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NOC Interview: Tala Ashe of ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’

Since debuting in Season 3 of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Zari Tarazi (Tala Ashe) has become a beloved fixture in the CW’s zaniest (but still very heartfelt) Arrowverse show. Besides the importance of her being the first major Muslim and Iranian-American superhero on network tv, she’s one of the most dynamic and compelling members of the Legends. Things have changed tremendously for Zari over the past few years, as her relationships with her teammates develops and changes and her brother Behrad (Shayan Sobhian) has become a member of the Legends. Now, in Episode 3 of Season 6, she’s faced with more personal challenges as it’s up to her to save the day in a reality tv show competition. We at the Nerds of Color had the opportunity to interview Tala Ashe about Zari’s story this episode, and where her journey in Season 6 will be going.

Mild plot and setup spoilers for the end of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Season 5 finale and Season 6, Episode 3 follow.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

First off, Eid Mubarak! I also want to say that you really are a hero on and off-screen, and that you and Zari have been crucial in helping pave the way for more MENA and Muslim superheroes upcoming in film and TV, like Simon Baz in the Green Lantern series and Kamala Khan in Ms. Marvel. So, I’m curious, what’s it like for you seeing more, but still limited representation on this front? 

Ashe: Eid Mubarak to you as well! It’s always very, very welcome. It’s something that’s become very important to me from the beginning of my career when I saw the work that was coming my way and I saw the representation that was in our media in general. So, it’s something that, as you say, we have a long way to go, so the more the better! It allows all of us to give more nuanced portrayals of these different characters, and also takes the weight off of representing an entire community or race or country. The more of us that there are, I think people are able to see that we’re not a monolith, and that there are a lot of stories, as there are with any communities. But there’s a difference between intellectually knowing that of course every community has many different stories and many different types of people in it, and actually seeing it represented in our media. So, yeah, it’s wonderful. We have a long way to go, but it’s wonderful to see the greater representation that’s popping up more and more.

Absolutely co-sign all of that, thank you! So, onto Legends. What’s it like working on such a fun and daring show like Legends of Tomorrow, where it seems like every other week the show tackles a new genre?

It’s really exciting! I feel really grateful to be part of a show like this. I have friends who are on other kinds of procedural shows, and when I talk about my work and what the experience of receiving a script is for me vs. them, I am also reminded that I’m very very lucky to have my jaw dropped or often be puzzled on “How are we going to do it?” when I read a script of Legends. Essentially, it’s really exciting frankly to get the scripts every week because I genuinely don’t know what it’s going to have.

That’s absolutely amazing. It’s like a box of chocolates!

It really is! Sometimes you get a little hint or a clue from the writers two months before when they’ll ask you something odd like “Hey, how are your juggling skills?” or “Do you know how to yodel?” or something entertaining where you wonder “What is coming down the pipeline?” Generally, you get the script and you’re like “Wow! Ok! They’re doing this!”

So, this upcoming episode is a big one for Zari. In it you sing, dance, and take *literal* center stage to save the day! What was it like being able to use so many of your talents as an actor and singer during this episode?

It’s always a challenge, because I’m not a Broadway performer, so all of that takes a lot for me, so there’s kind of that mix of excitement and hesitation and nervousness. But that’s sort of the zone that I like to operate in. If that didn’t happen, a job could actually feel stale after a while, so I’m really grateful that the Legends writers and EPs continue to throw me challenges like that, in a way. But honestly it’s one thing to sing, but when they told me I was singing and dancing, I asked for a lot of rehearsal time, which they really kindly gave me, and we had a really wonderful choreographer, Kelly, come out who also choreographed several things on the show. I worked with her when we did our Bollywood/Jane Austen episode, and she’s just really lovely and she made me feel as comfortable as I was going to be, because that’s actually really very much not my pocket in terms of talents, dancing and singing, especially in a pop way. I kept calling myself “sad Beyoncé” [laughs]. So, I think I did my best, and hopefully people buy it enough to go with Zari’s story.

Well, for what it’s worth, I absolutely loved watching your performance this episode. So, more on this episode, we also get to see Zari’s mom, Nasreen again! How does it feel having scenes to speak Farsi with her and showcase more of an Iranian American family with Mitra Lohrasb playing her and Shayan as Behrad?

It’s really amazing. I grew up in Ohio, and I only heard the Persian language when I was with my parents, I never heard it in the street and not at my waitress job. There were moments both in this episode and another episode that’s upcoming, I believe Episode 9 this year, where looking around the room, and being like, “Wow! I’m not the only brown person in this room!” And that’s a remarkable thing. That quite simply wasn’t the case, at least in my experience, even 5-10 years ago at all. So being able to talk with Mitra who plays Nasreen my mom, in Persian, and for all of us to be speaking on screen in Persian is no small thing. It’s really just heartening. I love it, I want more of it, and it’s just nice. I really commend Legends for doing that, because they don’t have to. A lot of shows don’t.

