At 10 years old, Kosar Ali remembers reading Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” and its words have stuck with her to this day. One stanza of the poem reads, “Does my sassiness upset you? / Why are you beset with gloom? / ’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.” This self-assured power and richness of spirit is one that we have seen in her first role as Sumaya in the critically acclaimed film, Rocks, and is just as present in her newest role as Victoire in Starz’s Dangerous Liaisons. Victoire possesses a silent strength, one made loud through facial expressions and body language that fills a room from wall to wall even if she only physically occupies the corner. The series is a prequel to the 18th century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos which has since been adapted for screen many times.
The series, like a labyrinth, twists and turns back in on itself many times, leading the viewer to the center of the story. The story, like an ever-winding thread stretching across centuries, maintains its tie to human nature at its core. Schön! chats with Ali about this element of the series, staying grounded, fashion and costume, and more! She also tells us what we can look forward to from her next, and just like a labyrinth, she wants her path to twist back in on itself and start at the beginning of a new circle, which we are sure is leading her to a center of massive success!
I know you were cast in Rabiah Hussain’s Word-Play at the Royal Court Theatre which has unfortunately been postponed. I want to still mention the theme of the play though since it really stuck out to me. It is centered around the idea that language reverberates throughout history and often has generational effects. Are there any words written or spoken by someone that you feel like have really stuck with you, whether they are good or bad?
That’s a good question. I think Maya Angelou’s poem when she says “I’ll rise” in her poem “Still I Rise” really stuck with me when I was 10 years old, and just that whole poem. That’s the first thing that came to my head.
I’m also very interested in your feature in Stormzy’s Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength, a children’s book written by Sophia Thakur. The book was created to showcase underrepresented characters because of the severe racial inequity in books. Can you tell us a bit about your superpower in the book, and how it felt in general to be represented as a role model?
Yeah, I felt really excited about that because there’s something really beautiful about being in a children’s book, especially. And little kids being able to look at you and what you do and see themselves through that and seeing that as a superpower is really nice. My superpower was friendship and I think that’s just really sweet! It’s always nice to have a friend, isn’t it? Friendship is the cure all and that felt really good. I met some of the kids when we did the launch of the book, and they were all just so cute! I felt like a real superhero!
In Dangerous Liaisons we see another representation of friendship between your character, Victoire, and Camille [Alice Englert]. How would you describe Victoire’s superpower in the series and what tools does she use? How do you understand her relationship to that power?
That’s another great question. I think Victoire’s superpower would be strength. The tools she uses would be identity, wisdom, and vulnerability. I think she carries a lot of strength within herself as a character- emotionally, physically, soulfully- and it’s a very difficult world so you need a lot of strength to maneuver through that. I think she’s still finding her power, that’s something very relevant through the series. She’s on this journey of finding her own feet, identity, and individuality. She just doesn’t know how much power she actually holds in that space. She’s very different from other characters. They wield their power in different ways and through secrets. She just has this strength to her that even I haven’t figured out what her power is yet, and I’m really excited to find that because I feel it and I want to know what it is.
You’ve said in other interviews that you’ve felt that acting has come somewhat naturally to you because of how expressive you are with your face and body language. There’s a lot of this expressiveness in Victoire, even if she’s in the back of a shot, you are laser-focused on reading her face. Can you talk a little bit about this element of her?
Yeah, I’m just really glad you picked up on that because that was such a big thing with Victoire. Through the script, she didn’t really say much but it was about finding those spaces for her because saying something isn’t only through words. It’s about physicality and your face and she’s a very expressive person. It shows in your face. That’s very important to me because I’m an expressive person even when I’m not saying anything. It wasn’t in the plans or script. It was just something I decided to do because it felt very true to her character. She’s always listening and feeling. She always has her thoughts on things and is trying to find out about stuff- she’s like a little detective! So, it was really important for me in the scenes where she wasn’t saying anything and she’s there that the audience sees what she’s thinking and feeling so that they can hopefully feel through that because I think she’s mostly like a mediator between both worlds.
Something that is so interesting about the series is that it is a prequel to the 18th century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos and has since been adapted for screen many times. Why do you think the story has transcended several centuries?
I’ve never read the book or watched any of the adaptations, but I think something that is really interesting about Dangerous Liaisons are the themes that it focuses on, and one theme being human nature and how we all behave when we are put in a certain society and establishment. That’s something that can be so malleable and related to any century that you’re in because humans will always be humans. So, I think that’s what’s really interesting about the series and gets me intrigued to see how people behave when they have power and when they don’t. All those things will always be relevant.
One of my favourite episodes was the mask party episode! If Victoire could wear an animal mask to represent her, what do you think she would wear? What mask would you wear?
I don’t know if this is allowed in the mask party, but I’d say a black panther! She reminds me of a panther. She’s just slick. You see her, she stands out, but she’s still quite slick. You don’t know what she’s up to. For me, I’m going to say a scorpion. I feel like people underestimate them a lot but they’re actually really powerful. I feel underestimated sometimes because of age, et cetera, some people expect me to be a certain way and I’m not. A lot of people have ideas and stereotypes about people. We all have stereotypes, but it’s so lame. Just because I’m a young adult doesn’t mean that I behave a certain way or that I don’t know things. We all have different life experiences, and we need to be more open to get to know a person rather than having ideas about them.
