Natacha Karam of ‘9-1-1: Lone Star’ On Her Character’s Fight For Her Life

Karam, who plays firefighter Marjan Marwani on '9-1-1: Lone Star,' discusses her character's struggle to find her purpose in season 4, and how being away from her cast mates for months at a time made her feel like she was on a whole new show.

Samsara Leela Yett (l) and Natacha Karam in ‘9-1-1: Lone Star.” FOX

This article contains spoilers for “Road Kill,” the 9-1-1: Lone Star episode that aired on Tuesday, March 21.

At the beginning of production on the fourth season of 9-1-1: Lone Star, showrunners Tim Minear and Rashad Raisani gave actress Natacha Karam an important call. “They called me like, ‘Hey, your job is safe,’” Karam, who plays firefighter Marjan Marwani, recalls with a laugh. “I think they said they submitted a draft to the network, and the network [executives] were like, ‘Is she leaving?!’ And they were like, ‘Oh, if the network thinks that, then Natacha’s definitely gonna think that, so we should let her know that she’s not going anywhere.’”

“We’re four seasons into a show, so it’s nice to break a pattern or kind of the mold that you’re used to,” Karam tells Observer, “so I was excited when I heard that we were getting the chance to do something a bit different.”

Tuesday’s episode of the FOX procedural drama marks the culmination of a multi-episode arc for Marjan, who resigned from the Austin Fire Department after being blackmailed by a couple that threatened to sue her for calling the woman “crazy” during a motorhome rescue. Saying goodbye to the 126 and buying a motorcycle from her captain, Owen Strand (Rob Lowe), Marjan rode off into the sunset and ended up in New Mexico, where she was able to help Kiley (Brooke Sorenson), a travel vlogger living in a Winnebago, escape from her abusive fiancé, Grant (Cameron Cowperthwaite).

Rediscovering that her calling in life is to help other people, Marjan calls her former team and reveals that she is ready to come back to work, but her trip back to Texas was far from straightforward—she’s chased off the road on her way to Austin by none other than Grant, who’d been released on bail the same day of his arrest. When she wakes up, a concussed and badly injured Marjan meets a young girl nicknamed Mouse (Samsara Leela Yett), a 10 year old coming back from a soccer tournament and the only survivor of another vehicle that was involved in the crash.

Grant, hellbent on getting revenge on Marjan despite having an injured leg, chases Marjan and Mouse through the woods with a gun, eventually nicking Marjan in her right side from a distance. Marjan does what she can to stop the bleeding, but as she grows weaker, she has to fight the urge to give up to protect Mouse. In the end, Grant corners and threatens to kill both of them, just as Marjan’s co-workers Owen, Paul and Judd show up in the area in search of her. It isn’t until Marjan is being carried to safety that she realizes that Mouse is actually a figment of her own imagination; she was, in fact, talking to her younger self.

“What I do value about [this storyline] is that we did get to learn new things about a character whom we’ve known for four years, and see someone who we’re so used to seeing in a position of capability and power be basically on their knees and vulnerable and almost defenseless,” Karam says. “I kind of thought that Marjan herself seemed quite feral. It was not the way that we had seen her before, which I always think is a really good opportunity for the audience to learn something new.”

Below, Karam breaks down the key moments from the episode and previews what’s to come for Marjan.

Natacha Karam in ‘9-1-1: Lone Star.” FOX

What kinds of conversations did you have with the showrunners about what this arc would reveal about Marjan’s character?

Natacha Karam: I wonder, sometimes, if the writers’ room even knows when they begin storylines what the final outcome is gonna be. I’m not sure we knew exactly what the obstacle was gonna look like [for her] to come to the profound realization that her purpose is to help people. [It’s] almost like no matter where she goes, that’s gonna follow her, because that’s her purpose in this lifetime. It was always going to be that Marjan ends up physically hindered or injured, but I heard many a different version than the one we ended up with.

Was it worse than her getting shot and almost dying?

I think there was a whole rock climbing, 127 hours alone [type of storyline] that I heard at some point. Actually, that couple’s storyline hadn’t come into play yet, so was it worse physically? I don’t know. But I think that the way they wrote it made sense, because there were so many other components at play. [Instead of] having to find the lesson, and then having to be injured, and then having to come to a realization, the clever writers found a way, as they often do, to wind it all into one storyline.

You said in a recent interview that you decided to immediately re-read the script after your first read, because of who Mouse represents in this story for Marjan. How did you react to the twist that Mouse is actually Marjan’s younger self, and how did it change the way you understood this episode?

I will say that when you read the script, it’s a lot less obvious than when you watch the episode. [Laughs.] So for me, it really was like, “Oh, wow. Okay, so now as an actor, I need to understand that both of those things are parts of me.” So it changes my relationship with the little girl, it changes my dialogue, knowing that I’m actually saying most of what I’m saying into nothingness. The level of protectiveness or care for this younger child changes; all the little quips and the things that you hear her say have more meaning. Anything you’re learning about Mouse is actually something you’re learning about Marjan, so that changed a lot for me as well. Going back through the script and basically thinking that anything that Mouse says is information about Marjan was a very different experience.

Samsara Leela Yett (l) and Natacha Karam in ‘9-1-1: Lone Star.” FOX

But Marjan doesn’t realize that Mouse is a figment of her own imagination until Owen, Judd and Paul rescue her. Why do you think Marjan saw in this little girl that was able to keep her going?

