RIYADH: You might know him as “Meesh” from his appearance on James Corden’s Late Late Show in 2019. You might have seen him if you visited Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in 2014 and took a selfie with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express. Or you may even have seen him on the TV shows Moving On, Franklin and Bash, or The Faces of LA. But if you have not heard of him before, now is your chance.
Mishal Samman has worn many hats in his lifetime; he has been a website developer and IT specialist, a DJ, a movie and television actor, and more. Though he has lived in Saudi Arabia, the US, and spent around 15 years living in Japan, Samman now lives in Los Angeles, California, where he works as both an actor and a flight attendant.
Samman, who gave his age as “young enough to be stupid, but old enough to know better,” told Arab News that his policy was to live life to the fullest, and to live with passion every day.
“I’ve probably lived 15 lifetimes, and I’m still going. I’ve learned to enjoy life,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in political science in 2000, he stayed on in the US after accepting a position as a junior programmer for the Japanese company Fujitsu.
Despite his nationality and his religion, Samman said he was able to live quite comfortably in the US even after the events of 9/11, which he credits to his appearance and accent.
“One of the biggest things I had going for me is that I speak English like an American. I was able to pass as a non-Saudi. I was also very lucky that I lived in San Francisco at the time, which has a much higher tolerance for people of other nationalities,” he said.
However, his time with Fujitsu had instilled a love of Japan in him, and he ended up moving to Japan to pursue a master’s degree and a Ph.D.
He was halfway through his master’s degree in network engineering from the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo when he realized that his passion lay in acting. “I was doing really well in Japan, so I figured, why not move to Los Angeles and try to conquer Hollywood? So I quit my job and moved to Los Angeles to become an actor.”
In Los Angeles, Samman found his footing as an actor and began to take on more roles as time went on. He has acted both on stage and in television and movies, doing everything from Shakespeare to stand-up comedy. He also joined the Second City comedy club, where he discovered a forte for improv and comedy and became the first Saudi actor to graduate from their program.
His persistence paid off, and he found himself auditioning at Universal Studios for a part in English and Japanese (in which he was fluent after his years in Japan), which led to him getting the role of the Hogwarts Express conductor at Universal Studios Japan in May 2014.
When that stint was over, and he was faced with the prospect of having to leave Japan for either Saudi Arabia or the US, neither country in which he had prospective work, he found a job that seemed right up his alley — flight attendant.
“The job came with a great list of benefits. I get to fly for almost nothing, I get health benefits, and it beats working as a waiter. I didn’t like it at first, but I realized that my people skills were a lot better than I expected, so it worked out that way,” he said.
He now lives full-time in Los Angeles, working as both a flight attendant and an actor (or “flactor” as James Corden put it), though he finds the idea of moving back to Saudi Arabia and getting involved in the country’s burgeoning entertainment industry intriguing.
“I would love to get involved with the industry in Saudi Arabia, even just to conduct workshops or something. I want to be known as someone willing to help grow the industry. What I’m trying to do right now is find where my place is in the equation. How people are going to accept me,” he said.
His advice to young Saudi actors is this: “Start with comedy, and then go into drama. Comedy is drama, just with the right timing. And acting is not just about reading your lines, it is about connection. Don’t love it for fame or money, love it for the art. People see right through it when it’s not genuine.”
Mishal’s work can be found on YouTube or his official website, and he can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.