I hope more of them do soon.

Yeah, me too.

So, on Zari’s other relationships, it seems pretty obvious from the premiere that her relationship with John is much more than “no strings attached.” What can you tease for the audience about, as the ship is known, “ConstanZ,” and in particular this upcoming episode?

I think if you looked at these two people, and they were on Bumble or whatever the kids are doing nowadays, the would not match. Like, it doesn’t make sense that they are attracted to each other or that they’re going to be in a relationship. And I think they know that intellectually on some level. And yet there’s something there and I think they challenge each other. I think there’s sort of like a classic Pride & Prejudice aspect, there’s a contentiousness there that ultimately does result in connection and an attraction and love between them that is going to be really tricky. I think even as they generally step into whatever this relationship is going to be, there’s going to be a lot of road bumps. Both of them are not “relationship people” Neither of them are naturally inclined to be vulnerable and open in a way I think you need to be in a healthy relationship. And yet, I think they’re sort of really good for each other. I think that Zari can actually be herself. She’s sort of finding herself, having left behind this persona that we actually get to touch on in this episode. We get to see her put on this mask that she’s very familiar with and kind of feels like old shoes, but it’s not actually who she is or her authentic self. I think as the season goes on, she actually feels the feeling that, if we’re lucky all of us get to feel when we’re in love, which is that you can be yourself with someone. So, even though it’s complicated, that is the journey of the season and it goes to interesting places by the end. That’s all I can say!

Without giving too much away, what’s the theme of Zari’s journey this season?

I think it is a journey of authenticity. It’s connected to John but it’s really about her and it’s happening in relationship to everybody on the ship, and what is kind of expected in the ethos of the Waverider, which is really different than the 2045 influencer culture that she was arriving in. Everybody’s got their guards up in different ways on the ship, but fundamentally there’s a lot of love and vulnerability at the end of the day because you’re often in a lot of peril! There’s a lot of love there. I think her giving in to that which is really uncomfortable in moments. Both with her brother and John and friendships on the ship. That is tricky. And I think the thing that Zari 2.0 continues to think in the back of her mind is “I’m here, and 1.0 isn’t. She sacrificed herself.” 1.0 in her mind has become this kind of martyr figure, and better version of her in a way. I think with that struggle, she feels “lesser than” in a lot of ways. I think she feels that some people on the ship, Nate, for example, would very much like the other one to be here and not her. So I think that’s something else she grapples with this season.

Now that it’s been two seasons (since you’ve wrapped Season 6 filming) where you’ve played Zari 2.0, what have the challenges of playing her vs. 1.0 been like, and what have been some of the more fun aspects? And what aspects of yourself have you put into both characters?

2.0 is further from me, Tala, which I think was sort of uncomfortable for me at first, also because I loved Zari 1.0 so much, and I felt like we had grown up together and she had come a long way from when she first got on the ship, as had I. So that was sort of uncomfortable at first, but then there’s actually a lot of liberty in playing someone that is further from you. I have a lot of fun with her! I think that, this is kind of my producer brain, but looking at the people that are on the ship, I think that we kind of need a 2.0 energy on the ship. We have a lot of tough-presenting girls, which Zari 1.0 was as well, and even though I think that 2.0’s totally tough, it’s not necessarily what she leads with. She’s closer to being more snarky and effeminate in her way of moving through the world. I think that is kind of just a fun energy to have on the ship. In terms of the part of me that I bring in, obviously a lot of me is in both versions of Zari, but I do find that when I’m playing one or the other, I am more like one or the other which is really odd! I’ll go home in my normal life and I’ll have a little of that Zari 2.0 voice! Inevitably there is some bleed over both ways, me to them and them to me, I think.

How will both Zari 2.0’s (and maybe 1.0’s?) relationship with Behrad develop this season? What’s it been like generally working with Shayan Sobhian? 

Again, in terms of dynamics on the ship, I think having a brother and sister one is really smart, and a really interesting one to have because you have a male-female dynamic that is not sexual! So it’s nice to know that’s not on the table! I don’t actually have any siblings, Shayan I believe has two brothers. I think he’s the eldest. So he’s kind of playing the youngest in a way that he’s not cast into. But it’s been really fun and surprisingly easy to fall into that sort of older sister/younger brother thing, and we have a lot of fun and I think that the two of them have a bickering that is kind of natural between siblings. They also get involved in each other’s lives in ways that are uncomfortable for both, and unwelcome in some cases, but ultimately there’s a lot of love there. Ultimately Behrad hasn’t known this version of Zari that she’s moving toward. He’s only known her as the superstar and she’s only known him as this younger brother that her parents like more than her. So they’re kind of discovering also what their relationship is now.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, “The Ex-Factor,” airs this Sunday, May 16, airing and streaming on The CW.

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