I think it was doubling down on her learning that this is her purpose. It’s just after having confirmed to herself that her purpose in life is to be of service to others, and that the one thing she truly believes she’s exceptional at is helping and rescuing. And honestly, she puts this little girl’s life before her own time and time again, because that’s what firefighters do, that’s what first responders do. And I think in making it about someone else and having to rescue this girl, every time Marjan wants to give up and the little girl convinces her not to, it’s because the little girl mentions that she herself will die, too.

After Marjan swerves off the road into a ditch, she gets shot in the side, and you had to play with her increasingly limited mobility. Talk to me about the physicality of this episode. How long did you have to spend in the woods and have all of that fake blood splattered all over you?

I think it was a 10-day episode [shoot], so there were other storylines happening, but there was a good six days of wounded bird Marjan. [Laughs.] The way to do it is to write out a timeline of where you’re at physically, because we jump around and don’t shoot scenes sequentially. [So] having to remember physically what the level of deterioration is was a new thing for me. [There’s] the pain in the ribs, the concussion, the gunshot wounds, the fatigue, the blood loss—all of that was physical stuff that I had to keep notes of. That was a challenge, and it was very demanding playing all those different things and still being able to connect to the emotional side of things as well.

I personally loved that we finally got to meet her parents, Nasreen (Vera Hairabedian) and Waleed (Nicky Boulos)—albeit in a flashback—and we learned that she has a sister named Sahar in Florida. Will we get more insight into Marjan’s family in the episodes to come, or are those details that have been dropped and that will hopefully be revisited at a later time?

I think they like to drop these things that you can pick back up randomly in another season, or when you are fleshing out further moments into Marjan’s storyline, that there’s this thing that’s already been established that you can come back to. I haven’t filmed anything [else] as of yet that has other family members in it, but references have been made to my sister again, my mom and dad. There are some more cool, personal things that do happen for Marjan this season. We do get to see Marjan dip her toes into the dating pool—that’s the first time I’ve told anyone that! That’s gonna be really fun and a completely different side of her that you’ll get to see.

How soon will we see Marjan back in action with the 126?

I can preview that Marjan doesn’t like paperwork. [Laughs.] As with most of the busy bodies, when we’ve seen people get injured, it’s not straight back into the action, but she’s coming back.

Natacha Karam (l) and Brian Michael Smith ‘9-1-1: Lone Star.’ Kevin Estrada/FOX

It must have been really strange for you to not work with these cast members for an extended period of time.

Really strange. Months.

Really? You didn’t work with them for months?

Yeah, because all my story lines were separate. There were, like, one or two days where I would get a scene, and then it would be weeks again before I saw them. I was off shooting that stuff without any of the usual characters. I felt like I was on my own show; it was so surreal. I kept wanting to see the guys again and see Briana [Baker] and Gina [Torres]. I was like, “Am I still on Lone Star?” And we kind of used to joke and text each other, and the group chat would be popping off like, “Do you still work here?” And I would be like, “I promise I do. They told me I do. They told me I’ll be back.” [Laughs.]

But it is fun that you never know where this world of Lone Star is gonna take you. That part always keeps you on your toes. Even as the actors, when you get a script, you’re like, “Okay, wow, that’s happening. We’re doing that.” I think this season has been really special, [because of] these capsule episodes that were kind of tonally very different from what we’re used to. For the characters, it was a very different experience. There’s a really fun Mateo [Julian Works] episode coming up. We had the ’60s one with Carlos [Rafael L. Silva] in that little house with that serial killer. All these tone changes, I think, are exciting and keep things fresh.

When we last spoke for Observer, we discussed Marjan’s journey and some of the things that you had learned from the missteps that were made in the first season. I know it’s been very important to you to get a deeper understanding of Marjan’s inner life and to make sure you’re accurately representing her experience as a Muslim woman, but I also know a lot of it is out of your control as an actor. What would you like to explore further when it comes to her faith? I feel like that part of her character has been really lacking, or it just hasn’t been explored in the way that it was maybe promised to you at the start of the third season.

Yeah, agreed. I will say that Marjan cannot date without her faith being involved. There is an episode coming up that’s not about that, but every choice that she makes is influenced by her faith. And that was something that had to be done in a way that was believable to this specific woman’s integrity, morality and religion. As I like to say often, this is one specific woman’s relationship with her God and her religion, and as long as we have a clear rule book on what that person’s set of guidelines are, then we’re doing great. But when we start meandering outside of what we’ve established to be this person’s truth and this person’s practice, then there has to be a reason.

So I think MPAC, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, has been consulting the writers on storylines, and I think we’re gonna see more. We have one episode this season, but I’m hoping for more development next season—should there be a next season. I’m hoping for more development because it seems like we really are starting to dip our toes into life outside the firehouse.

With all of the Lone Star actors I’ve interviewed, I feel like there’s such a deep desire to go outside of the 126. Because even though you see these characters outside of work, they’re usually hanging out with each other, and you need to have them form their own connections away from their job. It’s a luxury that has been afforded to certain characters but not all of them yet.

Yeah, because that’s what makes them three-dimensional. Once you can see more of the intersections of their life, [you can see] what makes them three-dimensional human beings rather than firefighters at work, which is difficult when there are so many cast members. But I know the audience wants it, and I know the actors want it, and I’m sure it’s gonna happen. It just takes time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

9-1-1: Lone Star airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on FOX. Natacha Karam of ‘9-1-1: Lone Star’ On Her Character’s Fight For Her Life