It took a lot of reassurance to get Yasmin Warsame to make her acting debut in the TIFF drama “The Gravedigger’s Wife”. The Canadian-Somali model was very comfortable in front of the camera when it came to still fashion photography, but film was a new challenge for her.
“Khadar [Ayderus Ahmed], the director and the writer of the movie, found me. There’s no other word for it. He literally searched me, found me, and then convinced me that I can do this,” she says in an interview at the ET Canada Festival Lounge at the Shangri-La in Toronto. “And every maybe so often, like every week or so, I’ll call him so full of worry, saying, ‘I think he should like, cast again. I don’t want you to put all of your hopes on me. I don’t know what if I let you down? What if I like I have a million doubts because I’ve never done this before, coming from the world of still pictures’. And it’s different with acting. Obviously, I have to allow so much. You have to open so much and we’re not used to that as models.”
“I try not to notice the cameras,” she says, adding that if she did, “the model would come out” and she would pose. “It’s not about the cameras, it’s not about me, it’s about Nasra, and what I had to do was just get out of the way, allow her to come in and then just deliver the lines. But it wasn’t even just about the lines. It was just this woman and her story and I felt the responsibility to tell it authentically,” Warsame explains.
Set in Djibouti City, the film tells the story of gravedigger Guled (first-time actor Omar Abdi) and his beloved wife Nasra (Warsame) who has been diagnosed with kidney failure. In desperate need of a transplant that will cost what Guled would make in a year, he ignores her warnings and returns to his home village seeking help as a desperate act of devotion to his wife.
For Warsame, the story was all about Nasra, a character she recognized in the women in her own life.
“Because I am from Somalia and I am a Somali woman, I’ve seen this woman walking on the streets – She’s my aunt. She’s my mom. She’s part of everyone I know,” she says. “I know that there is a certain type of dignity, that they have some way that they hold themselves, even if they’ve got nothing in the fridge and the kids are hungry. When you see her on the street, when you sit across from her, you will never know that this is what’s happening in her life. This is the type of woman in the story that I’m telling.”
“I felt like I really had to connect with my own self and my own roots in order for me to even remotely tell this woman’s life and story,” she adds. “I’m so happy and I’m so glad and I’m so grateful that people are loving this because we really, really did it with such sincerity and from the bottom of our hearts and we gave it all. And when you do that, often, I find other humans will connect to that.”