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September 03, 2018 at 12:00 PM EDT

As much as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is about the origin of the CIA analyst-turned-field-operative (played in this series by John Krasinski), the show also focuses on a number of other characters. One of the breakout stories of the first season follows Hanin, the wife of the central terrorist, Suleiman. Hanin is shown as a mother who will do anything for her kids, even if it means leaving her husband. Hanin’s story is one of strength and love, and it’s the kind of portrayal of a Middle Eastern woman that isn’t often seen on screen.

EW talked with Hanin herself, Dina Shihabi, about the importance of her role.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you read this role?
DINA SHIHABI: I was sent the pilot script and immediately — just even in the pilot — I could tell that the story that [showrunners] Graham [Roland] and Carlton [Cuse] were telling was so different from other scripts I’ve read. I’m from Saudi Arabia, so I audition for a lot of Arab characters. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the women are victims and the men are just terrorists, and it’s very black and white. The way her story begins — she’s with her kids, she’s playing soccer, there’s a lightness to her. You get to see Hanin as a human being, as a mother. She’s smart and strong and complex. She’s a well-rounded human being and that’s very rare when I’m auditioning for Arab characters. That was so exciting to me. I didn’t sleep for like 10 days when I got the call that I got it. I was just so in love with it and felt like, no matter if it’s me or someone else, thank god that this is someone that’s going to be out in the world.

It felt very telling to me that a show called Jack Ryan started with Suleiman’s backstory.
I had the same reaction to the opening scene. I was like, the fact that they would humanize a man who becomes a monster, essentially, is what we need. We can’t just keep putting villains that twirl their mustaches out on screen anymore, we have to see each other as human beings or else nothing’s going to change. We’re not going to be able to empathize with different cultures and actually affect change until we see each other as humans.

What were the conversations like between you and [actor] Ali Suliman about Suleiman and Hanin’s relationship?
Ali and I would talk for hours and hours about how important it was to show two people that loved each other. We wanted there to be a deep, full connection with them. Graham and Carlton would have conversations with us about it too, because it was very important to them as well that you saw that this is a couple that loved each other and then he’s become someone that she never expected he would be. It’s that kind of thing — you look at the person sitting next to you and you’re like, “I have no idea who this person is.” We wanted her leaving not to be because she hates him but because she has to protect her kids. She’s sacrificing the love of her life and this marriage that has protected her. There are these beautiful kids, this beautiful house that they’ve created. There’s a lot there that is filled with so much love that it makes it that much harder to leave. The children don’t think the father’s a monster. It’s something that Hanin has to deal with. That was really, really, really important to Ali and I to have these people really love each other so that when they’re apart, it’s really costing them something.

Just the fact that this terrorist is seen having a loving family is uncommon.
You see that the people that get affected by these men are the women, are the children, in a really personal way. You never think about these monsters that are blowing up buildings, you never think of what their children are like or what their lives are like or what has happened to them. To have that perspective, it makes me want to cry tears of such happiness because that’s ultimately why I want to be an actor, to be able to lift the veil on a world and people that you don’t get to see every day or get to meet. And then you get to see that these are human beings who were born into a set of circumstances that made them this way, and you see how different people deal with trauma. Some become monsters and some become mothers who will do anything to protect their kids.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is now available on Amazon Prime.

RELATED: Jack Ryan series premiere recap: Tom Clancy’s hero makes his small-screen debut

 

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