It is difficult to imagine a career trajectory for a millennial supermodel that does not involve a pivot to acting. In the case of Bella Hadid, arguably the world’s most famous model since she was 17, the crossover might have even seemed inevitable. “People probably thought,” she tells me, “that my first acting job would be something super sensual and sexy.”
Instead, when the 25-year-old makes her acting debut this fall as a guest star on Ramy, it’ll be in a slightly more unhinged role: a weirdo girlfriend.
The Emmy-nominated dark comedy (you can find it on Hulu) follows a fictionalized version of Ramy Youssef, an Egyptian American millennial who tries—and mostly fails—to be a good Muslim as he navigates adulthood. Across two buzzy seasons, the show has been lauded by critics for its general abhorrence of easy morality and its eagerness to dive into messy territory. For example, one of Ramy’s more quotidian plot points involves Ramy helping his best friend jerk off because his muscular dystrophy won’t allow him to masturbate.
And Hadid’s role on the show? “It’s probably one of the weirdest scripts we’ve ever written,” says Youssef. “And that says a lot.”
The model and the showrunner first connected back in January, when Youssef emailed Hadid out of the blue and asked if she’d be interested in a guest spot. They hopped on a Zoom and, after a long conversation, Hadid said yes. “I was like, this is perfect,” Hadid gushes. “We hadn’t even met before, but I had a feeling it was gonna be kismet.”
Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent, already shares with Youssef an overlapping network of friends and creative confidants. Youssef is close with Hadid’s brother, Anwar, and they’re both friends with the Canadian musician Mustafa, who was excited to hear that Hadid had found her way onto the show. “Bella’s been at the center of a world that doesn’t acknowledge what it’s like to be a Muslim at any of the intersections,” Mustafa tells me. “She’s sometimes the only Muslim or Arab person in a room, so it’s great to see Bella surrounded by her community.”
Hadid felt that sense of belonging instantly, she says. When she arrived on set for her first day of filming, she was surprised by the gift the crew had left in her trailer: a T-shirt that said “Free Palestine.” The simple, welcoming gesture made her weep. “I couldn’t handle my emotions,” Hadid says. “Growing up and being Arab, it was the first time that I’d ever been with like-minded people. I was able to see myself.”
I know what Hadid means. Feeling the constant need to minimize your identity can take its toll on you. Growing up Muslim, I often felt like I had to shrink down or hide that part of myself in order to seem less difficult or demanding. Both Hadid and Youssef—each in their own way—seem to be taking a different approach. By amplifying their heritage and proudly asserting their cultural identities, they’re embracing the spotlight and using it to complicate outdated expectations of what Arabs and Muslims are capable of in the culture. Part of what makes Ramy so special is its deft ability to raise heavy and spiritual questions: Underneath all the plotlines about porn stars and racist family members and what really caused 9/11, the show refreshingly offers no tidy answers, nor does it claim to represent what a “good” Muslim even is.
Meanwhile, in the last few years, Hadid has become perhaps the most outspoken American celebrity advocating on behalf of the Palestinian people. In an era of halfhearted virtue signaling, she is finding ways to dig deeper into the issues—and her own experiences—with her platform. This past winter, I was struck by an Instagram post in which Hadid highlighted the discrimination women who wear a hijab, like me, face every day. She took specific aim at a corner of the culture she knows well. “If we are seeing more and more appreciation of hijabs and covers in fashion,” she wrote, “we have to also acknowledge the cycle of abuse that Muslim women of all different ethnicities in fashion get met with on a regular basis within fashion houses, especially in Europe [and] America.” It was, to say the least, not the sort of concern that your traditional supermodel is posting.
If the Hadid we see in the culture is an honest reflection of who she is in private, Youssef couldn’t be more unlike the character he plays on television. Real Ramy is easygoing, kind. Almost effortlessly thoughtful. On the day the pair met up for the photo shoot to accompany this story, he met Hadid at her apartment here in New York and they rode together to set, where he gamely permitted her to take the lead in styling him for the photos. He made certain that he properly introduced me to his then fiancée, and now wife, who came to hang out. He was even so focused on continuing our conversation that he missed his scheduled flight out of town.
The Ramy you see onscreen is a hall-of-fame fuckboy. Like, you could retire his jersey and put it in the fuckboy rafters. TV Ramy is also on a spiritual journey, but his pursuit of inner peace comes at the expense of all the people who love him. The second season of the show concludes with Ramy cheating on his fiancée the night before they get married—with his cousin—a catastrophe that ruins the lives of everyone in his orbit.
Despite having donated his likeness to the character, Youssef knows that TV Ramy sucks. “You pick the worst side of you because then the people you meet are like, ‘Oh, you’re so much better than I expected!’ As opposed to the other way around,” he explains. “It’s all upside, really. You gotta undersell hard.”
Hadid can relate. “That’s what I’ve dealt with my whole career!” she adds. “People will meet me and think, Oh, I thought you were a bitch. Or I thought you were mean. [They assume] I’m this other person. I’m like, This other person that you saw on a magazine cover: no soul, no nothing? It’s just an armor.”
Full interview: gq.com