “To be able to ride it out until the end is incredible. Fatima has changed people’s minds. Some people might have never seen a hijabi person before, so if I was able to change anyone’s mind who had a negative perspective on Middle Eastern or Muslim people, then my job is done.”
NCIS: Los Angeles airs on Sunday, February 19, on CBS at 9 p.m. ET.