Netflix actor and college student: Zaid Al Zoubi PO ’24 reflects on starring in “Jinn”

A man stands next to a boy on a donkey.
“Jinn” stars Zaid Al Zoubi PO ’24. (Courtesy: Netflix)

You may have seen him on the Zoom screen of your economics or media studies class. Without any context, you would think he is just like any other student at the Claremont Colleges. But unlike most students, Zaid Al Zoubi PO ’24 has starred in a Netflix Original Series. 

Al Zoubi acted on “Jinn,” a young adult supernatural drama and Netflix’s first Arabic language series. His character, Hassan, was portrayed as a geeky kid who was interested in the concept of jinn, an Arab mythological creature.

Acting on “Jinn” was Al Zoubi’s first film acting experience and one that happened by chance. One day in class, his art teacher approached him with a new opportunity. She just so happened to be the art director on “Jinn,” and she told him about the up and coming show. 

“I just had to send a 60 second introduction video just explaining who I am. And then a couple of weeks later, they emailed me and were like, ‘Hey we want you to audition.’ So I went. I had no expectations whatsoever; I just go in,” Al Zoubi said. 

After three months of weekly auditions and chemistry tests with other actors, Al Zoubi received news that he got the part. 

“It was very overwhelming. I remember I was home alone, and I just started freaking out,” he said.

Soon after learning that he got the part, Al Zoubi began acting workshops and shooting for the show. During the filming process, Al Zoubi was only a high school junior. He found the filming process to be tough on his schedule, as he filmed for 12 hours a day in Petra, Jordan, which was three hours away from his hometown. At one point, he spent five weeks away from home and school and found it challenging to keep up. Al Zoubi was also the youngest member on set, which created another challenge for him.

“It was definitely overwhelming at first, because you want to try to prove that you’re good enough. Also, you understand how big of a show it is, so you want to make sure it’s good,” he said. 

But even with his demanding schedule, Al Zoubi found his time acting on “Jinn” to be an invaluable experience. When asked about his favorite part of acting, Al Zoubi described that acting is a journey of self-exploration. 

A boy with a glasses and curly hair looks off into the distance.
Zaid Al Zoubi PO ’24 stars in the new Netflix Original Series, “Jinn.” (Courtesy: Netflix)

Acting “pushes you to explore parts of yourself that you wouldn’t have necessarily explored before, and it feels authentic when you find the connection between yourself and a character in ways you haven’t thought of before, ” Al Zoubi said.

It was because of this search for connection that Al Zoubi found Hassan to be an interesting character to portray. Al Zoubi noticed some similarities between himself and Hassan. To portray characteristics that Hassan had, but Al Zoubi did not have, Al Zoubi substituted interests from his own life, such as music, to better relate to Hassan and his interest in jinn.  

But soon after the show came out, Al Zoubi’s life underwent another change. As many new actors know, the sudden transition into the public eye can be daunting, and Al Zoubi’s experience was no exception. Before appearing on “Jinn,” Al Zoubi did not have social media and considered himself to be a very private person. After the film’s release, Al Zoubi found himself in a very different position.

“You’re suddenly in the public — you never get used to it. At least for me, I never got used to it,” Al Zoubi  said. 

Additionally, the show was met with controversy and backlash from some Jordanians due to its kissing scenes, use of foul language and scenes that showed alcohol consumption. Al Zoubi dealt with many hate comments and even death threats.

“It was really intense — it was scary,” Al Zoubi said. “It almost happened overnight where some scenes of the show were leaked and used in fake contexts, which was hard to deal with … On the mental health aspect, also it was hard to deal with — I learned to focus on a lot of the love we got, because I feel like we got so, so much love and so, so much hate at the same time,” Al Zoubi said.  

Two boys, one with a green shirt and the other with a blue shirt and glasses, look off camera.
“Jinn” is Netflix’s first Arabic language series. (Photo: Courtesy of Neflix)

However, even with the hate Al Zoubi received, he viewed his time working on the show in a positive light.

“I feel like it also helped me build a lot of resilience,” Al Zoubi said. “[I] learned that there are always going to be people that don’t like something, especially when it’s something as subjective as a show … I learned so much from the experience, and I learned so much from the backlash … I can’t think of the experience but as a positive one and one that changed me for the better,” Al Zoubi said.

Today, a little over a year since the show’s premiere, Al Zoubi has not stopped his artistic endeavors. He teamed up with a friend to start the first Arab teen magazine, “Taleed Magazine”, in an effort to give a platform to Arab youth to talk about their experiences and problems they face. 

“Taleed means something that is inherited and that is passed on [through] generations, which for us, resembles our culture that we wish to embrace in our magazine,” he said via email. 

For his magazine, Al Zoubi has been working on making short films. 

Additionally, as a Pomona College student, Al Zoubi is looking to explore the media studies departments, specifically the film tracks. In his media studies course at Scripps College, Al Zoubi found that his experience in acting and film gave him an interesting perspective.

“My experience would probably, I think, serve as a decent foundation for me to develop my knowledge,”  Al Zoubi said. “Also, I still have that enthusiasm for film that came with acting, and it still pushes me to do my work and be more excited about the course, which is why I took it.”

Al Zoubi also wants to be in a play at some point during his time at Pomona. However, as an international student living in Jordan doing online school, the ten hour time difference has made it difficult for him to pursue activities outside of his academics at the moment. 

When looking to the future, Al Zoubi wants to pursue other areas of film as well. He is interested in writing scripts and short films and better understanding the role that media plays in our society, which is something he found that Pomona’s media studies curriculum would allow him to pursue. 

Given that Pomona is in Los Angeles County, Al Zoubi is considering pursuing acting professionally in the U.S. Although he is unsure of what specific role he would like to play, he is open to trying many different types of roles.

“I’d like to leave my comfort zone, explore more what I can do,” Al Zoubi said. 

“I don’t really like to restrict myself; I don’t feel like I would only apply for one sort of role. I feel like that’s not a good way of thinking in general.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Zaid Al Zoubi began filming “Jinn” when he was a high school sophomore. Al Zoubi was a junior when he started filming. TSL regrets this error.

This article was last updated Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 at 2:49 p.m.

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