Indeed, actress Arlene Duncan has been leading a prominent career as a multitalented Canadian singer and actress, who has appeared in numerous television and feature film productions , including Puppets Who Kill, Regenesis, Degrassi: The Next Generation. The actress currently stars in CBC’s hit sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, as the outspoken, strong-minded café owner, Fatema Dinssa.
With Arlene being kind enough to participate in a interview with us and Little Mosque progressing in its exciting fifth season, we took the chance to discuss the challenges of playing Fatema, how Arlene relates to the character, the actress’ experience of being a role model as a result of her role as Fatema , as well as the other acting projects which Arlene has been involved in and much more!
1.Although your previous roles have varied greatly from your current role as Fatima, how have you still been able to draw from your past experiences as an actress to enhance your performance as Fatima?
Coming from a Jamaican-Canadian background, I grew up surrounded by some very strong, independent women with gregarious personalities. I’d like to think I bring a lot of that experience to Fatima’s character. In the script she’s a ‘Nigerian Muslim café owner’, but to me, she is a mother, a businesswoman who speaks her mind and a woman who lives and expresses her faith and her culture. These qualities are pretty universal and I think that’s why so many people are able to relate to her
2. How familiar were you, with the religion of Islam, prior to being appointed the role of Fatima ?
I was only vaguely familiar with the Islamic religion but have learnt a great deal more while preparing for the role, through friendships I’ve made with Muslim women and with the help of our onset production advisors over the past five seasons.
3. How do you think Fatima has developed over the course of the series and what aspirations do you have for the character?
I think the character of Fatima has been pretty consistent over the past five seasons. I see her and the café as something of an anchor in the town of Mercy. She knows and has an opinion about everyone and everything, and can be depended on in her own quirky way, to give out comfort, a good meal and sound practical advice. I’ve also enjoyed the episodes where we find out more about her background and her personal life and would be thrilled to be able to explore that more! But it’s only a half hour comedy
4. How do you relate to the character of Fatima?
Playing Fatima is a lot of fun. I have always been attracted to other cultures, especially African culture and it’s a pleasure being able to bring to life such a strong-minded, straight-talking personality. Another one of the many benefits of playing Fatima is that unlike actresses on other television shows, due to her wardrobe, I have the luxury of never having to worry about a ‘bad hair day’ or stressing about my weight! Like a lot of people I was under the misguided impression that as a rule Islamic women were shy, quiet and reserved, so when I was offered the role I was a little apprehensive but Fatima and I do have a lot in common. We are both strong-minded, independent women, and I do love to cook–although I don’t have a team of clever writers giving me witty lines to say on a daily basis!
5. What has been the most challenging aspect in portraying Fatima and how have you coped with this challenge?
I feel that the most challenging aspect of playing Fatima has been of course, trying to consistently portray her African & Islamic culture authentically. With every script it’s my challenge to take the words off the page and ‘translate’ my lines into Fatima’s rhythm or accent. We have Islamic advisors on set that are always available to answer questions, solve problems and do things like: make sure that when shooting in warm weather that we strike a compromise when I challenge them on just how many layers I really need to keep on! Every season I shop for the newest batch of Nollywood movies that I keep running in my dressing room as part of my ‘background atmosphere’—I somehow think Fatima also, would enjoy watching her Nigerian movies as a way to keep in touch with her homeland
6. Fatima has had intimate encounters with both the characters of Fred and Baber. Which of the two would you prefer to see Fatima in a romantic relationship and why? What challenges do you see Fatima facing with the chosen character?
While I love both characters Fred and Baber, Fatima has very different relationships with each of them. Fred has a heart of gold but is publicly very anti-Muslim & Baber loves to rant and challenge everyone’s religious correct-ness which I think keeps him from just being able to relax and connect with other people. In a nutshell, they are both very complicated men who are ‘works in progress’! As actors we don’t know what plans the writers have for our characters, but I think if Fatima was going to have a real relationship, it would be very interesting if it was with some mysterious new character who comes to town to be a real match for her personality. We might see a whole new side to Ms. Fatima Dinssa
7. Could you please give us an idea as to the challenges and surprises, which are in store for Fatima this season?
Isn’t it more fun to see what happens as the season unfolds?
8. What has been your experience as a role model and why do you think the character of Fatima is so influential?
As I said before, I was under the misguided impression, like a lot of people, that Islamic women were generally a very unassuming oppressed group and I think it’s very eye-opening for people to see a character like Fatima, who is so much like your mother, sister, aunt or friend…no matter what religion or culture you might be from. When people recognize me from the show they often comment on how they relate to the things she does or know people who are just like her. There are also so few prominent actors of color on television today that I’m often asked to speak at youth and cultural events encouraging young artists and inspiring them by my example that it’s possible to pursue their dreams of a career in the arts. In 2009, I was named Honorary Chairman of Literature for Life, a Toronto-based organization created to engage at-risk young families in building a culture of literacy and learning—to invest in their own families and futures. In 2010, I was awarded by the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton & the Government of Ontario, the Five Pillars Award for Arts & Culture.
9. Have you been working on any other acting projects, which you would like to share with viewers?
I have been able to work on a few other film and television projects since we finished shooting this season such as a comedic guest role as rival high school Principal Mooser on ‘Wingin’ It’ on the Family channel, and I’m looking forward to an upcoming musical theatre project later on in the year.
10. What message would you like to convey to fans of the series?
I would like the fans of Little Mosque on the Prairie and the readers of your blog to know that we really appreciate the support they’ve given us over these past five seasons and hope that they continue to enjoy following the adventures of the residents of the town of Mercy.