OPEN HEART’s Mena Massoud tells us about the new Teen Nick drama

MN- 28205bTEENNICK’s latest original series, OPEN HEART follows the story of Dylan Blake, a teenaged girl trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her disappearing father.  In an all new episode tonight (9/8c), “Private Eyes,” Dylan and Wes investigate a note hidden in Richard’s watch while London treats a prying patient.

I spent some time talking to Mena Massoud, who plays Jared Malik, about being a part of the show, and why everyone of all ages will enjoy the show!

Tell me a little bit about what drew you to OPEN HEART.
I think it’s a good bridge for TV right now.  A lot of the mainstream shows are older audeince based.  I think OPEN HEART’s great because it bridges the gap between those mature shows and the more teen-based shows, like DEGRASSI, so I think it’s a great project to make that bridge.

You make a good point.  I have an 11 year old cousin and she always asks me what she can watch.  It’s either really dark stuff, or too immature, and there are not enough shows that she and I could both watch.
Yeah, that’s exactly it!  I think that this is a great way to introduce that potential fan base to something a little bit more mature.

Talk about Jared – who he is, and what we’ll see from him over the next few weeks –
I think Jared’s very misunderstood [laughs].  I think he tries to do his job; he takes his job very seriously. He doesn’t always know how to express [feelings], he doesn’t always know how to balance work with delegating to people and being nice about it.  I think what you’re going to see in the next few episodes – Jared is really trying to make that transition and try to be nice to people he works with and ultimately just trying to fit in. Essentially, people, teens watching and tweens watching, it’s such a huge part of life.  I don’t think you ever grow out of trying to fit in and trying to make friends.  I don’t think you ever grow out of that, but I think Jared tries to explore that and he wants to do well.

We reference DEGRASSI obviously, because the shows share producers – will this show cover the hot button issues like that show? How alike or different is OPEN HEART?
I think you make a good point – DEGRASSI does do that, it’s that kind of show, but I think OPEN HEART focuses more on the journey of Dylan, who is played by Karis (Cameron).  I think it does address issues, for sure.  Even just in the first episode, I think it’s the first episode, maybe it’s the second; I don’t want to ruin anything [laughs].  You’re seeing a lot of interracial relationships, and Karis [as Dylan] struggling with her inner life and identity crisis.  I think all of the characters kind of struggle with their identity, and I think that’s the main thing that we’re going to explore with this show, balancing the mystery of it all.

Let’s talk a little bit about the mystery of the show – for people who aren’t aware of what is going on, what is the show’s central mystery?
Other than trying to find herself as a person, which I think is really the big issue at hand, she’s trying to find out what happened to her father, because he disappeared and she has no idea where he went.  He was such a prominent figure in her life; he loved her very much and she loved him, and he kind of just disappeared.  That really is what she’s struggling with.  She’s trying to find out what happened to her father, and there’s a huge mystery around it.  The police don’t know what happened.  Her family doesn’t know what happened.  She is trying to find out on her own.

It’s such an interesting show. I think even if you’re not relating to “oh my father’s missing,” I think people can find something to really relate to in the show.
Absolutely!  I think that’s what’s great about it.  Yeah, the mystery behind her finding her father is kind of what’s fun about it, and our app is based on that – the OPEN HEART app is based on that, finding clues and things like that, but like you said, I think what people are going to relate to is her journey to find herself, and the other characters as well.  Jared goes through that as well through the show.  So does Wes, so does Mikayla. We all kind of try to find out who we are.

I like that you mention the APP – there’s that social media tie in side to it. Fans can approach it from different angles.  How much of that did you know was happening when you joined the show?
It’s something that’s been in the works since we started!  They knew they were going to do it, and we knew that it was going to be done.  We shot a few days just for the app, so it is really something that’s been thought out, so I think it’s something that is fun and exciting, and new, because social media has become such a huge part of the marketing and television side of things.  It’s absolutely been thought out 100%.

character_large_332x363_jaredWe’ve talked a little bit about it, but why do you think that this is a show that people should sit down and watch, families can watch, teens can watch?
I think it will bring families together.  It really is a show, unlike DEGRASSI where it really is targeted at teens, it really is a show that the entire family can sit down and watch.  My parents watch, my sisters are watching and they’re 30 years old. It’s a show for everyone.  There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in there, and if you take a close look at the characters, it ranges from 16 to 60, so there’s a story line in it for everyone.  And trust me, things evolve for every single character in the show.  It’s not just the 16 year olds, and that’s why I think people should watch.  Everyone will enjoy it, and people watch it and learn something about themselves, and that’s what art is all about.

Do you get a chance to watch other shows, do you have favorite shows you must watch every week?
I watch a ton of shows!  There’s too much.  I just finished MARCO POLO which is on Netflix.  They have a huge budget, similar to GAME OF THRONES, so it really is a big show that’s trying to take off. And SHERLOCK, I’m in the middle of SHERLOCK.  HOMELAND. Finishing up DEXTER.  It’s all over the place, really.

I basically don’t watch 4 shows and just tell people that, so they don’t get my list of 1900 that I do watch!
Yeah, it’s so true!  There’s a ton of stuff out there.  Especially with things like Netflix!  Everything is at your fingertips. It’s hard to stay focused on other stuff.

It’s so true.  At some point, you’re like, I’m on my 9th episode, maybe I should get up.

Talking a little about acting in general – was there a moment where you said “okay, I want to be an actor” or something you found as a child.
It’s something I’ve been interested in since I was a child.  I grew up on Robin Williams, MRS. DOUBTFIRE. My parents were immigrants, so I didn’t watch a lot of stuff.  In fact, I have a lot of cornerstone films and movies that I still have to watch because I didn’t grow up on them.  It’s always been a passion of mine.  I came from a household that didn’t really see acting as a career choice, but more of a hobby.  I went through high school doing sciences and math, and then I went to U of T, the University of Toronto for neuroscience for a year, and it was then that I decided I was going to pursue my passion and do what I love, and that’s when I kind of decided I would do it as a career choice.

Do you have other things besides OPEN HEART coming up that we can find you in?
Yeah, there’s a short film MASTER OF NONE that will start circulating festivals. It’s a dark comedy heist short film. That will be a lot of fun.  Other than that, auditioning is picking up right now, I hope, so hopefully OPEN HEART Season 2!

Do you search for a specific type of role, or do you want to do everything?
I think it’s more the genre and the writing.  It’s whatever draws me to something right now.  Nothing in particular.  I’m not at a point in my career where I can be picky and choosy, but at the same time, I’ll never do anything I absolutely hate!  I want to do a little bit of everything and really grow as an actor.  When you’re a veteran, then maybe you can start picking and choosing, but right now, it’s a little bit of everything.

Do you have actors whose career you want to emulate, or who inspire you?
I have role models, they change every week!  There are so many good actors out there.  It goes from, for a time, I was obsessed with Daniel Day Lewis, then Mickey Rourke.  Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Danes on HOMELAND.  There is so much out there, and so many good actors. It all depends.  I’d love to work with anyone who is passionate about the same thing I am – acting and creating art.

Do you have a vision of writing and directing down the line?
Acting is where I’m focused right now!

OPEN HEART airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on TEENNICK.