I would imagine too, as an actor, it must teach you to be a bit more analytical in the way you view people and human nature.
Yeah, it’s like the infinity sign- it goes both ways. Because of my job, we are analyzing people and characters- how they walk, how they talk, how they behave- and the same for the person you are in a scene with. Naturally, you carry that into your personal life. I think most actors are quite observant. They are observant as a person, so it works with acting, but then they’re observant as an actor so it goes through to their personal life. A lot that I learn about myself goes into my acting and a lot of my professional work goes into my personal life- sometimes it can be a positive thing but sometimes it can be a negative thing.
It’s interesting that you mention that because I’ve heard so many actors say that they think it is so important to understand yourself well and project that on to a character in a way, but then others say that they have lost themselves in roles. It’s interesting how it’s sort of opposite ends of the spectrum with that.
I think with acting there always has to be a line that you draw. It’s something that even I’m still learning. That can definitely happen where you lose a sense of your own self because you’re being someone else half the time. I think that’s a very natural thing. For me, I have my family, my friends, and people in my professional life who reel me back and remind me who I am again. That’s very important. And also, I always remind myself that I’m actually playing someone and I’m not this person. I do what I love, as Kosar, and it puts me back to the ground.
What makes you feel most like yourself?
Honestly, I think when I’m watching cartoons and anime. It sounds really weird, but I love it! It reminds me of myself. I love cartoons so much.
Now I need a list of your favourites!
Ooo it’s so hard because there’s so many genres. If we’re talking about Disney, let’s start there! My favourite Disney cartoon would have to be Princess and the Frog because she’s the first Black princess and I was so overwhelmed when I was younger, and it was the best thing I’d ever watched. Closely followed by Tangled. Then if you move away from Disney to DreamWorks, it would be Spirit, and then to animated films, Studio Ghibli is just my life. I love every single film under Studio Ghibli- Howl’s Moving Castle. Then, going into anime, Attack on Titan is my favourite! Sorry, that was me trying not to go on a whole long tangent!
I can see you’re restraining yourself!
Yeah, I’m holding myself back (laughs)!
Before we finish, I want to move into fashion because in general I love your fashion sense, but I also loved the costumes in the series! Can you talk a little bit about Victoire’s costume significance even in the colors chosen for her, and how you personally represent yourself through fashion?
I love fashion. I think fashion really explains a person and I explore myself so much with fashion. I think that my favorite part of the job is the costume time. This was a very unique experience for me with Victoire because she changed so much from the time I auditioned. She wasn’t Black, she wasn’t Muslim. So with that, her whole world changes. We very much created Victoire together. When I worked with Andrea Flesch, Head of Costume, we built the costume together. It had to completely change. There were so many costume fittings and hers was so unique compared to the other characters because she didn’t wear corsets, she had it built to her top so it wasn’t too tight around her waist. She had that neck thing which was hand-made from Italy which was amazing. We had to figure out how to wrap it properly because it’s very flimsy. We built all of that together, and her colours are primary colours. It was very important for Andrea to make it primary colours because she wanted her to stand out, and she said she always saw such a power in Victoire and there’s such power to primary colours because you mix them, and they could make so many other colours. She was always set on what colours she wanted for her main outfit and that’s how it came together. I love that outfit so much, oh my god! It reminds me of the Girl with a Pearl Earring– I think a lot of people are reminded of that when they see her.
For me, my fashion is all over the place. Every year it’s quite different and I think that’s what’s most exciting about fashion is to have fun with it. I don’t like to take it seriously, there are so many things to explore. It’s art so it should just be fun. Last year, my style was very emo because that’s how I felt. I dress how I feel. I see it, I feel it, I want it- that’s just how it works!
Going back to Dangerous Liaisons, you filmed outside Prague. Did you have a chance to explore? Any favourite memories?
I actually didn’t explore when I got there because I’m really lazy (laughs). But my sister came, and she’s very into all of that- she gets to a country and has to see EVERYTHING! When I had a day off, she took me out of bed and we went out and actually climbed the Charles Bridge- inside it there are steps and we climbed it all the way to the top. It was actually really beautiful when we got to the top. And we also saw The Klementinum library, and it’s actually the most beautiful library in the world. I felt like I was in a film! It looked like space. [When filming] my favourite memory was when we were in between scenes, and I was in one with Alice, and we were just dancing. It was really fun. It’s nice to get out of character and just dance!
Okay last question- I know you are looking forward to possibly writing and directing in the future. What can we look forward to from you next?
I think I want to go backwards, if that makes sense, and explore different things in the acting world. I want to do a few short films and independent shorts and films.
Dangerous Liaisons is out now on Starz.
photography. Jacob McFadden
fashion. Koulla Sergi
talent. Kosar Ali
hijab. Humaia Waza
make up. Hila Karmand @ ARCH THE AGENCY using 111Skin + CTZN Cosmetics
photography assistant. Lewis Robinson
fashion assistant. Federica Battistino
words. Tessa Swantek