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Jungle: Yasmin Kassim Interview

Jungle: Yasmin Kassim Interview

One of the highlights of my entire year so far was talking with illuminating Australian actress Yasmin Kassim. Kassim plays the intricate role of Kina in a remarkable true story of wilderness survivor Yossi Ghinsberg, in Jungle, directed by Wolf Creek alumni Greg McLean. 

Although cool, Alex Russell and former wizard Daniel Radcliffe are part of the impressive cast. Yasmin draws you in to her every moment. Getting to know this multi-talented individual was terrific. She loves to talk and sing and box and live life to the fullest, a wonderful person.

Shane A. Bassett – You have a small significant role. How did you get the project?

Yasmin Kassim – Met Greg McLean quite a few years ago. We talked about Jungle, inspired me to read the book which, learning about Yossi, made me really keen to be part of it. Greg asked me to submit different tapes in various languages so I guess he was feeling out what I was capable of. Didn’t hear anything for a long time but basically kept bugging him to remain in the forefront of his mind. It was a couple of years onwards I was offered the role of Kina, I felt she was a spiritual part of the story. That made me happy for the opportunity to bring her to life.

She was certainly spiritual without revealing story arcs.

YK – My brief was to learn the ancient language but when I went to the Colombian embassy, they said only around 500 people in the world speak the language so I found another language very close so I could study it while the boys were shooting. Greg wanted me to be able to improvise a little. It helped me fill in the blanks, I had a book of phrases. We even had some singing in there and various moments that didn’t make the film, I could really speak the language, even lullabies. My job was to be there, embody Kina. As an actor, it’s extremely rewarding. People I have met after screenings, Kina meant something.

Have you spent much time with Yossi at the screenings?

YK – Yes at LA, Q&A’s, he always says how important Kina is to the story and shows respect to my performance which means everything to honour that. It’s surreal at screenings knowing Yossi is there, he lived through this. 

Are you a camping or hiking person yourself?

JK – (laughs) Well I am pretty free spirited, actually just before we got on the phone, I was at the doctors getting glass out of my foot. I rarely wear shoes, prefer barefoot, but LA is not the place to do that. Australia maybe but haven’t learnt my lesson quite yet. Where we shot Jungle wasn’t the most pleasant but would never complain considering what Yossi went through. But Kina was barefoot not wearing much and in the jungle through things. People were advising what not to touch (laughs).

Did you get bitten or suffer injuries?

JK – During the time, I may have hurt myself a little but filming, I remain in the moment and don’t mind. It’s when I get home I discover scratches or injuries. Make-up didn’t mind on set, it added to Kina’s persona. I saw bugs but didn’t get bitten as far as I know.

How would you describe Kina, vulnerable or lost?

YK – Extremely vulnerable when she meets Yossi. She has never seen a white man, I felt like Kina would only know stories of invasion by white man. She was scared but saw something in Yossi and he gave her strength. The ability to be vulnerable made her strong, she’s both.

What kind of person is Daniel to work alongside?

YK – Cannot say enough amazing adjectives about him. We were in the trailer one day, I spoke a little Kina language to him to get the flow going of our characters. We shot chronologically so it was from our first scene shooting. We didn’t leave each other’s side. We worked in similar ways keeping our energy of Yossi as I did for Kina. Even if we were exchanging stories during set ups while waiting, he would always look out for me, get a jacket or whatever. He’s giving as an actor, compassionate, dedicated to the craft. I’d love to work with him again.

You landed the perfect spiritual role, with limited make up too. 

YK – (laughs) I know. Everyone said, did you shave your eyebrows off, that hair make up team were terrific. I have so much respect for that department, everything looks so real. It took an hour for my body scars alone. Every scar I made up a story on how it happened. It felt real.

How did you start acting, what was the appeal, did you model first?

YK – Never really just acting. At 6 it began as a music gig and went from there, musicals are important. I love classical, I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. Did acting school in Western Australia, did kids shows, street theatre. Went to Strasberg performing arts, it was the first time I moved towards TV and film. I am a huge fan of musical theatre but acting took over. When I look back, probably being an only child had a lot to do with my passion, or having imaginary friends (laughs). Finding characters in myself is my thing. One of my favourite parts, and I’ve dabbled in all sorts of performing arts, is that I love in acting your flaws, imperfections make you interesting, relatable, make a performance and exciting to an audience. I will show maybe the not so great parts of myself, it’s so much about being perfect much of the time. I want to exceed what makes a character real, that makes me happy. 

How often do you sing, have you released an album of tracks?

YK – That’s so kind of you to ask, singing has been such a funny thing because various opportunities come my way but I’m like. oh no, I am an actor, not a singer. Since being in LA, something has really opened up in me. I’ve gone for auditions for roles that sing, had call backs which has given me some confidence. For me, writing songs is like my free psychologist. I write many songs, no one hears them (laughs). My management here is also music management, not a coincidence, there are no coincidences. I am going to put it out there, the only thing holding me back is fear, that should not be a reason. Stuff is coming! I’ve written so many songs and if one person can relate to it, that is nice. My Grandma is the one I sing for the most, she is an amazing pianist. She appreciates music, that’s why I record little things for her.

You have Guardians of the Tomb (Nest) coming soon. 

YK – Same production company as Jungle, they knew me and asked me to meet the director when I was in Sydney. Actually, I auditioned for three different characters. I landed the role of Lisa who is the sexy assistant of Kelsey Grammer, that’s something I could do I thought. Went to Gold Coast and filmed it. So much fun. Kelsey was great to work with, hilarious and a hoot. No fighting even though it’s a fighting film. But as a boxer, I could play a fighter. I want to be strong in life and body.

In your own words, describe Jungle to audiences considering seeing it?

JK – Incredible true story of survival, willingness to go on in the name of love. I cannot say anything without sounding like a Hallmark card, honestly Shane.

JUNGLE – Rated MA. Now showing at limited cinemas (and VOD streaming).

Shane A. Bassett

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